Who’s going insane? The Evil Within wants to desperately know — and it’s not entirely convinced that you aren’t the one who is.
Horror video games have gone in a more pacifist direction as of late with Slender and Outlast being games where you are exploring only armed with a source of light and the ability to run. The fear comes from a tense atmosphere and your utterly helpless state.
Shinji Mikami, creator of Resident Evil 4 — which is widely considered a masterpiece — throws a big fuck you in the face of this style by bringing The Evil Within back to its survival horror and “gun-blazing” roots. That’s not to say that you’re running around dropping enemies like flies. Every piece of ammo is a treasure to be treated with love and respect. Every shot counts and each miss brings one of the unexplained zombie-like enemies closer — villains that evolve into more horrifying incarnations as the game progresses at a blistering pace.
In The Evil Within, you play as detective Sebastian Castellanos, a stereotypically rugged and alcoholic film-noir character complete with a tragic past. The supporting cast is just as generic with partner Joseph Oda — the smart level-headed detective that keeps Castellanos together — and Julie Kidman, the straight edged rookie female detective trying to prove herself.
The crew gets called in to investigate an emergency at a mental hospital. Once they arrive, they see an absolute massacre before them. After a brief run in with with a clearly diabolical doctor and a mysterious hooded character, the stereotypes stop. Suddenly you’re thrust into a city on the verge of collapse and every bit of progress sends you further into madness, which is emphasized by encounters with the unfortunate mental patient Leslie Withers. Each locale that you find yourself in is stranger and more unreal than the last, but the game never loses it’s dark and utterly horrifying mood as the creatures transform.
There’s certainly an evil within this game — however, it’s not entirely clear whether or not it is the player’s. The fast paced and desperate gameplay are just a fraction of what makes The Evil Within so incredible.
You find yourself walking through shattered mirrors into Castellanos’ own personal asylum complete with nurse Titania Guiterrez. The rooms inside are filled with newspapers depicting tragic accidents with past locales and missing posters for characters in the game.
Another surprisingly major aspect to the game’s success is its innovative saving area, which is far more than just your standard menu screen. The exploration of this area does not give any indication that it is actually a safe place to be, which is furthered by the incredible upgrade system.
As Castellanos, with help from nurse Guiterrez, you willingly sit yourself down and are strapped into the area’s upgrade chair with some sort of cap placed on your head that injects brain liquid found while exploring whoever’s crazed mind you are in. It may sound silly, but watching Castellanos writhe around in pain when you just want to become a better shot is completely unique.
The final characteristic that makes The Evil Within one of the best games this year, and possibly one of the greatest horror games of all time, is its total hate for the player. Mikami and the game’s developers don’t want you to win, they want you to die over and over again — and for some strange reason, you will like it. It’s not just that each shot counts, it’s that every encounter is completely open in how the player wants to tackle it. Instead of just shooting an enemy in the head you could throw a bottle and distract them enough to either sneak by or approach for a quick, but risky, kill. You could also go ahead and lead them into traps, set them on fire or simply shit your pants and run away.
What about all those tools you receive to fight through the chaos? Well, the enemies and the environment have them too, along with many more ways to see you die. Those traps that can be used to your advantage are also pretty hard to see and if missed, there are some not so fun times in store.
Traps can also be deactivated, but some are even riskier to disarm than sneak past. Everything will be used against Castellanos. Every time you think something has been learned, there’s another way to die in replacement which makes each encounter worthy of total fear and the serious consideration of purchasing of an inhaler.
The horror, difficulty and madness only deepen as The Evil Within has its way with you. It is an experience unlike any other.