Many of The Evil Within’s perceived weaknesses are the reasons why I enjoyed it so much. The limited field-of-vision was a common complaint, but for me the borders only added to the sense of panicky claustrophobia I felt during encounters. Plenty of players moaned that when aiming you can barely see anything of protagonist Sebastian Castellanos beyond his gun and outstretched hand, yet I can’t believe that’s anything but intentional: when you’re facing a lone foe it brings them that much closer, and in crowd-control situations it means you can’t see the entire group. Either way, it ratchets up the intensity because the result is that you feel more vulnerable. That’s quite the feat when you’re wielding a magnum or a crossbow that can fire explosive bolts. And yes, the plot is uneven, but then its disjointed nature means you never quite know what’s coming next, thus allowing director Shinji Mikami to keep surprising you.
Elsewhere, Mikami clearly hasn’t lost his knack of crafting a memorable set-piece, or conjuring some chilling imagery: there’s a masterful moment where you see spider-woman Laura creeping past a window in silhouette that sent a shiver down my spine. And the brilliant sound design – with special mention to Masafumi Takada’s disquieting score – makes it a truly unnerving journey, such that I found it hard to play for more than an hour or two at a time. True, it has its share of awkward moments, and it runs out of steam a little during the final act, but for me this was one of the year’s most underrated games, an exciting, relentless, thoroughly nasty slice of survival horror and a reminder that no one does videogame shotguns quite like Mikami. BOOM! SPLAT! Joy.