I’m a firm believer that the worst kind of horror is the horror within your own mind. “The Evil Within” gets part of that right. The story is a physiological thriller of time and space shifts and genuine what-the-heck moments. Technically the story can be called “psychological” since the plot deals with the stability of the character’s own psyche. But rather than allowing the player to scare his or herself, the game throws so much blood and so many disturbing creatures at the screen that the shock value becomes old hat fairly early. It’s the unknown that is always scarier than the known. “The Evil Within” fails to grasp that subtlety.
If creepy horrors inspired by Japanese cinema hit your scream button, this game will have you shrieking at your television. Some of the bosses appear to be ripped straight from “The Grudge” or “The Ring,” while others look like the latter concepts have been combined with western horror staples like Jason or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” These kinds of in-your-face enemies rarely make walking into an unknown room scary. The few scares come from encountering these foes with no ammunition to get the job done.
This is an action game built upon the foundation of horror. Don’t let that turn you off. Don’t forget that “Resident Evil 4” was had a similar structure and is regarded by some to be the best in the series. The important thing is whether or not that action is done well. Fortunately it is.
Single-player action/horror games that drop a single character into a menacing world thrive by having scarce resources. This concept usually falls apart in later levels when ammunition is plentiful, and the game unravels into a shooting gallery. Not so with “The Evil Within.” Conserving resources is essential from beginning to end. You’ll have to rely on each weapon, because chances are you’ll only have a few bullets for each. The game calls upon the player to get creative in taking out its undead horrors. It’s not the mechanics or weapons that make this game unique. It’s how it makes the player use them.
Inventory management is also a creative mechanic. Your character only has four inventory slots for quick swapping. Health kits or weapons can be placed into these slots that are selected by the d-pad. You’ll have to choose what four items are most important to you. Other weapons outside of your four favorites can be selected, but they have to be selected in an inventory menu. The game doesn’t pause when viewing this menu, making it tough to do when engaged with enemies.
Like all “Resident Evils” since “4,” “The Evil Within” has upgradable weapons and abilities. Throughout the game, you'll collect green gel. This gel can then be used to increase maximum health, improve accuracy or weapon damage, increase the amount of ammo you can carry, and many other options. There are more upgrades than you’ll be able to max out in one playthrough. The rest will have to be improved in the New Game+.
I played through “Resident Evil 4” about four times, and that was just the GameCube version. I saw the same sights and encountered the same enemies, but the gameplay was enhanced with overpowered weapons and new weapons that were unlocked from game completions. I see myself repeating this with “The Evil Within.” Two new weapons are unlocked after completing the game for the first time. Plus, map fragments are scattered throughout the game. I’m not sure what collecting these unlocks, but I’d like to find out.
Each scene, enemy and big battle is memorable, but the story that is supposed to tie that together is anything but. After a day of reflection I’m still unable to grasp even the basic timeline of the narrative. A detective investigates a homicide at a mental hospital. Entering the crime scene begins a chain reaction of mind tricks and question marks. There are some children and a fire involved. I honestly can’t tell you anything else about it because I don’t know. This is “The Matrix: Revolutions” of video games. A lot of parts will make you “ooo” and “ahh,” but explaining what actually happened is impossible.
When you actually think about it, was “Resident Evil” really ever about the story? Was Wesker a well developed villain? That series has always been gameplay over narrative. “The Evil Within” continues that trend. “Resident Evil” has been on the decline for the last decade, but “The Evil Within” can be its honorary resurgence.
8.5 out of 10
Creative game world
Ammo scarcity is back
Good inventory and progression system
The story makes no sense
Fear comes from the unknown, not the known