Evil Inside, or ‘Jump Scare Generator’ as it should be known, is deeply in love with PS4 tech demo ‘P.T.’.
You may not be aware of P.T. as it didn’t get a full or proper launch on the PS4, but for a period in 2014, it was all everyone could talk about. It was published by Konami, designed by Hideo Kojima, and developed in collaboration with Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo Del Toro. For various reasons it was yoinked from the Playstation Store, but for a time it showcased a wonderful future for survival horror, and it forged a fantastic path for the Silent Hill series (at the time, Konami were planning a ‘Silent Hills’ game).
P.T. was no longer than a demo, presenting an L-shaped corridor with only a couple of attached rooms, and you walked up and down that corridor. We’ve all probably done something similar while we’ve waited for a toilet to free up. But P.T. made it excruciating. It toyed with perception, using the blind-spots of the first-person perspective to move stuff around, or worse. Bloody apparitions stalked you, or appeared in flashes, and it was incredibly tense to play. Watch a video on Youtube: we thoroughly recommend it.
Since then, we’ve had a few games that have tried to capture its unbearable tension, most notably Visage, which extrapolated the single corridor of P.T. to an entire house with mixed but mostly positive results. And now we have Evil Inside.
Evil Inside is moderately larger than P.T., as it’s an L-shaped corridor with one more staircase and a couple more rooms, but it’s ostensibly the same set up. We won’t get snarky – while it’s a near-direct lift, it’s not as if you can play P.T. anymore, and it’s a template that works. You walk up and down the corridor, getting barraged by horrific things as you complete simple tasks and puzzles, which eventually leads you to a basement door. Step through the basement door and the loop starts again. You’re completing multiple ‘runs’ of this type, and the horror escalates.
There’s a story that slowly becomes less and less relevant, until an ending reminds you that it exists. You play Mark, a poor chap who’s mother has been killed by his father, and his father has been chucked in the clink as a result. You return home to do what any grieving son would do – contact your mum via Ouija board – which plunges you into a parallel hellscape of your family home. Oh Mark, you deserved all you got.
Evil Inside is not an attractive game. That much becomes clear from the first moments. It’s PS2-era, and you’re not going to struggle with feelings of immersion, as there won’t be any. Almost everything is a variation on a rectangle, and any ghosts are static and unanimated, rolled towards you on a trolley. The developers have struggled nobly with their limitations, trying to construct tense situations from the building blocks on offer here, but it’s always noticeable.
Better is the audio design, which creates some decent moments. Breathy voice acting appears when you least want it (in a good way), and classic horror tropes like a ghost whispering “don’t look back” are still effective. You won’t want to turn around, simply because your imagination creates horrible possibilities. This is where Evil Inside is at its best: when it leans on what might happen, rather than what actually happens. Mostly because what happens isn’t scary.
A fantastic sequence near the end is an example of this. It’s a sequence that’s pilfered, of course, as so much of Evil Inside is, but you’re given a polaroid camera and it’s your only light source, so you’re illuminating your surroundings in the hope of seeing an exit. But the walls are streaming with blood and littered with messages, which are only seen in the light of the flash. If only the rest of Evil Inside was even close to this level of tension.
Ah, the jump scare. The cheapest of all horror tropes. Evil Inside, perhaps because it doesn’t have the privilege of immersive graphics, absolutely flipping loves them. Open a cupboard – LOUD SHRIEK – and there’s your dead mum. Turn a corner – LOUD SHRIEK – there’s a clown. I’ve never understood the cold jump scare: it’s the equivalent of having someone sitting next to you, staring at you, waiting to shout loudly at random points. You’re always aware of them sitting there, and it’s not scary, it’s just surprising, and those two are not the same thing.
The jump scares are completely undermined by the graphics. Yes, babies can be creepy, but a baby that looks like it was modelled in the dancing-baby era, unanimated, and then scaled up to human size is – unfortunately – going to make me full-body chuckle. Once you realise that Evil Inside is going to sporadically flash mannequins at you as you walk about, the fear evaporates. The happenings also have a habit of directly copying iconic moments from film. One sequence in particular is a direct rip from Ringu.
Strip out the fear and you’re left with the game, and there’s nowhere near enough to enjoy. Part of the problem is the speed. Mark clearly doesn’t want to raise a sweat, so you’re moving at something approximating a single kilometre-per-hour. In a better game it would make things tense, but here it’s interminable.
That’s a death-blow when Evil Inside’s level design is so patchy. Each ‘run’ wants you to find a thing – a torch, some matches, a camera – or to find the open drawer or door that wasn’t open before. Finding this will likely trigger the basement door, and you can progress. But these things aren’t always visually clear, or the open door is triggered by something arbitrary, and you’ll spend a few runs trooping backwards and forwards, trying to find the gameplay trigger to end the pain. But the slowness, coupled with the naked gaminess of it all – you can almost see the code chugging in the background like a shoddy version of The Matrix – means that it’s a slow-paced chore.
Achievement hunters rejoice, as Evil Inside at least doesn’t stick around for long. 1000G is almost guaranteed, and you will cross the finishing line, weary, after about fifty minutes. Most of that is walking, so you can imagine how much of it is actual gameplay. We can recall two moments where something approximating a puzzle appeared in Evil Inside, but they’re so simple that a Resident Evil would have rejected them.
Evil Inside feels less like the P.T. that it was trying to emulate, and more like a creaky ghost train. It moves ever-so-slowly through a series of jump scares, and those jump scares are showing their age. The paint is peeling, the wood is showing. It’s cheap and over quickly, but that’s far from enough to justify a ticket.
You can buy Evil Inside from the Xbox Store for Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S