The Evil Within is a throw back to some of Japan's best horror entertainment. Gruesome visuals and mind bending shifts in reality imitate the Silent Hill series, enemies and game design borrow heavily from Resident Evil 4, while dozens of other moments take inspiration from, among others, Deadly Premonition, Devil May Cry, and Killer 7.
But can these re-imagined and repackaged classics compete with the modern-horror greats such as Outlast and Amnesia?
Studying the classics
It is no real surprise that The Evil Within takes inspiration from Japan’s survival horror titles - after all the game’s director, Shinji Mikami, is responsible for some of the genre's most seminal moments.
Nowhere is this clearer than when comparing The Evil Within to Resident Evil 4 (another Mikami title). Early scenes from both titles are almost identical, taking place in a similarly ravaged villages filled with twisted human opponents, a chainsaw wielding mad man, and peculiar puzzles.
The story follows Police Sargent Sebastian Castellanos as he investigates a disturbance at Beacon Mental Hospital. Arriving to discover dozens dead, he is drawn into a nightmarish world that crisscrosses fantasy and reality.
Stalked by the malevolent spirit Ruvik, Sebastian must fight his way through nightmarish visions and defeat hideous creatures as he tries to discover the truth behind the evil at work.
Slaughter from the shadows
The Evil Within is a third-person survival horror game that is trying to walk a fine line between the action focused horror titles regularly found on console, and the more disempowering PC indie titles.
Sebastian himself is a powerful protagonist who can put to use any weapons he finds, will punch anything bold enough to bite him, and shank a shambling fool from behind given half a chance. But there is a balance to this with Sebastian far from invaluable and only a limited supply of ammo to be scavenged from the world.
This leads to an increased emphasis on stealth. Creeping through the levels you can choose to avoid enemies, distract them with hurled objects, or sneak up on unsuspecting foes with your trusty knife.
It is this covertness that separates The Evil Within's gameplay from that of Resident Evil 4. A perfect example is when entering the first dilapidated village to discover dozens of hostile villagers. In RE4 I could see off every single attacker with some clever play, but in The Evil Within I soon found myself bereft of ammo and having to stealthy kill opponents from the shadows to survive.
The Evil Within's over-the-shoulder third-person action controls also invite comparison with Resident Evil 4. From the zoomed gun-targeting to smashing crates and barrels for items, it is clear Sebastian and Leon Kennedy trained at the same dojo. But, while the tight controls are as good as they ever were, not everything has aged as gracefully.
The biggest sin is that the camera regularly cause problems. With the viewing angle locked over Sebastian's shoulder there is really no excuse for this, but on multiple occasions I found the camera tracking the action from the wrong side of a wall. Though this generally didn’t cause a huge problem, when fleeing a terrifying, spider-like girl or trying to defend against a near-invisible attacker brief moments of blindness became infuriating.
For the most part, however, intelligent updates have been made. A quick select system sees you able to switch on-the-fly between four items. This creates an incredibly smooth combat style that allows you to easily switch between stealth and offense allowing you guide Sebastian from the shadows to stab someone before instantly transitioning into gunplay without skipping a beat.
The Evil Within does a sensational job creating its dark, disgusting world. From the opening moments when you find yourself hanging in the slaughter chamber of a hulking killer, the atmosphere is unrelenting.
This scene sees you surrounded by gored bodies. Everything is covered in congealed blood that coats the walls and floor. Breaking out of this room, you enter what feels like a medical facility but this quickly changes into a mechanical hell of spinning blades. Escaping through a hatch in the floor, Sebastian is sent sliding down a shoot that inexplicably leads to a vat filled with blood - a true horror given he is sporting several open wounds at this point.
This all happens within the first half hour of play, but the pace barely lets up once the prologue is over. It is almost disjointed in the way it transitions between areas, but as more psychological terrors become involved these rapid changes become intrinsic to The Evil Within's constant assault on Sebastian's – and your - sanity.
The ever-changing world goes a long way to keeping you moving through the game in a way many horror games struggle to achieve. Rather than becoming an oppressive single note experience, The Evil Within leaves you always wanting to see what warped view of reality it will throw at you next. It may wake you an asylums bed, drop you down a corridor by turning the world ninety degrees on its axis, or collapse a city around you - but whatever the next destination of this ghost train you are always eager to see what it has in store.
Building on a classic
I love horror titles, but all too often I find their foreboding, claustrophobic worlds mean that I really have to be in the mood to enjoy them. What The Evil Within manages to do is offset its dark and dismal tone, with unexpected action and physiological horror twists. This provides a dynamism to the story that propelled me through each stage without suffering my usual horror fatigue.
The Evil Within is a brilliant fusion of horror experiences, and while they may not always sit together perfectly the pace and tight gameplay will keep you enthralled throughout.
Clicking on the download link will take you to the Steam Store, where you can purchase the game or try the demo.