“The Evil Within” ($59.99; Rated M) is not likely to be remembered as a subtle game. Rather, it takes perverse pleasure in throwing buckets and buckets of gore at the player. There’s a moment very early on that forces the player to swim in blood.
Still, it’s the quiet moments that make the game a success.
“The Evil Within” is the latest game from Shinji Mikami, who knows his way around horror. Responsible for the “Resident Evil” series – and particularly the quintessential survival horror experience that is “Resident Evil 4” – Mikami’s touch is evident throughout “The Evil Within.”
You’ll play as Sebastian Castellanos, a scratchy-voiced detective who functions essentially as a blank slate. Over the course of the game, Sebastian is thrust into situations that place him at a disadvantage when put up against the many zombie-esque bad guys that populate the game.
Sometimes he’s in large rooms trying to hide from unkillable enemies. Sometimes he’s holed up in tunnels trying to sneak up on undead threats. Sometimes, he’s limping along, trying to outpace angry mobs. Throughout most of the game, Sebastian has a gun that’s out of ammo more often than it is loaded, and the player is often relegated to trying to see around Sebastian’s figure at whatever might be directly in front of him.
In lesser hands, many of these aspects of “The Evil Within” could be chalked up to bad design. Here, all of these choices are intentional. They’re designed to unsettle the player – to make sure you never feel in control of what’s happening onscreen.
These tricks work.
Tension and terror
Nobody old enough to play M-rated games will be shocked by the amount of blood on display. Your average “Call of Duty” or “Gears of War” session probably has more – albeit with fewer visible intestines. Even so, the tension of Mikami’s techniques and tricks leads to gory moments that somehow mean more than your average video game bloodbath.
When you spend minutes at a time sneaking around the remains of a massacre – trying desperately to keep an undead-and-angry mob from seeing you – the chainsaw that ends your life comes off as far more terrifying.
Even amidst all this tension and terror, there are elements meant to help Sebastian on his way. Pills can be used as upgrades to his weapons mastery and various skills. Careful eyes can spot dangerous traps, which can be disarmed and turned into ammo for one of the game’s most interesting and powerful weapons. Scattered mirrors allow for transportation to a strange but safe “hospital” where upgrades can be performed and the game can be saved.
There’s also a story
After throwing the player into what initially feels like a random assortment of horror tropes, “The Evil Within” eventually gets around to telling its story, which is engaging and appropriately nonsensical. You may not remember these characters, but you will remember the things that happen to them.
“The Evil Within” is the perfect ghost/zombie/ax murderer/homicidal doctor story for a Halloween gaming session. Horror has been in short supply in the latest generation of game consoles and this is a good game to begin a reversal of that trend.
“The Evil Within” is now available for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.
New this week: “Sunset Overdrive” (XOne) is proud of its own brand of madness. It’s a hard game to describe, but if pressed, I’d call it “Saints Row” plus “Tony Hawk” plus Red Bull. If you’re looking for something a little (or a lot) darker, “Lords of the Fallen” (XOne, PS4) looks like a brutal but satisfying challenge for anyone willing to dive in.