All aboard the hype-train.
When this game came out, it seemed like it stood for the return of survival horror as a genre. Of course, this idea ignores all of the fantastic indie horror games that came out around the same time. Evil Within did (and to an extent does) represent one of the few current options for survival horror on consoles. However, is it survival horror?
Well, not really. The game plays more like a love-letter to Resident Evil 4 and subconscious horror than anything else. Note: to have this review make any sense I will have to reveal much of the story. Spoilers ahead.
We play as Sebastian Castellanos—your standard grizzled detective, as he finds himself trapped in a series of anachronistic locations. Desperate to survive, find his partners, and figure out what is going on are his (and thus our) primary objectives. The game does a lot of things right, and the simplistic set-up is one of them. Horror does not have to be complicated to be effective. I think gamers are naturally a bit quicker to suspend disbelief (an advantage of interaction) than other audiences.
The settings are nice, albeit a bit typical to a certain extent. The most interesting aspect of the levels is the anachronisms within them. Where you are is a good question—when becomes the more important one. You are trapped within a dream-link with other people, so old memories form the world. Adding in this layer to the game does separate it from a lot of other games of the same type.
Unfortunately, the settings also have a tendency to run a bit sterile. Particularly in the latter half of the game. Not only do the levels change to more uniformity—the game changes, too. The game starts out not as survival-horror, but what I call starved-action. Action and combat are clearly the focus, but they don’t give you enough supplies to feel comfortable. Granted, there are some ways around this, but the melee combat leaves a lot to be desired. I personally hated the crossbow. The odd wind up reticle annoyed me more than anything. Unfortunately, this weapon usually has the most ammo. That last comment may be a little nitpicky, but it just drove me nuts.
An action-driven horror game can be great. Evil Within becomes more all-out action by the end, which did disappoint me a little. The tension the game builds more-or-less vanishes once it becomes a shooting gallery. Not to say the action wasn’t fun at points. It was, but it was not horror.
One of the more divisive elements of this game seems to be acting. Having played this game more than once, my opinion on this has shifted a lot. Going from okay to not great (note: never stellar). Sebastian is simply not a very exciting protagonist. He has the look, but not the attitude. He appears neither afraid nor confident in the events. Instead, he seems sleepy most of the time. Joseph Oda, your likewise sleepy partner, is perhaps the low point of the acting. Some of the side characters seem to put more effort into their lines than our two leads. Juli Kidman (the third detective) does a bit better, but is often bouncing off the sleepyheads.
The tired nature of the acting bleeds into the story, as well. While the set-up is interesting, the game chooses to not reveal much until the end. I appreciate the instinct here—don’t want to spill the beans, but it makes the game seem more scattershot than organized. Further complicating this is the episodic structure—with each level literally being a “stage” with a separate menu and clear data, it seems as though the cohesion of the world is lacking. Evil Within is not the first to do this type of set-up, where each chapter has a loading screen, but for me, it hurts immersion.
An okay but needlessly cerebral story mixed with an inconsistent genre. The game could still be salvaged by the gameplay. Here is where the game is also divisive. It is hard for me to fully come down on a side with this game. (Most seem to love or hate it). When the gameplay works, it works well. Sometimes though, particularly in tight areas, the reticle seems to aim past the enemies, which leads to an obnoxious situation. Most of all, I just found myself more bored in some of the levels than scared. Knowing that checkpoint was just around the corner pushed me on more than any sense of fear or skill.
Many aspects of this game feel older than they should. I took a break from my Silent Hill reviews after Homecoming for this one. This feels more like what Homecoming wanted to be, gameplay-wise. In many ways, this is the sequel to Resident Evil 4 that came a little too late. For me, Evil Within is plagued by a lack of concern on the part of the player. You won’t really care about Sebastian, nor the villain, nor anything. Even the bosses, which were well-designed, lacked an emotional punch for me. The game just doesn’t hit on all of the needed notes. Is it worth playing? If you like the genre, yes. 5.5/10