Survival-horror games were considered dead for a while. Fans of the genre remained wanting, but thankfully, some publishers took note of this. Dislike them all you want, but EA financed the development of Dead Space, one of the best horror games ever made. And at a time when not many other publishers would. Similarly, out of nowhere, in 2013 Bethesda Softworks, in collaboration with Tango Gameworks, announced The Evil Within.
Known as PsychoBreak in Japan, The Evil Within was directed by Shinji Mikami himself: the co-creator of Resident Evil. And with its over-the-shoulder camera perspective, it bore a close resemblance to Mikami’s last Resident Evil game: Resident Evil 4. Borrowing many ideas and mechanics from it, one could even consider it as a spiritual successor to RE4.
Mikami’s new game released in 2014, when Resident Evil still went through an identity crisis, and was received well. Five years after its release, we look back at The Evil Within, its similarities with Resident Evil, and how it reinvigorated the dwindling horror genre.
From Where the Evil STEMS
The Evil Within focuses on three main characters: detective Sebastian Castellanos, his partner Joseph, and junior detective Juli Kidman. Sebastian is your typical gruff alcoholic type, strict and to the point, but he never comes off as unpleasant. And the mysterious Juli, in her out-of-place high-heels, is by far my favourite. Her persona is further explored in two brilliant DLC packs: The Assignment and The Consequence.
As the trio arrives to investigate a murder scene at the Beacon Mental Hospital, they’re pulled into a series of gruesome events. It soon turns out that their surroundings don’t even exist. And everything unfolds within a machine known as STEM which explores the mind of the game’s main antagonist, Ruvik. Moreover, Ruvik himself is dead and only his brain remains intact, yet he still desires to acquire a real body.
Going through his past, characters are constantly thrown between multiple locales and Ruvik’s memories. In one way or another, each location reveals a part of his difficult childhood and makes you somewhat sympathize with the character’s plight.
A far-fetched and oft-confusing story, but one that attempts to explore a complex subject matter of human psyche. Its characters, though somewhat cliched, are voiced well and overall interesting to follow. Especially Sebastian, whose harsh past is revealed through notes found across the game’s story. And as far as survival-horror stories go, The Evil Within definitely takes a place in the top tier.
The Evil Residents
If Resident Evil 4 is among your favourite games, then The Evil Within made you feel right at home. And not just by sharing the over-the-shoulder camera perspective. Many events, locales, weapons, and even boss battles could easily invoke a sense of deja vu. And even the mechanic of burning corpses from the Resident Evil Remake is present here.
Most enemies resemble the Ganado from Resident Evil 4; relatively intelligent and often carrying weapons. But The Evil Within also introduced several iconic monsters. Among them were The Keeper, an imposing butcher of sorts, with a meat cleaver in hand and a safe on his head. And also Laura, a terrifying creature with six legs and long black hair covering her face. She bears close similarities to classic Japanese monsters, like Kayako from The Grudge and Sadako from The Ring.
Beyond their grotesque appearance, both monsters actually had intricate and even saddening backstories. Laura, for instance, is Ruvik’s late sister who died in a fire at the hands of some jealous bastards. As a result, this makes her hideous spectre vulnerable to fire, and it’s the only way to stop her for good. And due to his unique appearance, The Keeper became a playable character in his own DLC: The Executioner.
The game’s atmosphere greatly benefits from this variety of monsters. And in terms of a pure fright factor, it significantly surpassed the source material.
In the Warmth of a Moonlight
Mikami is not only a master at creating horrifying monsters, but also at providing the player with a well-earned rest. Among the more novel aspects of Resident Evil are its calming save rooms and in The Evil Within, they’re even better.
Every location, be it a spooky forest or the mansion of Ruvik’s parents, contains a number of mirrors. Accompanied by a warm light and the soothing melody of “Clair de Lune”, these mirrors transport Sebastian to a remote hospital ward.
Overseen by Tatiana, a nurse of few words, these locations provide Sebastian with various benefits. In addition to saving progress, you could learn more about the story by finding notes and posters, or interacting with other “patients”.
By using collected green gel, you could also upgrade Sebastian’s abilities and weapons. A cool process during which Sebastian sits into an electric chair of sorts (totally safe) and is presented with available upgrades. It wouldn’t make much sense in a Resident Evil game, but with how erratic the world of The Evil Within is, it fit right in.
And lastly, a separate room containing numerous lockers allows you to use collected keys in order to acquire various goodies. These lockers are reminiscent of those found in the Yakuza series and an equally engaging addition.
Points of respite were all the more important on a subsequent playthrough. Completing the game unlocked the infamous AKUMU (demon or devil in Japanese) difficulty. On this setting, Sebastian died from any single hit. Some segments were brutally challenging, some were frustrating and others downright tested your sanity.
You Have Once Again… Entered the World of Survival Horror
Overcoming the punishing AKUMU difficulty served as a testament to how much I enjoyed the game, and it was well worth it. With a gripping story, memorable enemies and limited resources, The Evil Within brought back survival-horror as we know it.
Followed by multiple DLC’s and an equally-gripping sequel, The Evil Within became a commercial and critical success. And with how well the series has performed, we can certainly expect a third entry.
If you’re yet to try The Evil Within, then by all means give it a go. Both games – The Evil Within and The Evil Within 2 – are available on the Xbox Store and won’t cost you more than a few jars of green gel.