The Evil Within

Wednesday 6 December 2017

On a rainy day in Krimson City, Sebastian Castellanos, a distinguished and educated detective, receives an emergency call while on his way back from a mission with his team. Following the call, his partner Joseph Oda and his trainee Juli Kidman accompany him to the Beacon Mental Hospital, where they see the gruesome result of what seems to be a mass murder. Sebastian orders Juli to stay outside to make sure noone gets in, while he and Joseph get inside to investigate.

While talking to a survivor in the security room, Sebastian has a look at the cameras that seem to have recorded very strange things in the corridors of the hospital. Seconds later, something undefined happens, and he loses his senses. When he comes to, nothing around him seems or feels normal and he embarks on a nightmarish journey where he has to find ways to survive while trying to shed light on all the mystery that surrounds the twisted version of the mental hospital and the city outside.

It is not a typical day for Sebastian and his team

Very few things become clear during the first chapters of The Evil Within, and you may even get close to the conclusion without having realized what it is all about - although, you may start having your suspicions when you get your leg severely hit with a chainsaw to to the point where you can't walk and then a few minutes later you are able to sprint like nothing happened. The game is a few years old now, so there is no need to warn for spoilers as most people already know its secrets and twists. But in any case, let's just say that what Sebastian goes through in The Evil Within is a very twisted and distorted version of reality. To be more precise, he actually becomes part of a madman's reality, which doesn't take place in the literal world but, in some way, manages to affect the outcome of the 'real' events.

The world of The Evil Within by Shinji Mikami (creator of the first Resident Evil games) is creepy, haunting and nightmarish. At the same time, however, it is charming, compelling and captivating. There is a dominating feeling of nausea, distortion and misplacement, like when you are on the verge between dreaming and waking up. Like some dreams that don't feel exactly like dreams, but more like conscious depictions of events that you are taking part in while at the same time you are watching them as a spectator. It is not random that seconds before Sebastian got dragged into the nightmare, he looked through a security camera. This is the first hint that you get about the questionable reality that you are about to enter. While he is watching the gruesome footage that the cameras captured moments before, he gets attacked by something and loses his senses. Interestingly enough, if you alter the field of vision in this scene, you can see very clearly who is about to attack Sebastian, and how.

With the default field of vision, you can only see Sebastian in this scene

Ruvik, aka Ruben Victoriano, the hooded attacker shown in the screenshot above, is the arch-villain of the game. What is intriguing about him, is that he is actually a ghost - or better, a zombie. Once a solitary and eccentric child prodigy with a passion for science, he started an ambitious and quite insane research based on the human brain years ago, hoping to eventually revive his beloved dead sister Laura - the only person who loved him and whom he trusted and cared about. Mobius, a secret organization aiming at taking control over the world, saw potential in Ruvik's research but because he wouldn't abide to their requests, they murdrered him. However, even as a ghost, he is able to use and abuse people and turn them into his own puppets, determined to gain back and complete his research and get to his goal. All of his victims are forced to get inside his mind and face his memories, his fears, his cruelty.

Portions of his past take uncontrollable dimensions and / or the form of bloodthirsty monsters. Several of the test subjects that he had used for his research show up like mutated, unrecongizable versions of themselves. His memories are tangled together randomly and form places that make no sense. His most traumatic experience is connected with a sunflower field and subsequently the sunflowers become his symbol in the game's story, sometimes foreshadowing his arrival or hinting at his presence closeby. At the point where the game reaches its climax, in chapter 9, 'The Cruelest Intentions', everything leads up to the sunflower field in a section that looks and feels completely different from the rest of the game, since it is Ruvik's most wonderful and most tragic memory at the same time: it was there where he had the last happy moments with Laura, and also it was there where they met their cruel fate together.

The sunflower field is a major point of reference from many aspects

Sebastian has to deal with all this in order to survive, while trying to figure out what is happening. All the while, Ruvik chases him and haunts him in several ways. It looks as if he wants to torment and crush Sebastian but at the same time he allows him to see glimpses of his life; it is as if he guiding him to what he believes is the right direction, but when Sebastian gets too close to the truth (or, at least, a part of it), Ruvik does whatever it takes to kill him. It is Ruvik himself who leads Sebastian straight into the memories of his family's estate to witness all the events that happened there and led to his life of insanity, but in the conclusion of this chapter (which refers both to that chapter of the game and the respective metaphorical chapter in Ruvik's life), he takes the form of a blooded man and attacks Sebastian viciously.

Like with most good hero-villain relationships, the connection between Sebastian and Ruvik is very complicated and has many levels and parameters. This is the main reason why Ruvik doesn't kill Sebastian directly, because he sees there is a connection. Sebastian is very smart and intuitive and responds to stimuli. His clear mind and good heart would offer a good basis for Ruvik's experiments, but because he is sane and thinks logically, he could never be a perfect test subject, since he questions things, he resists, expresses doubts and fears. Still Ruvik, who is able to manipulate people with his mind games, wants to take advantage of whatever potential Sebastian may offer. This psychological aspect is very dominant in the game; several of Ruvik's tricks are based on this and succeed in weakening Sebastian and leaving him vulnerable when facing his enemy.

