PC | Controller | Balanced Difficulty | 4.5 Hours
Developed by the tiny and self-funded indie studio DYA, Evil Tonight puts you in control of the young exorcist Silvia tasked with dispelling a curse from the abandoned San Paolo De Rosa Performing Arts School. You slay monsters, scavenge resources, and traverse the school grounds while solving puzzles and unraveling a mystery. These mechanics, combined with gorgeous 16-bit art and a haunting soundtrack, make for a thrilling experience. This game gets a Strong Recommendation, but read on for a full breakdown.
Controls and Combat
Controlling Silvia feels tight and responsive. For most of the game, you’re running, dodging, aiming, and shooting, all of which map nicely to my Xbox controller. Aiming works well, with two modes available. Auto mode turns Silvia to face the closest threat, while manual locks her in the direction she faces. Manual aim is intended for group confrontations, yet I spent most of the game in auto mode and had little trouble picking my targets.
While aiming, you can fire your equipped weapon or slash with your knife. It’s intuitive, and you easily combine melee attacks with gunfire to bring down enemies. Of course, monsters do their best to murder you as well, and dodging is an excellent way of evading death. You cannot run while aiming, so your dodge is the best way to avoid projectiles or a charging enemy. The only danger to dodging is depleting Silvia’s stamina.
Exorcist extraordinaire, she may be, but Silvia’s energy isn’t limitless. Two actions drain your stamina. Slashing your knife and dodging. When your stamina is empty, Silvia grows dizzy and freezes, almost ensuring a monster takes a bite out of you. Thankfully, stamina takes only a moment to recharge. It’s present enough that you must pay attention, but forgiving enough that it’s not frustrating. It’s an excellent mechanic that adds pleasant tension to the otherwise straightforward combat.
One bit of trouble I had during group encounters was mixing up the dodge, knife, and equipped weapon buttons. That’s because, while aiming, your run button becomes your weapon’s attack button. Likewise, your interact button (for examining or interacting with objects and the environment) becomes your knife attack. It felt natural to handle most of the time, but when lots of monsters are coming for your blood, you may accidentally start blasting instead of fleeing, or slashing instead of dodging.
Speaking of bloodthirsty monsters, every enemy in Evil Tonight is unique and deadly. My favorite is the witch who vomits bats at you. An absolute nightmare. Her approach is different from the mandrake, who sprints after you, screaming its tiny head off. The game is most challenging when enemies group, forcing you to dodge projectiles and knife-wielding menaces while cycling through your weapons.
Also worth mentioning are the three boss encounters. They’re not complex, and the enemy designs aren’t anything special, but they’re fun and challenging. As you chip away at their health, their moveset changes, growing more dangerous as the fight ramps up. I would have liked more variety, but I enjoyed what was there.
To combat these nightmares, you’re given five weapons, each distinct and satisfying to use. Sometimes you want to shoot a monster in the face with your shotgun. Other times, you want to keep them as far away as possible, strafing with a crossbow. Whatever weapon you choose, the impact on the enemies feels weighty and satisfying.
Overall, the combat is fun yet challenging, demanding continuous movement to avoid attacks from varied enemies. It’s difficult, but never unfair. If you find yourself (as I did) regularly dying in the same area, it’s thanks to your own mistakes and mismanagement of resources rather than the game setting you up for failure.
Exploration and Level Design
When not combating evil, you spend most of the game exploring four main sections of the school. Delving deeper into each area, you open shortcuts, allowing speedy returns to previous areas. This ensures that backtracking is quick and painless. The levels are well designed, with deliberately placed save points, enemies, and resources.
While exploring, keep your eyes out for hidden items. These appear as breakable boxes, occasional chests, and objects you can push out of the way to reveal what they hide. In classic survival horror fashion, these goodies are finite and don’t reappear, so search every nook and cranny for that last apple or medkit.
As enjoyable as exploring the school is, the biggest mechanical downside of Evil Tonight is the lack of a map. Many doors require many keys, and many rooms hold puzzles. Trying to remember the location of a specific one becomes difficult, so you spend a lot of time backtracking to every room you’ve explored. It breaks immersion and detracts from the otherwise excellent atmosphere. The lack of a map, rather than making the game more challenging, makes it more frustrating.
In addition to monsters and exploration, the third ingredient of Evil Tonight is the puzzles. Unlike DYA’s previous horror title, Viviette, the puzzles here aren’t difficult, and for the most part, you quickly understand what the game needs. I especially appreciate the clues being near the puzzle rooms. When you struggle to solve one, you at least know the solution is close at hand. That being said, the puzzles are by no means poorly designed or too easy. They are satisfying to solve and fit nicely into the Evil Tonight experience.
Graphics and Sound
Stepping into San Paolo De Rosa, you’re struck by its beauty. The 16-bit pixel art is gorgeous and exploring each new environment is a treat. Selecting screenshots for this review was difficult because every area of the game was beautifully handcrafted. The rain and lighting effects add extra special oomph. Every sprite is an absolute delight, the monsters animated and the attacks punchy and satisfying.
The sound selection is nice, each monster announcing its presence with a well-selected warble, screech, or rasp. Contributing to the atmosphere is a beautiful soundtrack reminiscent of classic Resident Evil games. Peter Jones did a wonderful job setting the tone of each location and punching up the boss fights.
Story and Characters
The characters and plot are by far the weakest aspects of Evil Tonight, though I love the setup. Silvia enters an alternate dimension to exorcise the curse that haunts the school. The dimension is a warped version of the physical world, manifested by the curse’s mind. Past this interesting foundation, however, I can only say the story is adequate. The plot develops through dialogue cut-scenes and diary pages found scattered throughout the school, telling the tale of a hopeful yet tragedy-bound actress. It’s straightforward, makes sense, and concludes.
Silvia herself is very annoying. At every opportunity, she proclaims herself a beauty or mentions her toned body. Every. Single. Conversation. It’s intended to be silly, and I understand what they were going for, but she’s written like a gag. It’s a missed opportunity because Silvia should be very interesting. She’s an exorcist that enters cursed buildings to battle evil. She must have a history of training to overcome those horrors. I want to see that background reflected in her dialogue rather than a recurring joke.
The few other NPCs you encounter are bland. Even the antagonist, despite the fun boss battles, is uninteresting. It’s unfortunate that DYA dropped the ball here because if the writing were on par with the rest of the experience, Evil Tonight would be a Must Play. That being said, nearly everything else about the game is executed perfectly. As chiefly an action game, it’s easy to forgive the irritating dialogue and simple plot.
Despite weak writing, Evil Tonight is a blast. The sound and graphics are superb, and the gameplay is tip-top fun. While quick to beat, the replay value is quite high, with challenges to pursue on subsequent play-throughs. It’s an impressive leap forward from Viviette and I can’t wait for DYA’s follow-up titles.
Evil Tonight gets a Strong Recommendation!
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