Rage quitting isn’t big and it’s not clever, but sometimes it’s necessary for your sanity. When playing the game of this review’s namesake, The Evil Within, rage quitting certainly helped me to keep a grasp on my mental health, something that I felt was often being testing during my play-through of the psychological horror. Directed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, The Evil Within has some features reminiscent of Mikami’s fourth installment of the RE franchise, while being different enough not be considered a carbon copy of the seminal game. The Evil Within’s a mental roller coaster of a title and it’s one I enjoyed and loathed at the same time.
Set in the fictional Krimson City, players take on the role of Sebastian “Seb” Castellanos, a police officer who, as my friend pointed out, looks a little like a previous Doctor Who. After joining colleagues Julie and Joseph to investigate a gruesome murder at Beacon Mental Hospital, Seb steps into the blood bath’s security room, only too see live camera footage of a white-hooded man with Usain Bolt like speed, killing officers in one of the hospital’s halls. The killer then looks at the camera, disappears before appearing behind Seb and knocking him out cold. I tried shouting, but apparently video game characters can’t hear you through the TV.
Reawakening to find yourself hung up in what appears to be a butchers back room/Jigsaw’s holiday home, you look around to find that you’re surrounded by dead bodies, with the only other alive member of the room sporting a mask, spiked collar and wife-beater laced in blood. Basically, he doesn’t look inviting, as don’t your surroundings and so you swing towards one of your deceased neighbours, in an attempt to grab the knife lodged in their body. Grabbing the blade, you use it to free yourself from the rope holding you upside down, giving yourself a chance to escape the hell-hole you’re presently in. You see a door, you run for it, but like most horror games, this bid to freedom isn’t an easy one. Instead, it’s filled with things like walls made of saw razors and the haunting steps and growls of your masked friend as he chases you.
During this introductory chapter, I quickly discovered two things about TEW that initially really ground my gears: the black bars at either end of the screen and the camera angle. The former of the two I found annoying because it meant that my game screen was smaller, while the latter was just very hard to get used too. Over the left hand shoulder RE4 style, the camera seems to stick to Sebastian like glue, making it hard for you to really see what’s going on at the left hand side of you, unless you turn the camera with the right analogue stick. I’ve played RE4 and I’ve played other games that use this method of camera view, such as Batman: Arkham Asylum and Dead Space, but never has a camera seemed as claustrophobic as TEW’s did to me. At first, I found that the camera angle didn’t help in near-death situations, but actually hindered, only adding to my sense of fear and further panic. It was something that I got used to after a while and soon enough it didn’t bother me too much, as did the black bars.
From the very beginning I additionally learned that TEW wasn’t going to be easy but instead very hard. This harsh truth set in pretty soon after I first started getting involved in the gameplay, with the previously mentioned masked man cutting my head off around four, maybe five times within mere minutes of me taking part. Having put the difficulty on Survival, i.e. the harder of the two levels offered, I did start to regret my decision quite quickly into TEW, but in the end I managed to break free of the deranged lunatic and finish the chapter, only for things too get much more difficult and much more insane.
After this sympathetic introduction it’s all about you getting to the truth of the hospital murders, which sees you trailing through a city plagued with zombie-like beings known as The Haunted. Thirsty for your blood, you must avoid these nasty beings wherever you go, with Chapter locations ranging from inside and outside areas, such as building ruins and, of course, a mansion. While these creatures are annoying at best and creepy at worst, The Haunted are a dream compared to many of your other enemies, some of which you must simply run from, like the giant spider lady and some of which are invisible until you hit them.
Running was something I did a lot in my tine with the game because surviving in TEW sometimes requires you to just get out of there. Becoming Solid Snake and attacking from behind is also a good idea when playing TEW as The Haunted in numbers are hard to fend off, unless you have lots of ammo, which you won’t generally have. I spent most of my time in the first few sections crouching down behind broken walls avoiding the plague of enemies, hoping they wouldn’t see me, but it wasn’t just them I was trying to avoid.
While playing this game you will encounter lots of different obstacles in your path, with horizontal bodies not just being the only menace. Bear traps and homemade bombs are abundant in TEW, and if you don’t see them, they’ll blow your face off or injure you rather badly. When injured, Sebastian becomes weaker and therefore slower, often limping due to the affected area of pain. I was struck by these animations and how they made his injuries seem so realistic, especially since they carried over to actions such as climbing a ladder. I liked that TEW didn’t just take some of my life away but also deteriorated my quickness and levels of competence, as the fear of it happening made me become more wary of my surroundings.
