The Evil Within is a Third Person Action/Horror game in where we play as Sebastian Castellanos, a detective investigating a gruesome murder scene inside of a mental hospital. As one would imagine, things quickly go wrong, and our protagonist soon finds himself upside down and hanging from a meat hook next to several other dangling corpses. It is quite an escalation right from the get-go and without any firearms or other means to defend ourselves, we are shown the basics of the stealth system to attempt to escape this sticky situation. Hide in lockers, stick to the shadows and do everything in your power to avoid a chainsaw from tearing into your flesh.
After that little game of cat & mouse then afterward an epic ride across the city, we receive a gun and get into the game proper. We find ourselves deep in the dark forest with hardly any ammo and only a lantern to shine through the darkness in search of our fellow detectives. This is one of the few times that The Evil Within actually has a hint of horror to it as we do not know what we’re up against nor do we have an arsenal of weapons to fall back on. Pretty soon we’ll find out what we are up against and they are humanoid like mutants that are smart enough to use weapons but not intelligent enough to avoid traps they’ve set. Sneaking behind an enemy and jamming your knife into the back of its neck works wonders and will kill them immediately, though since they travel in packs you have to choose your moment wisely, or his mates will attempt to return the favor.
Scattered around the environments are glass bottles that you can pick up and throw to distract your foes. Or if you are feeling brave you can throw it directly in its face and throw a match at him to let the flames engulf him. This latter route will naturally bring a lot more attention and being discovered is not typically a death sentence. One can make use of the traps laying around by predicting how they will attempt to reach you and you do have the advantage of range since most enemies are melee based. Unlike zombies, a head-shot on them does little more than momentarily stun them, one has to completely blast their heads off in order to pacify them. Ammo is a luxury in this title and preserving it whenever you can is an important aspect so going in guns blazing will leave you in quite a tricky spot when you encounter a new, more dangerous foe. You also have a melee attack with every weapon though that is likely a battle you will not win.
A rather annoying way to force us into stealth are those noise detecting traps that will start rapidly beeping if we so much as walk near them, while the same rules do not seem to apply to the mutants. We can not rush into a room without risking being caught in an explosion, and for some reason, our character can only sprint for three seconds before needing to bend over to catch his breath leaving us helpless. I say three seconds of sprinting, but in fact, it is only two before he starts wheezing then slows into a jog. This is the worst stamina system in recent memory and in combination with the noise detecting traps it makes combat and movement a real pain. At least at first, you see there is an RPG like upgrade feature in place, that lets us upgrade the amount of ammo we can carry, damage guns do and stamina to name a few. In order to purchase these, we will need to find brain fluids that can either be found in jars or ooze directly out of a defeated enemy. It is an interesting currency system, to say the least, and how we apply it is also quite unique.
Disarming traps gains us some scrap in which we can then turn into bolts for our crossbow. This gives us an incentive to try to disarm them instead of using it as an easy way to dispatch enemies or just skirting around them. Some can be scavenged merely by holding a button while others will require good timing in order not to end up with shrapnel in your face. It is typically worth it to put yourself at the risk of possibly failing it since as stated, ammo is sparse, and you can build bolts on the spot with that salvage. There are various types of bolts to create with some being able to freeze enemies, electrocute them or attach an explosive for serious damage. Across our journey, we will receive a sniper rifle, shotgun, magnum and a few other weapons. With such a variety of objects to kill our foes with it is nearly comical that simple matches may be our greatest asset. Not only can you burn a stunned enemy to death but this ensures they are really dead and will not take a few good swipes at your ankles when you walk near.
It starts off heavily inspired by Resident Evil 4, but it won’t be long before we get a partner RE5 style. Thankfully, they are actually useful here, and you don’t have to worry about them at all though it does mark a sharp turn from trying to be horror to being mostly action. I wouldn’t say it’s a jarring transition since we are fighting a villain that can seemingly distort reality and effortlessly teleport us from set-piece to set-piece without the need of an explanation. The point of that is to disorient the player, and in that they succeed, but at the cost of any kind of coherent flow. This makes it feel like watching a movie with someone that fast forwards through it and only watches the exciting bits then pops in a completely different one when you are not looking. It makes sense for what they were going for however the story fails to be gripping in any way, leaving the sole reason to push forward to be the gameplay which in itself is a Frankenstein like blend of ideas.
