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The Evil Within (PS4) Review

"Horror Comes Home"

When Shinji Mikami was revealed to be working within the horror genre once again it got a lot of people excited. And rightly so. The man has worked on arguably the two greatest horror games of all time as the director of both Resident Evil Remake, and my personal favorite, Resident Evil 4. Which brings us to his latest project, The Evil Within. Trying to bring big budget console survival horror back to the top after a rough few years to say the least seems to be an almost impossible task. But somehow, against all odds, he has done it again.
The game will feel very familiar if you’ve played previous Mikami horror games. After a rough start to the game that plays like a 3rd person Outlast involving running and hiding from enemies, as soon as you get a gun and experience your first proper combat arena the game resembles Resident Evil 4 so much that I felt like I had already played it before in some strange way. If ever the words “spiritual successor” are needed it is now. With also a few elements of Silent Hill thrown in to create an experience old school survival horror fans will adore.

You are thrown into the experience rather quickly and I’m sure it is by design to confuse the player just like our protagonist is at the early events. The story slowly unravels as we discover Sebastian’s backstory and the recent terrible events that have surrounded Krimson City. Surprisingly the game has also one of the best methods of telling the story through collectibles I have ever seen. By reading newspaper articles and seeing missing person posters I was able to learn about the characters without being bogged down in long cutscenes which leaves more time to experience the true horror on display. I would have liked slightly more explanation of events in the end but I thought the less is more approach worked really well in this situation.
Speaking of true horror, The Evil Within is a truly twisted and disturbing game. I wouldn’t necessarily call it flat out scary as it does not rely on jump scares but rather just sets an extremely creepy tone and keeps a hold of you throughout it’s entire duration. And I much prefer this approach. Level design and environments are super impressive and you encounter all manner of different areas to be frightened in. Sewers, crumbling skyscrapers even creepy villages with chainsaw waving lunatics to avoid. Sound familiar?

Enemy design is also fantastic, with the majority of enemies you encounter programmed very similarly to the Ganado from Resident Evil 4. There’s also plenty of original enemies that are guaranteed to become fan favorites over the years including the extremely disturbing Laura and the already famous The Keeper aka Boxhead.
Boss battles in the game are very varied and well executed. Some can be very difficult, even when you know the strategy you need to employ, just pulling it off correctly is a struggle. I like that the difficulty is raised in these situations as it really makes them stand out and what's the point of a boss if it isn't difficult. There are a few sections that slightly frustrated me involving enemies that can instantly kill you with one attempt. Having to keep seeing the loading screen which can take 5-10 seconds can kill the momentum and tension sometimes but this was a small minority of my time with the game that otherwise progressed perfectly.

Controls are pretty tight and almost some of the best I’ve used in the genre. I didn't feel like I was fighting against them which is an improvement over most horror games. I did struggle early on with aiming my guns as the reticle likes to move quite a bit. But once I upgraded my guns to have better stability and I got used to the way enemies would attack, it felt better as I went along. Probably my biggest gripe with the game was the camera as it sometimes went in strange places and with it being so close to the back of your character it can be hard to sometimes find the right direction to head in.
The weapon upgrades I just mentioned are just some of the whole host of upgrades available to you. You can also get more health, carry more ammo, run for a longer time and countless other extremely helpful upgrades via collecting green fluid either left by dead enemies or found in vials scattered everywhere. This system suits the game so well and slowly makes you feel stronger, though not too powerful as the enemies get progressively harder also.

Another form of collecting is parts that can be found or scavenged by successfully destroying enemy traps designed to hurt you. Once collected, these parts can be converted into creating different bolt types for your crossbow, by far the game’s best weapon and almost essential for some enemy encounters. I personally loved the explosive bolt but the freeze bolt can be very fun to use also. When crafting or selecting your weapons the game world slows down but doesn't stop, thus making trying to craft certain items whilst fighting particularly hard enemies an incredibly tense spot to be in.
Perhaps one of the most unique parts of the game is it’s use of fire, in particular being able to burn enemies with matches you find. You can burn any downed enemy or body you find which creates a very interesting dynamic to the combat. If you enter a room with a few seemingly dead bodies you can either chose to burn them or leave them. With matches limited you won’t want to burn everything you see but ignoring them also can come back to haunt you as they have a habit of suddenly coming alive if you chose to leave them. Most satisfying is when fighting a group of enemies together, shooting one so they fall down then running over and setting fire to them so the fire takes down multiple enemies with just one match. A very useful strategy in a game where ammo can be very hard to come by at times.

Part of the amazing atmosphere the game creates can be credited to it’s exceptional sound design. Hearing an enemy snarling before even seeing them is so effective and the sounds in general are so horrible it will stick with you for a while after playing. If you play with headphones on; good luck. At times I found myself not exhaling for minutes at a time due to holding my breath as I slowly creep down a long hallway, unaware of an enemy’s location but can hear them watching me from the shadows.
I already mentioned how much this game borrows/pays homage to Resident Evil 4 in particular, but that isn't the only horror title it draws inspiration from. The amount of nods to previous horror games like when you first encounter an enemy from behind and it slowly turns around to reveal itself as well as other less obvious homages is outstanding. The Evil Within knows it’s roots and is happy to share this with you at all turns. As a huge fan of the genre myself, I really appreciated this.

My first time playing the game it took me 15 hours to beat which is about the perfect length for this kind of experience. Of course it will be much shorter in the future now I know what I’m doing and with a new game plus as well as other difficulties unlocked after my first completion, I will definitely play this game many times over the next few years.
From it’s first reveal I had a good feeling about this game. I thought at it’s worst I would still enjoy a return to a more old school style of game and hoped at best it would be a game I really enjoyed despite it’s flaws. After playing The Evil Within I believe it turned out even better than I could have expected. It’s flaws are very minimal and overall it’s probably the best console survival horror experience since Resident Evil 4. All horror fans owe themselves to play this game as it’s so rare we get something like this and I really hope it is the true kickstart the genre has needed for years. Even if it isn’t, The Evil Within is destined to be a modern horror classic.
Rating
9.5
Pros
  • Creepy atmosphere
  • Disgusting environments
  • Fantastic boss battles
  • Nods to previous horror classics
Cons
  • Camera issues
  • Shooting could be tighter

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