This wickedly creative game is a tough one to jump into. Created by the master game designer of Japan, Shinji Mikami—the man who conceptualized the Resident Evil series—The Evil Within is truly original and constantly fun. You will also repeatedly die a gory death, perhaps hundreds of times, until you are versed in the game’s subtleties.
Set in a harsh, violent world, The Evil Within, created by Mikami’s new studio, Tango Gameworks, is set in a morally questionable dog-eats-dog-meets-Bushido world. The aesthetic Mr. Mikami is reaching for conceptually is difficult to pin down specifically. Like the filmmaker Takashi Miike, Mikami’s world exists as a sort of cultural mash-up. If you’re steeped in what generations of Japanese Samurai movie and comic book fans already know, you’re ahead of the game. It definitely isn’t a rehash of Mikami’s last game, the iconic Resident Evil 4.
Plot-wise, The Evil Within opens in a fairly predictable manner after multiple murders are carried out at Beacon Mental Hospital in Krimson City. We meet Detective Sebastian Castellanos, who is a pretty cold fish of a homicide cop. Despite having a stressful job, Castellanos remains detached to the point of parody throughout, and, unfortunately, because we never really learn much about him, it’s hard to build empathy in a cop with no charisma. He’s more like a chartered accountant with a badge than Christendom’s chief enemy of Satan.
Over 15 chapters of action, Detective Castellanos does battle with the supernatural in a multiplicity of rooms and situations. Some of theses rooms are amazing. I refuse to give away information that affects the action, so you’ll have to just take my word that within the industrial spaces, walk-in refrigerators, meat lockers and, of course, the devil’s own assortment of rooms, tunnels and dungeons in the mental hospital, all the usual horror tropes are administered in any number of perverted, twisted, spindled and mutilated ways for your extreme pleasure.
If you’re an action-game junkie, you’re bound to be disappointed by Catellanos’ minimal arsenal. What? Just a sawn-off shotgun, a sniper rifle with a night-sight, a pistol, grenades and a bolt-firing crossbow combo? Indeed, Sebastian Castellanos may indeed not to be the kind of hero you were hoping to turn out to be. He tires easily and is not especially handy with his weapons.
On the other hand, every situation is exquisitely designed. Lots of cool desperate fights against enemies that own stealth powers allowing them to appear then disappear. Later, they can suddenly turn from ugly monsters into pathetic skeletal children, dark tiny beetles that transmogrify into deadly flesh-consuming giant bugs, Christ-figures who shed chameleon skins. Both beautiful and horrifying, it all takes place in Mikami’s beautifully drawn, claustrophobia-enhancing, labyrinthine buildings where interiors have long shadows, their silhouettes often reminding me of the underground world of cave leading to cave in the movie, The Descent. The sound effects and echoes are also administered brilliantly.
It really is a disservice to the game as a whole that the writers chose to put all their good stuff into the relentless horror. With so much of the feel of all this so completely reliant on a mood being sustained, the reason this one will last is that it doesn’t rely on what I’ll call cheap ‘smash and grab’ scares. Evil isn’t the cliché of somebody bad with a tail and sharp teeth whispering evil sweet-nothings into your ear. Evil knows your dreams to the point where it warns you of what’s waiting around the corner. Yes. The Evil Within is a keeper.