Aside from sneaking and blasting mutants to bloody chunks with an assortment of weapons, it will feature many chase sequences. Desperately running away from a multitude of monsters who we have no hopes of defeating is all well and good except for one minor thing. That terrible Crash Bandicoot like camera that points the camera at you instead of in front of you to see where you are actually running to. Sure it looks cool but to see it chasing you, though we may as well be running blindfolded. This title loves its insta-death kills, and since the world doesn’t have to make sense, it can often catch you off guard. Most of them feel incredibly cheap such as spikes magically clipping through a perfectly normal looking wall when you approach to burn a hung mutant or a mansion’s door suddenly bursting open, lassoing your foot and dragging you towards a giant meat grinder. Nearly all of my 34 deaths throughout the game felt unfair with only a few feeling like I had it coming.
The sense of true danger in a horror game is an extremely important aspect to feeling and is what gets one to be on edge at the slightest noise. It is handled terribly in this title with it relying mostly on sucker punches to negate the fact that we are armed to the teeth. That does not restore any semblance of the horror that it had in the beginning. By the end, you’ll be fighting mutants that have full body armor and are shooting at you with a sub-machine gun, be gunning them down in a turret section and are running up the side of a crumbling building. It is quite fascinating seeing it’s transition from RE4 to 5 and finally the full-blown action that is in Resident Evil 6. Needless to say, this is not a title for those that want to be scared. With all that I’ve said so far, it may seem weird that I say this, but it really is rather quite fun when you are not being sucker punched.
After you turn off your brain and try to drown the feeling that you are playing through several proof of concept sections they poorly stitched together, it can be fun to try to mow your way through enemies while managing the limited ammo. This incomprehensible progression of events also allows this game to never be predictable and no two areas of the game feeling the same across its lengthy 11-hour campaign. One moment you’ll find yourself fending off a horde of mutants, the next you’ll be exploring completely different environments, and then you’ll be blindly firing hoping to hit some invisible foes that are slowly inching their way toward you. One section will kill your fingers as you mash the A button to turn an absurd amount of valves throughout that level and another may have you facing a bunch of bladed, spinning Roombas. Set-pieces are very hit or miss, and while occasionally frustrating I would never call them boring.
Our protagonist Detective Castellanos is not a mute character and will often chime in on the events that are occurring. He, alongside most of the cast, grow to be rather good characters that you will likely start to care for. And the antagonist does an excellent job of making you want to introduce your shotgun to his smug face as he constantly toys with you. By default, the game has letter-boxing turned on to make it appear like a movie though that can be turned off through the options menu. I didn’t experience any issues, bugs or crashes and it ran well all throughout. Once you finish the title, you unlock a new game plus mode, weapons, a harder difficulty and a nifty model viewer to allow you to see the character or monsters in full detail without worrying about being viciously murdered for gawking at them instead of shooting.
The Evil Within has to be one of the strangest titles I’ve reviewed in a long time. It feels like a greatest hits compilation of Resident Evil 4-6 with enough ideas from other games to Frankenstein together its own identity. The lack of focus harms it and its “see what sticks” approach towards trying to blend stealth, horror, and action together does not work in its favor a majority of the time. It can occasionally be fun despite that and blasting apart foes with any weapon feels great. In a commendable act, they do have a demo available that features the first three acts of the game which are in my opinion, the best. If you decide to check it out, do keep in mind that the game won’t stay that way throughout and turns into a straight-up action title sooner rather than later before purchasing it. All in all, The Evil Within was an interesting experiment that resulted in a functional yet unremarkable game that while flawed, will entertain you all throughout.