The Evil Within knows how to make you sweat. Tango Gameworks’ disgusting debut outing will leave you teetering on the precipice of failure with every twisted encounter, causing you to curse your shortage of resources or your character’s lack of superhuman strength. This is a game that, like its survival horror superiors, isn’t satisfied with slowly whittling away at your sense of safety – it wants to erode it at every opportunity. And while this pervading sense of danger does result in some controller damaging difficulty spikes, the game certainly succeeds at keeping you on the edge of your seat. Just try not to fall off.
Unlike the recent Alien: Isolation, you’re rarely powerless here. Detective Sebastian Castellanos, an indifferent law enforcer with a problematic past, is quite the whizz when it comes to a variety of different weapons, giving you copious options when it comes to combat encounters – well, in theory at least. As with the Resident Evil games of old, the title’s real genius is that you’ll never have quite the right resources to deal with a situation in the way that you’d like, forcing you to think on your feet. Conveniently, the character’s varied arsenal facilitates this, as familiar firearms such as handguns and shotguns are complemented by Agony Bolts.
These lethal crossbow projectiles come in a variety of different forms: an ice arrow, for example, will freeze any of your foes within a certain radius, giving you time to scavenge for ammo or map out a deadly plot of murder. Other options include electricity induced bolts and exploding darts, each tuned to activate when an unsuspecting enemy comes into contact with them. This trap-based gameplay becomes a major part of the third-person shooter’s moment-to-moment massacre, with foes placing tripwires and explosives in an attempt to catch you out. With so few materials of your own, though, turning the tables with these environmental elements becomes paramount.
You can, for example, attract shuffling herds of the undead using discarded bottles, and obliterate the confused corpses with a timely shot into a discarded barrel of flammable fluid. The artificial intelligence isn’t so idiotic that it will bend to your every whim, though, so you’ll constantly need to consider ways of adapting your approach. A running villager – the modern day equivalent of Resident Evil 4’s torch touting Ganados – can be toppled with a risky bullet to the kneecap, but will get straight back up unless you rush right over and set the corpse alight with an unassuming match. Other antagonists are not quite so forgiving, draining your resources with reckless abandon.
However, it’s these boss type adversaries that will test your patience at times. One such invisible enemy – that best resembles Zoidberg from Futurarama when in sight – is atrociously designed, forcing you to blankly fire your few bullets into thin air until the greedy creature has his tentacles all over your face. Another recurring rival, with spindly legs and long black hair, will simply bash your brains in each and every time that she invades your personal space. And that’s without even mentioning some of the major fights towards the latter half of the 15 to 20 hour campaign, which will have you screaming in outright irritation rather than the terror.
At least the art direction is spot on, with the Japanese horror influences evident in each ghastly creature design. There’s a little too much torture porn for our particular tastes, but the release does eventually end up adopting a more psychological route, with the narrative facilitating environments that adapt with repulsive regularity. In fact, this is one of the game’s stronger elements, as room layouts totally transform in realtime and more. It’s just a shame that, with all of the sharp environmental and enemy designs, it doesn’t look better on a technical level, as the game engine is prone to a frightening amount of texture pop-in.
Framerate fluctuations are also an issue, especially in areas of high activity. There are a few points throughout the arduous escapade where the title ditches its corridor-based encounters, adopting miniature sandboxes in their place – but, while these are among the most enjoyable moments from a pure gameplay perspective, the spacious environments can prompt the performance to take a nosedive. Load times are also unacceptable, with some sections pausing for up to 20 seconds while you wait for the action to reappear. This completely breaks any sense of tension, of course, even if you are kept occupied with some grotesque pieces of artwork.
Fortunately, that’s somewhat appropriate, as this is a gross game from start to finish. Rather than upgrade your arsenal and abilities with fake cash found in boxes and barrels, you’ll instead gather up green gel – or brain juice – which is then injected into your head. Elsewhere, in an obligatory abandoned mansion sequence, you’ll stick probes into partially exposed brains in order to open mechanically locked doors. The game even sees you gazing into cracked mirrors in order to visit an abandoned hospital – which doubles as a save point, and a place for you to open lockers with keys that you locate around the world.
At its controller clutching best, The Evil Within evokes memories of Silent Hill’s high points – but it’s the Resident Evil comparisons that are most consistent throughout. Unfair difficulty spikes swap out the title’s pervading sense of fear for outright frustration at times, while technical issues undo the developer’s outstanding art direction. Thankfully, legendary director Shinji Mikami doesn’t disappoint in the gameplay department, forcing you to get creative with your plentiful combat options due to an unending absence of resources. It’s here that developer Tango Gameworks finds the breathless brilliance within.