- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

In the video-game world, Shinji Mikami’s name has the same cachet that George Romero and Wes Craven have among moviegoers. Mikami created “Resident Evil,” the 1996 classic usually credited as the first “survival horror” game.

He abandoned the series after 2005’s masterly “Resident Evil 4,” and it hasn’t been the same since, rejecting jittery terror for a more explosive Hollywood blockbuster approach. Mikami fans have been waiting a long time for a follow-up - and “The Evil Within” (Bethesda Softworks, for the Xbox One, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, $59.95) will scratch their survival horror itch.

The story begins with three cops investigating the scene of a mass murder, which quickly turns into something even more disturbing. Your character, a detective named Sebastian Castellanos, soon finds himself hanging upside down in a slaughterhouse while a chain saw-wielding behemoth goes about his business.

It only gets weirder. Sure, the hordes of shuffling, moaning zombies will look familiar to “Resident Evil” fans. And yes, the girl with stringy black hair who walks like a spider evokes the Japanese horror boom of the last decade. But by the time you find yourself indulging in a little recreational brain surgery, you’ll find yourself wondering what fresh hell is around the next corner.

Without giving too much away, Mikami has created a world ruled by nightmare logic, where a door in a grungy insane asylum leads to a field filled with sunflowers. You’re equipped with a few projectile weapons - a revolver, a shotgun, a crossbow - but ammunition is in very short supply. So you might be tempted to use that ax you found - but it’s only good for one swing.

Most of the undead enemies won’t go down unless shot in the head, and even then you’ll probably need three or four bullets to kill them. And some monsters can’t be killed at all, which is a grim thing to realize after you’ve unloaded every weapon in your inventory.

In short, this game is hard. Even when playing on its “casual” setting, and armed with several pages of tips provided by Bethesda, I often found it frustrating. You will die frequently, so your ultimate survival will depend greatly on your tolerance for watching sluggish reloading screens.

“The Evil Within” often feels like a game that could have come out 10 years ago: The controls are clunky, Sebastian moves like he’s wading through molasses, and there are far too many graphical glitches that can’t just be attributed to the hero’s increasing insanity.

Still, in some ways all these problems give “The Evil Within” a perverse kind of retro appeal. And while the source of all the madness becomes apparent early on, I was still driven to hunt down the next monstrosity. It’s a satisfying, sometimes exasperating debut for Mikami’s Tango Gameworks studio, one that holds out the promise (or threat) of many more sleepless nights to come. Two-and-a-half stars out of four.





Follow Lou Kesten on Twitter at https://twitter.com/lkesten

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