The Evil Within: Relives Past Glories Rather Than Seeks Out New Ones

It’s unlikely he knew it at the time, but nine years ago Shinji Mikami was working hard on a game that was to set the standard for all third person shooters to come. It was of course Resident Evil 4, and even today very few games have matched its pitch perfect approach to over the shoulder shooting. Resident Evil 5 and 6 were mere imitations, and Dead Space’s promise has quickly faded in a misguided grab for mass appeal. Who better, then, to come back and show us how it's done? Almost a decade on from Resident Evil 4 Mikami is back on form with what is, for all intents and purposes, an homage to his greatest work.

Make no mistake the memory of Resident Evil 4 pervades every aspect of The Evil Within. There are crazed torch wielding villagers that are Ganados in all but name. There are huge ogres that swing hefty clubs and lumbering psychotics that lunge with rusty chainsaws. There are small ramshackle villages and mountaintop fortresses. And there are the erupting, blood splattering headshots: as rewarding today as they were back in 2005.

What’s really interesting, however, is that Resident Evil isn't the only successful horror franchise that The Evil Within recalls. The setting here is a dark and dank underworld, where amputated torsos fester on butcher’s blocks and blood encrusted paint peels off walls. It’s an environment more reminiscent of Silent Hill than it is Raccoon City. So too are the mind games that plague front man Sebastian Castellanos: rooms warp and morph, walls become floors, hospital corridors shift and turn into moonlit forest passages. Is Sebastian’s world real? Is it a delusion brought on by past trauma? Much like Silent Hill, The Evil Within is a game that’s as much about horror of the mind as it is of the body.

When it comes to straight up combat, though, this is Resi 4 through and through. Before any upgrades have been unlocked, the wavering reticule means those balloon bursting headshots don't come easy. There’s less outright mob management here than there was in Resi 4, but the creatures here wretched zombies entangled in wire and pierced through with metal barbs still come at you with enough speed and conviction to make grace under pressure a challenging necessity.

Encounters are deadly, requiring constant movement, precision and creativity if you're to come out on top. Furthermore, The Evil Within is not generous with ammunition, so careful resource management is key. Various tricks and traps can be used against your enemy in order to come out on top. Some areas have switches that drop deadly spikes from the ceiling, while tripwires and bear traps can be dismantled for parts that are used to construct bolts for your multi-purpose bow. Coming in explosive, electrical, ice and flashbang forms, these bolts can be fired into floors or walls to act as proximity activated mines. There’s also the drop and burn system, which allows crafty players to instantly burn knocked down enemies to death using a limited supply of matches. Used tactically, this approach can potentially take out multiple floored enemies without having to use up your precious stock of ammunition.

While you're mostly fighting the lumbering Ganados… sorry, Haunted… there are other, stronger enemies that occasionally block your path. Some are completely invisible, requiring you to closely monitor objects and puddles in the environment to track their location. Then there are bosses like a tangle of lank black hair and limbs that’s seemingly just crawled out from a Japanese horror movie. There’s also a muscle bound butcher with a large metal locker for a skull nicknamed Boxhead, as if the other Silent Hill similarities weren't quite sufficient.

The action is exhilarating and brilliant, and incredibly tense. Thankfully there is some respite from the horror. The soothing melody of Clair de Lune quickly becomes a welcome signifier that you're near a safe house of sorts. Looking into a mirror in these areas transports you to a mental hospital ward where you can save your game or undergo electro-shock therapy to upgrade your various abilities. A green liquid is your currency here, which is found by endlessly rifling through draws and smashing open crates. It can be used to augment weapon abilities, the amount of stock you can carry, health and more. It’s a simple but rewarding system, and the upgrade effects are tangible in game. However, it’s a great pity that the RPG mechanics don't extend to ideas like the mini-game/storage system of Resi 4’s attaché case.

Still, small niggles like this aside, the spirit of Resident Evil 4 is alive and well in The Evil Within, and it’s a comparison that Mikami has little interest in shying away from. That's one hell of an act to live up to, though, and it shouldn't come as much of a surprise The Evil Within doesn't quite manage it. There are momentary flashes of the considered, rhythmic, always on the back foot gameplay of Mikami’s masterpiece, but they're nestled deeper in a game that sometimes sags and runs out of creative juice.

The Evil Within is less genre defining and is instead more of a spiritual successor one that relives past glories rather than seeks out new ones. When those past glories are of such a high calibre as this, however, that’s no bad thing. There are times when The Evil Within echoes the brilliance of its inspiration, and even though it’s usually only for the briefest of moments, that’s enough to elevate the experience above its small and tolerable faults.

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