I like the Evil Within, I liked Resident Evil, I pretty much consider Evil Within to be a game that doesn't quite live up to the standards of Resident Evil 4. That's my opinion though, get used to it. It's a hard thing to write a review of a horror game, because horror isn't universal, what scares one person rigid may well make another person mildly uncomfortable or even laugh.
Evil Within has disturbed me as a player more than scared me, it's not afraid of layering buckets of blood, gore and viscera over a rusted tapestry of interiors and nightmarish barbed-wire creatures that could have slithered dream-like from the mind of Clive Barker. In many ways it's more modern-horror than classic old-school creeping horror like Resident Evil.
It is however a survival horror game and there are elements here that prove that the director, the creator of Resident Evil - Shinji Mikami understands that true horror comes from uncertainty and presenting a player with a world that he can't relate to. Low ammo counts, lurking monsters, a lantern that nearly blinds you with its flaring light as you swing it around just serve to pile on the tension as each new vista opens up for exploration.
Your main protagonist, a Detective: Sebatian Castellenos, is quickly thrust into a rapidly descending spiral of violence and horror as madness lurks out of the shadow rather quickly and you find you're escaping some of the most brutal violent monsters since Resident Evil 4 and 5 (and perhaps 6) brought out big dudes with chainsaws that are unstoppable.
Yeah, the prologue to Evil Within is a quick-fire roller-coaster that gets you right into the sometimes incomprehensible story, by hammering things at you at a rapid pace and forcing very little time to take stock as you're propelled from one incredible moment to the next. I am not going to spoil what happens, because it is pretty much one of those defining moments of the game and sets the bar for what's to come.
In many ways though, it's the story that lets the game down, along with some of the dialogue. It can pull you out of the creepy places you're exploring and jar you in such a way that all immersion is broken in an instant and you're left wondering what the hell is going on. Whilst there are surreal dream-like elements of the game that allow you to explore the whole tapestry of the narrative further, unlocking things and even being used as a means to upgrade your character. A feature I really found cool, and better presented than a plain old 'press Y to upgrade' stat menu.
Here in this dream-like place, in black and white, you begin to feel at ease. Claire de lune plays comfortably in the background and you're transported into a realm of safety for a few moments where you can take a breather from the monsters and gore. Save your game and check out character/weapon upgrades via the jars of medical gel you find scattered around the environments.
You can travel back/forth from this place through special fractured mirrors you'll find dotted around in various places, perhaps a clue to our heroes mental state at the time of the adventure. Or perhaps I'm just throwing in a red herring here.
The game controls fairly well, there's a satisfying weight to the combat in melee (a last resort really) against the many vile inhabitants of the story. You could always try the gun, but remember, ammo isn't candy and there are only so many bullets before you're left with a weapon that just clicks in response. Gun combat/weapon combat at range is also pretty satisfying and solid, with good aim/shoot mechanics and just enough aim-lock to help new players out on Casual mode. There's puzzling, there's stealth play with an awareness meter on the lower difficulties and stealth kills. There are also matches, you'll learn to love them, burn the bodies - always burn the bodies!
But, what happens when I have no more matches?
Run, hide, escape.
You will die, I died a lot to begin with and it's pretty brutal in some of the ways that our hero can be killed. It doesn't pull any punches at all in how this violence affects the character, a brutal throat cut moment later and your head follows, neatly removed in a single blow.
In many ways Evil Within is great, it's got the looks, it's got the animation and it's got all those bells/whistles that translate into a game that's a cut above the rest. It's a bigger budget Alone in the Dark, it's brash, it's bold, it's disturbing and it's a lot of fun when you're not playing on the harder modes. It's got a Barker-esque atmosphere that really amps up the creepy factor as the story gets deeper and deeper, it uses lighting and sound effects to create a horror environment that can be genuinely creepy at times. Monsters lurking on the periphery of your vision, a wide-screen presentation that's both interesting and claustrophobic pushing even more of the darkness onto your screen in the form of those ever-present black bars that press down against your frame of reference.
It ticks many of the boxes of a cool game, but unless you're a fan of a spider-web tapestry of a story that's as convoluted as they come, it might leave you scratching your head in frustration rather than screaming in terror. The weakest points for me came in the boss fights, which descended into a realm of annoyance rather than fun, yet I had to keep on playing because I was compelled to see how things developed.
I know that many of you love numbers, stats, little scores you can use to compare a thing to a thing, but the game as a whole is far more than just those comfortable old-school friendly statistics that used to denote quality. Evil Within is an experience, for many it might be good, especially fans of the developer, for some it might be terrible. For me, it was a solid game that disturbed me to no end and since that's what I was looking for out of it - that's what I got.
Perhaps it might rely a bit too much on older horror tropes, but I rather like those, so... job done!