The Evil Within

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Release Date: Oct. 14, 2014 (US), Oct. 23, 2014 (EU)


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Xbox One Review - 'The Evil Within'

by Dustin Chadwell on Nov. 3, 2014 @ 2:45 a.m. PST

The Evil Within is a new survival horror game, an experience which Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami defines as one that pushes the limits of fear and exhilaration.

Director Shinji Mikami's fingerprints are all over The Evil Within. That's even more evident if you're familiar with his past work, particularly Resident Evil 4. Even with Mikami directing, The Evil Within leaves a lot to be desired, although it also had a lot of elements that I greatly enjoyed. I have a serious love-hate relationship with this title.

First, let's talk about the good stuff. If you had told me this game was at one point dubbed Resident Evil 4-2, I would totally believe you. The basic design might be a bit dated, since Resident Evil 4 came out over nine years ago, but The Evil Within mimics a lot of positive aspects of the Capcom classic. Enemies often pose a challenge, even in small numbers. Ammunition is in short supply, and each weapon feels distinct and is useful under different circumstances. There's a solid upgrade system for abilities, inventory and weapons. The atmosphere is legitimately creepy, if not downright scary at some points.

I also appreciated that The Evil Within didn't rely heavily on cheap jump scares to elicit a response from players. There are a handful of instances where jump scares occur, but by and large, the title unsettles players with claustrophobia, overly graphic visuals, and a sense of danger that's aided by your limited ammo. There are some very tense moments in the game where you're either outclassed or outmaneuvered by bosses and enemies. These moments can be frustrating, but at the same time, it makes The Evil Within feel like one of the few legitimate "survival horror" titles of the past decade.

While the atmosphere throughout the 15 campaign chapters is sufficiently tense, the story and characters really drop the ball. There's virtually no attachment gained with any member of the cast. The lead player-character is detective Sebastian Castellanos, who's accompanied by his partner Joseph Oda and another colleague Julie Kidman. All three are sent to investigate a grisly crime scene at a local mental hospital, where they're essentially kidnapped and put into a nightmarish world that straddles the line between reality and fantasy. There's a very strong Silent Hill vibe that comes through, but this title doesn't often capitalize on the strange, psychological aspects of the Konami series.

While exploring the world of The Evil Within, you'll get glimpses of Sebastian's past, which are often told via personal journals and newspaper clippings. These bits of information unveil a dark tragedy in Sebastian's life, but it's a plot thread that's essentially left hanging. It also doesn't do much to support or add anything significant to your character. He rarely reacts to on-screen terror in a believable manner, and his personality seems to be stuck on the "gruff" dial. He's unfortunately one-dimensional, and while the world around him reeks of atmosphere, he does little to draw the player into the nightmare with him. Because of this, I found myself unwilling to sit down with the game for more than a couple of hours per session because I cared very little for the story being told.

It's not just Sebastian's personal story that unfolds poorly. The plot boils down to something involving a dream world, a broken psyche, a secret program, and a whole lot of other convoluted nonsense that made little sense by the time the end credits rolled. While I managed to grasp the basic outline of the plot, I could understand that the door was left open for a sequel. Some of the forgotten (or ignored) plot threads may leave room for future DLC. Entire characters are left by the wayside, and a number of smaller subplots featuring tertiary characters are completely abandoned.

The Evil Within fares better when it comes to gameplay. While the game design is very frustrating, there are lots of standout moments that deliver. As I mentioned earlier, the game owes a lot to RE4. Shooting feels very similar, despite the ability to walk and shoot at the same time. Your aiming reticle for various weapons has a lot of sway, despite upgrades, so the shooting aspect feels believable and realistic. Enemies can take a fair amount of damage, and since bullets are scarce, you'll have to plan your shots accordingly. Like RE4, a valid strategy is to take enemies down by firing at their legs when they run, so you can get close for a melee attack or to light them on fire with your finite supply of matches.

The most interesting weapon in The Evil Within's arsenal is the Agony Crossbow. This weapon offers a variety of different bolts with special properties like explosives, electric shocks, and freeze traps. Your bolt supply can be replenished by disarming the various deadly traps scattered across levels and using the scavenged parts to build new bolts. This is one of the major mechanics in The Evil Within, and you'll need to get accustomed to it quickly once it's introduced in the game's early chapters.

Another major component is stealth. It's valuable in that it allows you to take down unsuspecting enemies with a single melee attack. I had a difficult time with the stealth mechanic in The Evil Within because I was often spotted from a distance while I fought with the camera controls for a clear view. I place some of the fault for this at my own feet, as I improved in later chapters. The camera would be less problematic if I had more screen real estate to work with, but the black bars, which provided a letterbox effect, prevented that from happening. I appreciate the attempt at cinematic flair, but I'd rather have the option to remove them.

The quality of the individual campaign chapters differs, but the high points generally exceed the low. Some late game chapters tried to buck the design trends in the rest of the game — an odd action-focused vehicle moment comes to mind — but most chapters allow for a reasonable amount of exploration and freedom. Objectives can vary, with occasional puzzles mixed in with waves of deadly enemies. While stealth is often your best choice in The Evil Within, there are also moments where you'll have to fight. Thankfully, you're often given some room to do so, with various passages to move through, traps to trigger or disable, and other hazards that can help or hinder your attempts to overcome enemies.

Boss encounters stood out as exceptional moments. These encounters are often tough and unforgiving, and they force you to utilize the environment or your limited arsenal in imaginative ways. A couple of encounters felt a little dull, and the final boss is strange when compared to the rest, but by and large, I was really impressed by the visual design of these foes and the mechanics involved in taking them down. From the first chainsaw-wielding maniac you encounter, bosses start off strong and rarely let up.

The Evil Within has its fair share of problems. The uneven camera, the forced letterboxing, some frustrating one-hit kill scenarios, oddly paced chapters, and sub-par story/character development keep this from being a must-play experience. It's clear that Mikami knows what he's doing when it comes to survival horror, but not every aspect of the game fares well. I still enjoyed playing through the title, and the tantalizing New Game+ unlocks give me enough reason to revisit the game down the road. If you'd like to check out The Evil Within, keep your expectations firmly in check and understand that there's some bad to go along with the good.

Score: 7.0/10

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