To get Sebastian back to full strength, you can use Syringes to boost his life meter. These can be found scattered across levels, but they’re not easily found. As such, exploring is a big part of the game and if you want to survive, you’ll need to search every nook and cranny to find things like Ammo, which you need to using sparingly, as well as the previously mentioned Syringes as well as Matches, which can be used to disintegrate fallen enemies.
Reminiscent to The Last Of Us, players can also collect parts from disabled traps to craft items, with crafting this time coming in the form of arrows for the Agony Bow, a crossbow weapon that fires different arrows, such as the Freeze Bolt and my favourite, the Explosive Bolt. Along your way you’ll also find Medical Kits, Audio Logs, Keys and a variety of other things, many of which give you more back story information. However, none of these are quite as important as finding the jars of Green Gel. Used to upgrade Sebastian abilities, these pots can be found scattered around the world as well within defeated enemies, with bigger and meaner ones giving you more gel than others. To use these pots of gold– or green rather, you must take Sebastian to the upgrade room, situated in your hub.
True to the bat-shit nature of TEW, your hub, or Safe Haven as it’s called, is actually a mental hospital wing where you have a room and it can only be accessed one of two ways: if you’re sent there or if you find and consequently look into one of the mirrors that leads you there. Dotted around the chapters level locations, these mirrors are usually in bathrooms behind blood-stained doors and can be found by following the sound of Debussy’s hauntingly beautiful Clair de Lune theme, which emits from each of them.
Once inside the Safe Haven, players will encounter the nurse who works there, Tatiana, and you can speak to her at the front desk and save/load your game. While in the wing you’ll also notice things that you can read such as newspaper clippings, again giving you some more background information to the story and its participants and there’s also a few nutjobs in there who’ll talk to you from their rooms as the game progresses: it’s a lovely place. In a room to the side is a sadistic looking chair and it’s here where you can upgrade Sebastian’s abilities using the gel.
From upgrading his stamina to how many bullets he can carry, you’ll find a range of ways to upgrade your protagonist. Health and weapons were mainly what I focused on, as well as stamina upgrades, which I tried often to boast, since I was using it most of the time in order to haul backside. Like a weird ass therapy session where you come out all upgraded and new, the abilities chair seemed to me like a strange but calculated design decision, one that reflected the bizarre nature of the game. The chair however was probably the least bizarre part of it.
The most bizarre part of the game is certainly the storyline, which on the one hand seems to be shrouded in ambiguity on purpose, but then on the other also seems like it just simply has some plot-holes that weren’t filled. Complex and thought-provoking, the storyline mainly centres around the villain Ruvik. I don’t want to give much away (although by now people will probably know the storyline) but he’s basically an apparition that controls the world Sebastian is in, manipulating the environments and the events that take place. Why he can control this is revealed as you progress through the game, with the situations and people you encounter explaining some things, while memories and flashbacks seen by Sebastian explain others.
The memories were something I especially liked. Told throughout the game via onscreen ghost like manifestations of characters engaging in past conversations, these memories were something that popped up at random and I felt as if they were an interesting way to provide some of the backstory.
Overall I liked the style of which the game presented the storyline, its gradual build up leaving me wanting to know more, urging me to play in a bid to find out the truth. However, the truth is not something that you actually really get to find out, with the finale leaving room open for different opinions and debate about what’s happened in a Christopher Nolan, ‘make your own mind up’ sort of way. I’ve heard some people say that they didn’t like the ending, that it should have been more definitive, but I enjoyed it, its sense of mystery giving me the option to form my own opinions and use my own imagination about what was going on. I did feel however, that some things deserved a better explanation, such as the story of Julie, whose involvement in the situation I never felt was properly explained. This problem should be fixed when the DLC revolving around her hits this year, or at least I hope so.
There were other things in the game that I had questions about, things that I don’t think will ever be explained to me, but I felt as if this was another purposeful choice by Mikami. By leaving certain aspects in the dark, TEWmanages to also drive the player a little insane, causing you try and continuously come up with new ideas and fresh theories about TEW. If this was a something done purposefully, it was done very well, as trying to analyseTEW drove me round the bend at times, as it was something I couldn’t stop myself from doing, even though I knew the game wasn’t going to confirm or deny my thoughts.
As for the people involved, I thought Sebastian was great as the hard cop with the concealed emotions and haunted mind, a good match for the type of protagonist this game needed. As for his partner Joseph, I thought his more sensitive personality provided a good contrast to Sebastian’s, giving the player an insight into how pressuring the situation could be for someone more outward and honest about their feelings. I didn’t particularity connect with Julie, because of the issues mentioned above and the Doctor and Leslie were characters I also never really formed strong opinions about.
