As with any other entertainment medium, there are games for generalists and games for purists. The Evil Within doesn't so much position itself in the latter camp as plant a flag there, lock the doors and refuse to let anyone in until they have died 100 times at the hand of zombies.
That's because it was created by Shinji Mikami, a bona fide games industry legend who, having created the Resident Evil series of games for Capcom, can justifiably claim the mantle of Godfather of Survival Horror.
Nowadays, Mikami has his own developer Tango Games (although it's owned by rising publisher Bethesda Softworks, famed for The Elder Chronicles games) so, with The Evil Within, he has gone back to his roots and generated a no-compromise slab of survival horror.
In recent years, zombie games have proliferated, becoming ever more action-packed and shooter-like (even the post-Mikami Resident Evil games have followed that trend), and Mikami clearly isn't impressed.
So The Evil Within harks back to his earlier Resident Evil games. Which means its emphasis is placed equally on both survival and horror. Indeed, freed from the Resi universe, it cranks up the horror considerably, with all manner of weirdness and creepiness seeping from both the visuals and the storyline.
It's all about survival
Gameplay-wise, it's vitally important to grasp the fact you're trying to survive, rather than mow down armies of zombies with the sort of firepower that might feature in an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. So the relentless modernists among us will find it more than a little clunky.
The character you play, Krimson City cop Sebastian Castellanos, isn't exactly athletic - as in the Resident Evil games, he limps around somewhat even when he isn't actually injured, and until you upgrade him, he manages to run for about 20 steps before half-collapsing and panting for a minute or so.
So, within those confines, you have to take a smart, considered, approach while the game constantly tries to extinguish any composure you might possess by throwing horror-movie tropes at you. Traps abound, which you can sneak up to and disarm (often, they then provide parts which can be used to make highly useful crossbow bolts with special properties).
If you miss your head-shots, you're in trouble. Even mini-bosses, let alone actual bosses - and there are plenty of both - require highly tactical approaches. Castellanos feels like a normal guy plunged into an alternate-reality nightmare - and that's what survival horror is all about.
The Evil Within opens with Castellanos and two fellow detectives attending a massacre at a mental hospital. After a near-death experience he wakes up alone, in a world now populated almost exclusively by zombies, although he meets a sinister doctor.
Mind-altering experiences, such as corridors that reconfigure themselves, mirrors which suck him back to the mental hospital (which is a handy hub for saving and upgrading - using vials of green goo as the upgrade currency) and several nightmare-style endless falling sequences lead him to realise that there's some sort of alternate-reality thing going on.
But as he progresses through a variety of chapters in wildly differing settings (including a mansion that could have come straight out of the first Resident Evil and a barn in a field of sunflowers), he starts to work out what caused the outbreak which zombified everyone. He rescues his colleagues but routinely becomes separated from them again.
Story-wise, in other words, The Evil Within is bonkers - if it was a horror film, it would sit at the experimental end of the spectrum.
At first, stealth is to the fore: Castellanos can sneak up behind zombies and dispatch them with a single stab to the head. But he soon amasses an arsenal of weapons - trusty handgun, shotgun, crossbow, grenades and sniper rifle. The shotgun, again, is a Resident Evil throwback: it's hugely powerful and deeply satisfying to wield.
But the crossbow is the cleverest weapon: you can craft bolts which immobilise zombies by giving them an electric shock or freezing them, or which pack an explosive punch. And you can craft the precise bolts you need.
The inventory section is way better than Resident Evil's annoying flight case, and it's crucial to map weapons and items to the D-pad according to what enemies you're facing. The upgrade system is great, too - as well as ramping up your basic abilities like health, you can increase the amount of ammo you can carry on a per-weapon basis, and ramp up your favourite weapons' attributes.
The Evil Within does have some areas in which you can roam around (exploring and smashing crates to collect all possible items will greatly increase your chances of survival), but it's essentially a single-path game.
And despite the presence of some sequences in which Joseph, your pre-outbreak sidekick, offers covering fire or wields a zombie-splattering axe, it can't be played co-operatively, let alone online. But it's a long game, with some truly epic and blood-chilling sequences, and some deeply memorable bosses.
Yes, The Evil Within is a determinedly old-fashioned game (even the washed out, near-monochrome visuals don't exactly scream "next-gen" at you). But it's a rare treat in a fast-twitch world for those who view themselves as survival horror aficionados.
And beyond the gameplay, it serves up a more than respectable helping of pure, if at times rather off-the-wall, horror. If that's what you seek, and are prepared to accept a bit of clunkiness as a trade-off, you will love it.
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