I’m just gonna come out and say it. Much like punk, Survival Horror is dead and has been since the mid-2000s. I say that with a heavy heart because that genre was one of my favourites. Masterpieces like Silent Hill and Resident Evil knew how to scare the shit out of you, by exposing the most basic of human fears, simply rendering the player powerless- also faceless monsters, they helped too.
Bethesda’s The Evil Within looks to resurrect that long-forgotten fear by bringing aboard the grandfather of the genre himself, Shinji Mikami, and throwing you headfirst into his demented nightmare and asking you to survive.
Now, before I talk about anything else I’m going to answer the two most asked questions I’ve seen in regards to the game: “Is it scary?” and “Is it a true return to survival horror?” The answers, I’m afraid: No and no.
I’ll tackle the scary part first. The Evil Within starts off strong, with the main protagonist waking up after being rendered unconscious during a murder investigation at a mental hospital. Except he doesn’t wake up in a bed, oh no, he’s strung upside down, surrounded by bodies on meat hooks, Texas Chainsaw Massacre style. If this starting scenario wasn’t uncomfortable enough, seconds later, enter a behemoth, clad in a bloody apron and gimp mask, wielding a meat cleaver.
What transpires next is a tension filled, cat and mouse escape, which had me hiding in lockers, sprinting for dear life and basically soiling myself every couple of seconds. Alright then, if this is the kind of game I’m in for I am sold! I took this fearful mentality and sense of fragility into the next chapter but soon it had all but dissipated.
What changed? Well, I became a complete bad ass in short space of a load screen. I now had a gun, I could perform insta-kill sneak attacks and the enemies, for all intents and purposes, were just regular dudes wrapped in barbed wire.
Sure, limited bullets can be an issue early on but through a combination of Metal Gear neck snapping and the Resident Evil 4 melee/dash/shoot exploit, there’s not a whole lot that can stop you. And like that, the fear was gone.
The survival horror element is trickier to explain though, since every game is essentially about survival. To me, true survival horror is achieved when you feel as weak as a kitten and firing bullets is akin to choosing which of your children to throw in front of a bus. The Evil Within has you readily popping off shots to solve puzzles and even throws you into arena-based shoot outs, which pretty much kills the whole survival horror vibe.
[img_big]center,11045,2013-12-11/The_Evil_Within_screenshot_2_1383569085.png,The Evil Within[/img_big]
But let’s look at this from a different perspective. As a schlocky action romp, it hits all the right beats and is really quite enjoyable! The gameplay feels, unsurprisingly, a lot like Resident Evil 4. The action is quick to get hectic and the combat controls complement this perfectly, with shooting feeling quick and responsive and explosive head shots giving you that ‘hell yeah, suck it!’ feeling.
The tools you’re given to dispatch your foes each fulfil a purpose, from traditional firearms like the crowd controlling shotgun to a crossbow that fires an assortment of bolts (like fricking freeze arrows) that would make the Green Arrow jealous! Each weapon (and even your stats) can be upgraded by finding green gel hidden throughout the levels, which can quickly turn your staple revolver into a one hit acquitter.
It’s whilst you’re searching the levels for this magical upgrade goo, that you truly recognise The Evil Within’s strongest suit, the amazing visuals. Putting the hardware of the PS4 and the power of the id Tech engine to work, Tango Gameworks have created one of the most beautiful yet disgusting games I have played in quite some time.
The gore and viscera is appropriately gross and some of the enemy designs are really quite inspired but it’s the atmosphere that steals the show. The environments are incredibly detailed and varied, with phenomenal dynamic lighting. This combined with a tight cinematic camera and grindhouse filters, more often than not creates an incredibly oppressive ambience. Honestly, the tensest I felt in this game was during the moments of sheer silence and aloneness, wandering the melancholy hallways.
If you’re after a complex, narrative driven, psychological horror game- I’m afraid you’re out of luck. The Evil Within feels like a spiritual successor to the later Resident Evil titles, all be it slightly less campy and unfocused. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What The Evil Within does, it does well. Combat is frantic and satisfying, the visuals are stunning and there’s more gizzards strewn about the place than a Rob Zombie video clip.
If you’re in the mood to explode heads and riddle giant, disturbing boss monsters with handfuls of bullets, you may get a kick out of this one. But if you’re looking for a horror experience that gets into your head and reduces you to a quivering mess, you may have to wait a little longer and hope you find it in restless dreams… in your special place.