Sebastian is defenceless against Ruvik's threatening presence

It is difficult to define The Evil Within and categorize it. Technically, it is a survival horror game, but it is also a psychological / metaphysical thriller of a very high class. There are times where the atmosphere of fear, seclusion and the anxiety of not knowing where you are, surpass the general feeling of adventure and survival. Ruvik plays with Sebastian's mind, therefore the psychological and sentimental tension is quite often much more powerful than that created by the actual action.

That said, action is very rich and comes in a great variety. You get to fight standard enemies called The Haunted (although a standard enemy in The Evil Within universe is way tougher than you may expect), mini-bosses and terrifying big bosses. The game is not for the faint-hearted; not only because it can get particularly scary, but also because it is extremely difficult and demanding gameplay-wise. Its lower difficulties are feasible, but its higher ones are insane. Nightmare mode is what its name says; and the legendary Akumu mode (where you die in one hit) is one of the most challenging trials you'll ever go through as a gamer (here you can read a report of my Akumu experience). 

The monsters of the game are incredibly vicious

Sebastian is a wrecked hero, going through a personal drama: his daughter died in a fire a few years ago and a bit later his wife disappeared. The journey inside Ruvik's mind is his own personal journey of self-awareness as well (or rather, it is only the beginning of this journey, which seems to reach a completion in The Evil Within 2). He is intelligent and caring but also hot-blooded and temperamental. Joseph, his partner, is the only person who can deal with his moodswings and can hold him back or back him up when needed. Sebastian is a very real and earthly character. He is brave and strong, but he does get scared and suffers from nightmares. You can easily like him and feel compassion for him. He is designed perfectly, with a handsome face and clear golden eyes, matching his personality like a glove.

Sebastian is an unforgettable hero

His enigmatic trainee, Juli, may appear as cold and uninteresting in the main game, but if you play her missions (The Assignment and The Consequence which come as DLC), you have the chance to know more about her, get to understand her actions to a notable degree and like her as well. However her essential role is further revealed in the The Evil Within 2, where we get answers for her mysterious attitude and we learn to appreciate her and stand by her side.

Joseph, although not much is revealed about him, is a very intriguing character, as he seems to be greatly affected by Ruvik's distorted reality - from chapter 5, 'Inner Recesses', already, we see him briefly turn into a Haunted and attack Sebastian. There is one whole chapter, maybe the most fascinating and frustrating - in terms of gameplay - of the game, namely chapter 6 entitled 'Losing Grip On Ourselves',  where Sebastian unexpectedly finds him unconscious in a field among some ruins.
This scene, although brief, is very intense and atmospheric

 You get to play this chapter with Joseph as a partner, which by the way makes your life tougher instead of facilitating it, because you also have to make sure he remains alive. At the end of the chapter, Joseph confesses to Sebastian that he somehow likes it when he becomes a Haunted, and he doesn't want to fight it. In The Executioner DLC, one of the documents that you find is a report about Joseph as a test subject in the Mobius experiment. It says among other things that during the phases of the experiment he demostrated suicidal tendencies and loss of self-awareness and his memories were disorganized. This means that throughout the whole course of the main game, Joseph is in constant conflict with himself; something that becomes even more evident in Juli's Assignment DLC, where he makes quite a few dramatic appearances as a Haunted.

Juli may be able to catch a glimpse of Joseph in STEM's spooky corridors

One of the numerous top-notch elements of The Evil Within is the design of the environments. The interior ones succeed in creating a chilling atmosphere of claustrophobia and decay: the abandoned halls and corridors of the asylum, the dark and unwelcoming rooms of the Victoriano mansion, the empty and half-lit houses in the village, the haunted platforms and train cars in the subway, add up to the general feel of agony and insecurity about your next step. The exteriors, although vast and sometimes even full of light, are even more scary and suffocating. The ruined countryside in chapter 6, with its dusted yellow sky, feels like it leads straight into a nightmare; and the destroyed city in chapter 11 is a compelling post-apocalyptic scenery.

The music also plays a major part in the game. Masafumi Takada's original compositions, with their low tunes and echoes, form a perfect soundtrack, while the prompt use of classical pieces intensifies the overall distorted vintage feel. Especially the segment from Claude Debussy's 'Claire De Lune' which is heard in specific sections, is as beautiful as it is eery, as soothing as it is agonizing. The ambient sounds and effects are adding to the overall immersive atmosphere of the game.

On the technical side, The Evil Within has a good and flowing gameplay system, with the close 3rd person view being very effective in creating an element of suspense in several scenes of the game. Sebastian starts off with nothing in his inventory, but he is able to fill it up with enough weapons, ammo and other items throughout the course of the adventure - that said, ammo doesn't come in  generous drops, so you have to be cautious in what use you make of it and use stealth movement and attacks as much as possible. There is also an upgrade system thanks to which you can boost up his health, energy and armory, and which takes place in an isolated wing of the mental hospital to which you can go back and forth via vintage mirrors.

From whichever aspect you decide to view it, The Evil Within offers material for plenty of analysis. You can just enjoy the fantastic game that it is, but you can also devote some time to dig deeper into it and give it all the attention and thought that it deserves.

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