You didn’t even click on this article. Last thing you know, you were on Twitter. But there’s no Twitter tab open, and no back button. You look up at your browser and the menu has frozen. Discord won’t open. You look away from the screen, and the door in your room has disappeared. There’s nowhere to go, nothing else to look at. The only thing you can do is read this.
The Evil Within is a horror game that creates strong feelings of fear and despair. It bends reality and breaks the rules of logic with its environments and gameplay. Walls disappear, enemies morph, traps await. You don’t know how you got here, or how to get out. All you can do is adapt and stay as sane as possible through all the crazy.
Trying to organise and label this game is futile, you can sort out the enemies, learn some patterns, manage your resources just for your own sense of confidence and gamer ability. Every time you get to the next area, a new kind of terror awaits and throws you back down on your feet. The tried and true aim and shoot strategy doesn’t work. Suddenly you need light, so you activate your lantern. Now the enemies have light too and they can see you coming. You’re desperately looking for a way out, stumbling over chairs and broken glass until something is visible. Your gamer instincts are telling you to go everywhere, look in every corner for items. But if you stick around too long, you’ll die.
The story in this game is what opens the door to all this crazy gameplay, there’s a big plot point about brain control. You show up at a mental institution crime scene with other cops, and suddenly you’re dragged into this world of psychotic episodes and hallucinations, with someone trying to control you. A lot of environments are technically not “real”, but it sure feels like it when you’re playing to progress. This is a real strength of the videogame medium where you can still play through something that isn’t real with a solid foundation of vision, sound and control.
This focus on psychological horror makes the story a bit difficult to follow at times, but it’s used as a vessel to take advantage of the possibilities in videogames to create incredible environments. It really is the best of both worlds, a realistic horror game with no limits to its design.
Ah, feels good to be outside in some natural light. Water splashes up on the rocks to remind you that good feelings exist. A calm wind blows and you can see around you in every direction. The Evil Within has absolutely fantastic pacing that always had me looking forward to the next chapter. After struggling with claustrophobic spaces and traps underground it feels amazing to be able to breathe and see the sky. The gameplay also compliments this with a more organised action approach, with set-pieces that are more like your typical action horror (the village in RE4, for example). Still difficult and scary, but manageable. Everything suddenly feels “familiar”, if only for one chapter.
This game likes to take control from you then give it back for a little bit to make it feel extra good. Knowing game director Shinji Mikami’s history developing well-paced games with Resident Evil 4, this is absolutely intentional. The Evil Within feels similar but with significantly more variety in its content, making it even more impressive. Crap, who turned out the lights?
Combat comes in so many different forms in this game. Enemies will turn invisible, forcing you to pay attention to sound cues and objects being moved. Some will be really fast and hide in bushes, challenging your camera control. Some will split up and try to trap you, some will be in hordes and force you to strategically position yourself. There’s so many different scenarios, each chapter has its own “how do I deal with this?” moment that constantly puts you on edge and forces you to stay focused. It’s the first horror game I’ve played in a long time that threw so many new situations at me for extended periods. The core controls are very solid to allow all these situations.
You play as a cop named Sebastian Castellanos. He knows how to shoot quite reliably but his movement isn’t super flash like an athlete or superhero. In fact he’s quite unfit and has a bit of a drinking problem. He can only sprint for 4 seconds (this can be upgraded with Brain Juice) before running out of breath and he’s a bit clumsy when turning around. It all matches the gameplay though and you have to be extra careful when approaching or disarming traps. It also means you can’t constantly sprint around in circles to trivialise enemy fights. It’s nothing that feels too restrictive though, as his normal speed is decent and comparable to most survival horror games really. There’s just no easy escape in this game, and his melee attacks are quite weak. To put the difficulty into perspective I died 52 times in my casual playthrough. The checkpoints are pretty forgiving so nothing really felt insurmountable. Hmmm, did you hear something?
It’s pretty obvious from all the promotional art, but I must warn people that The Evil Within has very high levels of gore and twisted images not for the faint of heart. You’ll see lots of blood, hangings, mutilations and suffering. I think it’s one of the best horror games ever made, but still wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who doesn’t already like horror games. None of the screenshots in this writeup have any combat, because the designs are a bit too grotesque and I was just too focused to think about screen-capping in those moments anyway.
It’s a different flavour of horror to something like Resident Evil. It’s very intense and it plays on many different fears, like being crushed, fear of heights, unstable structures, traps, spikes, complete darkness, explosives, drowning, being surrounded, lack of oxygen, intense heat, you name it. Each of the game’s 15 chapters tackles a unique fear and forces you to conquer it. It dives very deep into these concepts rather than just showing up for a minute or two, everything in this game is fleshed out. I think that is the key to the games fantastic pacing, and it’s going to be a different experience for everyone depending on what scares you the most.
The graphics and sound design play a huge role in this experience. The sound is so central to the design that entire encounters are designed around listening. Even in normal combat you can hear all different sounds coming from enemies that give you information, and even stuff in the environment like chairs being moved, doors banging and footsteps on broken glass. You can also use sound to your advantage by throwing empty bottles that enemies will react to. It doesn’t go overboard with psychotic whispering sound like Hellblade, rather it uses sound in a more practical way for good balance and variety.
The graphics are also outstanding, it’s hard to believe this game was initially on PS3 and X360 with environmental detail on the same level as the Resident Evil 2 remake. I played it on my Xbox One S and was very impressed with the level of detail and coherency. There’s a ton of massive environments that only show up for a small amount of time, but they still poured a ton of effort into making everything look spectacular.
The Evil Within is an absolute masterpiece and I would go as far as saying it’s the best horror game ever crafted from a brand new IP. This game wouldn’t have been possible in the RE universe, and takes full advantage of the new cast and lore to offer a new gameplay experience. There was a bit of doubt over whether Shinji Mikami would ever be able to match his masterpiece Resident Evil 4, but in my opinion he smashed it. It might not be a better game overall but it’s definitely a better horror game, and full of brand new ideas. Both are 10/10 masterpieces in my books. It’s a very addictive combination of great gameplay and high tension. What’s happening? Your browser is being restored… tabs are reappearing, Twitter is open. Back to your regularly scheduled brand of horror… daily life.