When Shinji Mikami and the team at Capcom developed Resident Evil, they changed gaming. There were scary games prior to that first RE game, but those games didn't have nearly the impact. With The Evil Within, Mikami hopes to change the industry once again by bringing back survival horror to its roots.
Puts the Survival in Survival Horror - Over the years, the big complaint for survival horror games is how there is little focus on "survival." They went from barely surviving to having too much ammo to carry making the rest of the game a cakewalk. Then we had the period of having no items or weapons with games like Amnesia, but that was less about "survival" and more about stealth. In The Evil Within, there is no question about it; you have to work to survive.
While playing, I found myself down to one bullet again and again after defeating enemies and bosses. There is just enough ammo available to make it through each section showing that Tango Gameworks designed each area to provide adequate firepower to survive. It's up to me to use the ammo as intended. In a way, it become almost like a puzzle as I tried to survive the various enemies roaming around without finding myself defenseless. Bosses, in particular, required some thought on how to take them down unless I had stockpiled enough ammo to blow them away. It's been awhile since I felt this kind of dread of being low on ammo, which leads to a feeling of accomplishment when I made it to a checkpoint.
Look at All These Shadows - As a big survival horror fan, I always enjoy when a new console's power is used to add ambience to a game. As I played The Evil Within on my PS4, I couldn't help but focus on all the great lighting and shadows used throughout the game. Whether it's enemies shambling around the corner, emitting a perfect shadow to know where they are or jumping a bit every time I saw my own shadow, I could see where the real power of the PS4 had been used. Granted this isn't perfect as Sebastian's shadow didn't reflect him holding a lamp, but it was used effectively in that I jumped a few times when I saw my own shadow.
Let's Do It All Over Again - Taking about 12-15 hours, The Evil Within is longer than most survival horror games in recent years. Once finished with the game, New Game + is unlocked, and all the upgrades and weapons carry over along with the various special weapons that were unlocked when beating the game. What makes this mode interesting in this case is that there are instances where you had to run away from certain enemies because you had no weapon powerful enough to take it down. With New Game+, those enemies will drop faster and you can explore these areas you previously ran through to find even more rewards.
What the Hell is Going On? - After finishing The Evil Within, I'm still not sure what happened. Detective Sebastian Castellanos heads to Beacon Mental Hospital to investigate a mass murder, and then a lot of shit happens. That's about the extent of the story up until I reached the midway point of the game. From there, the story revealed itself, but I still didn't get it. That's when I realized that maybe this game wasn't supposed to have an in-depth storyline, but rather a horror movie storyline. In particular, a Japanese horror movies storyline. I've seen my share of Japanese horror movies and like The Evil Within, I didn't fully understand those movies after I watched them. It's like the creators put together all this crazy and terrifying content that will infect your dreams. Then at the last minute they realized that there should be a story to tie things together. Even after reading the Wikipedia page on the game's story, I still can't make sense of the whole thing.
Ok, Now You're Being Cheap - While it's not as cheap as the Dark Souls series, The Evil Within is still pretty cheap. I understood early on that I would need to be on my toes as I progressed through the game, but there were plenty of trial and error deaths in my playthrough. Difficulty in a game is welcomed because it gives a player some satisfaction for beating it, but there's a fine line between being difficult and being cheap. The "intro" to the game itself was a knuckle-whitening adventure that had me sneaking by some giant of a monster who could kill me if he sees me. That alone had me dying a dozen deaths at least.
Once you get into the actual game, there are the enemies that deal a nice chunk of damage, even the "weak" enemies. Then you have enemies that do a one-shot kill if Sebastian's health is low enough, but I didn't find out what enemies did those attacks until it was too late. After that, there are the various dashes to the exit from whatever boss that required avoiding of obstacles or else you're dead. Even then, with all the enemies in the psychotic world causing death after death, I had to deal with environmental traps. Did I forget to mention that checkpoints are sparse throughout the game? Again, I understand the need for a higher difficulty to make survival horror games interesting, but I can also spot when a game design goes overboard on difficulty and is just cheap.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Evil Within. Even with the frustrating deaths and confusing storyline, I had fun with the scares and felt accomplished when making it through each chapter. Although I doubt we'll see a huge change within the industry like when Resident Evil was released, at least it can be said that this game brought back memories of survival horror from way back when.
*This review was based on the PS4 version of the game with a review code provided by the publisher.