It amazes me how much goodwill Capcom has managed to piss away nine years after releasing Resident Evil 4—a game that (deservedly) sits on every videogame enthusiast’s all-time top five. After releasing two lackluster sequels, a couple more middling spin-offs, and about half a dozen ports, it’s safe to say that we’re all ready for this series to ride off into the sunset (hah! thought I’d make a zombie joke, didn’t you?), at least for the time being.
As cliched as this may sound, The Evil Within is a true return-to-form for the series; albeit one produced under a different moniker, for a different company, and with an entirely different cast of characters. The essence stays the same however, as TEW is directed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami under his new development studio Tango Gameworks. It’s no small coincidence that the series started slipping as soon as Mikami released his reins; and if anything this game proves that Mikami can produce excellence without being constrained by Resident Evil’s now-convoluted mythos.
It is painfully clear however that Mikami has some sort of affinity for policework (and vaguely hispanic avatars): your protagonist Sebastian Castellanos starts off as an unassuming investigator that somehow winds up in a city filled with grotesque zombie-like creatures (wink), creepy raven-haired kids, and of course: a chainsaw-wielding brute set to tear you to pieces for some reason. I always assume it’s because you banged his sister. You never mess with a man’s sister. Anyway, Sebastian and friends find themselves in this twisted environ and feverishly attempt to escape, and of course are met by exceedingly-absurd opposition from not only the ugly creatures that populate their coordinates, but—only a spoiler if you’re an absolute idiot—also themselves. If you haven’t gathered from the game’s title (or hell, even the Japanese title Psycho Break), a good chunk of the game is dedicated to questioning the human condition; yours and your comrades.
For anyone who’s seen a horror movie from the last fifteen years, The Evil Within’s narrative may feel like predictable, run-off-the-mill pap. I’ll concede that point and fire back that its way better than 90% of the garbage most of us have to wade through. (without a skip button!)
Instead of simply relying on horror tropes for quick scares, The Evil Within also features more contemporary chills: you’ll see a lot of non-sequitur scenes in this game, much in the vein of Alan Wake or Deadly Premonition, except far more unsettling. For instance, a madhouse door leads into a field of sunflowers… But why? Without spoiling too much, at that point in the game, you’re already questioning every single wrench the game throws at you, a sense of helplessness that I haven’t felt in a videogame since Capcom’s own Haunting Ground. (say, whatever happened to that game?)
A fair warning to all the s-a-w-f-t gamers out there, softened by eighth-generation console trappings: this game is hard. Harkening back to the first Resident Evil, weapons and ammo are in scarce supply. You essentially have five guns in the entire game, and a pretty badass multi-functional crossbow, but none of them are of much use as you’re probably going to spend the majority of the game scampering around to avoid enemies and find what little scraps of ammunition or curative items the game provides throughout each of the fifteen chapters. Hey, the genre is called survival-horror, ain’t it? Its tough, but fair, a quality that I found endearingly old-school.
That’s not to say that the game completely lacks modern game design niceties: of course the game offers an (optional) upgrade system, one that is fueled by “green gel” (pause) that you find hidden throughout each of the acts. I thoroughly enjoyed this aspect of the game as it felt to me that there was a real risk and reward system at play here: given that
Everything has to be a god damned Metroidvania nowadays, huh?
Its not all sunshine and sunflowers however: at times I found the game’s reliance on trial-and-error—especially during boss battles—to be incredibly frustrating, further compounded by the fact that the game is inexorably unoptimized, with long loading times cropping up everywhere; puzzling because the game installs on first load and seems to page from my system’s hard drive a lot. .
Alas, these are but small complaints in the grand scheme of things. The Evil Within is the Resident Evil 4 sequel y’all have been pining for. And even if the game aspired to be nothing but that, I can dig it.