For me, the star of the show’s Ruvik and not just because of my love for the voice behind Rorschach. From the insane figure seen in the games present, to the vulnerable flashbacks of his past, I felt both terrified and very sympathetic towards the man/apparition. It’s rare that a character in a game or any entertainment medium can make you feel such contrasting feelings in one sitting, but for me the hooded figure did, with the voice of Jackie Earl Haley being a perfect match for the brilliant but deeply troubled villain.
At this point there just really one last thing to speak about: did I poo my pants when playing TEW? The answer to this is yes, at times, while at other times I was just so god damn frustrated by the game’s difficulty that I couldn’t feel afraid of the screen because I’d seen it a billion times. A reference to my loathing admission above, because it’s so hard, you find yourself repeating a lot of TEW sequences and so the fear that you initially feel when entering a situation or area, is instead replaced by a cold hard determination, fuelled by frustration and annoyance.
I found that I’d often feel this way, with my sense of dread being replaced by my urge to rage quit, which I did several times. Then again, that’s just me. Perhaps my level of skill wasn’t as great as others and so maybe the sense of fear for others stayed longer, but for me it was sometimes hard to feel scared at a new area or task when I was just so damned relieved to be done with the previous. I was also less afraid of some enemies because I’d seen them before and so their new appearance didn’t evoke much fear but rather a ‘oh ffs not you again’ reaction.
However, as much as I did lose some of my fear in the aforementioned frustrating moments, when I wasn’t angered by the game, TEW did often make me feel very uncomfortable, especially with its ever changing landscapes and ability to randomly change your environments. Unpredictable and therefore unnerving, TEW often leads you down a certain path towards an area and then suddenly this area will change. No explanation, no warning, the environment will just alter and you’ll be stood wishing you knew what this new darkness was going to bring, and even though Sebastian has a lamp that you can use to illuminate areas, its small range means only immediate things are illuminated, which caused me a few heart attacks.
For me, the mental hospital was the most uncomfortable area and one that often resulted in me stopping several times just to build myself up to go into a new portion of it. During the sections of the game that were outside however, I didn’t feel as much tension as I didn’t get that nowhere to run, nowhere to hide feel like I did in somewhere such as the mansion. These sections also felt very RE4-ish, drawing comparisons to the daylight zombie shoot-outs of this game. When in any building though, the smash of glass inside it was a harrowing sound, often leading me to run and hide under the nearest bed or in the closest wardrobe.
There were times when I felt a little safer, like when I had a shotgun with ammo, or explosive bolts in my arsenal. Accessed via the weapon wheel, you can place weapons in your quick wheel, and I always had the trusty shotgun here. Only good for close range, the Shotgun was my best friend, although sniping The Haunted was also fun, as was blowing them up with grenades. I also felt safer when accompanied by a companion, mostly of whom was Joseph. However, when an environment would change, sometimes the game would unceremoniously take Joseph away too, often leaving me all alone in a terrifyingly dark and small new corridor (there’s lots of corridors!).
It was times like these that I felt like the game was giving me a bit of hope, a bit of human help and comfort for a while but only for the sole purpose of taking it away fairly soon after. What scared me the most in TEW though was the appearance of Ruvik. Appearing whenever he felt like it, he reminded me of the horror I felt in F.E.A.R 2 at the sight of the girl, expect this man slowly walked towards me, staring as he did so. Knowing he’s just an apparition, you know you can’t do anything and so I just ran as fast I could, if I could, whenever I saw him. Ruvik also liked to touch me when he saw me, or sometimes he just flicked Sebastian in the air, putting him through walls and floors in the process, which generally meant bad times for the protagonist and my nerves.
A perfect game by no means, The Evil Within, like most, does have some problems. The NPC’s sometimes don’t behave correctly, with them often walking into walls and on one occasion, failing to notice a daggers in their head. I found that sometimes Sebastian could walk through fire, and sometimes he couldn’t and I also saw Joseph walk through a burning man.
Nevertheless, The Evil Within does exactly what a good survival horror game should and completely messes with your mind, making you question everything around you, while giving just enough tools to barely survive. It’s gruesome, it’s confusing, it’s annoyingly difficult, and by no means the best horror game on the planet, but it’s still a great game to play. Terrifying at times and head-scratching at others, The Evil Within is a psychological mind-masher that you should get onboard with, just don’t expect it to get onboard with you.
Original article first appeared on the BagoGames site on 11/01/15