It may have been nine long years since Resident Evil 4, but within minutes of playing The Evil Within, it becomes apparent that creative director Shinji Mikami is picking up exactly where he left off. The opening segment of the demo I played plunges you into an instantly familiar eerie European village, and straight into the boots of a long haired and suitably Leon-type protagonist. Mere minutes into exploring my surroundings, I stumbled upon a wave of infected villagers around a camp fire who (unsurprisingly) were vying for my blood. After years of Resident Evil, headshots came naturally and soon I had taken most of them down – or so I thought. After shooting multiple undead and starting to mêlée the remaining stragglers, to my horror the villagers I had just riddled with bullets started to rise. Low on ammo and quickly becoming surrounded, I turned to the nearest corpse and set it on fire, before fighting my way out of the horde and fleeing to the nearest cabin.
As I quickly learned, in The Evil Within sometimes just shooting the undead isn’t enough. As well as having to burn the majority of corpses in the game to prevent reanimation, every so often The Evil Within will also have you mercilessly hunted by foes you cannot defeat. Some of them, however, are less threatening than others. A laughably slow ghost will often appear without warning in a randomised location and begin to follow you. While easy enough to avoid, he is still fatal – and one touch from the slowly shuffling phantom results in an instant game over.
Taking a cue from games like Silent Hill: Shattered Memories and Outlast, there are also frantic chase sections that render your gun useless. After making my way through a typically Resident Evil inspired facility, I found myself cornered by a four-legged undead behemoth. After emptying my clip into her I quickly decided to run as fast as my analogue stick would carry me and sprinted down the corridor into a nearby elevator – narrowly avoiding the claws of evil. Breathing a sigh of relief I rode the elevator down to the next floor, and dropping my guard, began to look around for items – only to find my tormentor and a quick death waiting for me.
The first demo was very much on the action side of the Survival Horror genre, and while Outlast inspired chase sections added some much needed variety, nothing about the experience felt particularly new or exciting. The next playable demo, however, was where the game really clicked with me.
Taking place in a predictably gloomy and poorly lit Mansion, the atmosphere immediately changed from gung-ho, adrenaline filled shooter to one with palpable tension. The poor lighting, eerily silent corridors, and procedurally generated enemies made exploring each room an increasingly stressful ordeal. After every death, enemies would be lurking in different rooms to where I last encountered them, encouraging the player to treat every corner as a potential threat. Lurking enemies aren’t your only threat in this disturbing mansion; as I quickly learned. After clearing all the enemies I could and collecting the items I needed to proceed, I headed through the corridor and into a new area. The second my foot touched the ground I found myself ensnared in a trap. A rope furiously wrapped its way around my foot and pulled me rapidly toward a gigantic rotating Saw. Panicking, I pulled out my gun and frantically shot at the rope. No good. Inching closer and closer to my demise I saw a hint of a flashing red gem. Firing a last ditch shot I managed to shatter the gem just in time, and freed myself before I became mince meat.
The constant sense of uncertainty and tension in the mansion felt highly refreshing, and the introduction of a deeply disturbing narrative was the icing on the horrifying cake. After collecting the items you need to proceed, ghostly apparitions appear before the player, telling a chilling story of a mental patient murdering his parents and experimenting on their brains. After each chilling conversation, you then have to take part in a slightly sickening mini-game that sees you sticking pins into a brain until you have drained enough blood to open the mansion’s main door. In a genre meant to shock and disgust, it’s rare that a game actually manages this and hits a nerve, and with this scene The Evil Within has achieved this.
The only other truly horrific thing I took away from my time with The Evil Within was the visuals. While still in development and running on a PC, there was little to suggest that the new-gen versions would look much better than the last-gen counterparts, with poor textures and a low resolution giving the game a washed out and dated look. Given the game’s recent delay, hopefully the team will use that time to add some much needed polish to the game before it releases in October.
After recent forays into futuristic action in the brilliant Vanquish, and hit and miss cheesy horror with Shadows Of The Damned, Mikami has finally returned to the genre he helped to revolutionize. While The Evil Within doesn’t look to reinvigorate survival horror in the same way as his genre bending Resident Evil 4, it is shaping up to be the purest and most varied third-person horror experience in years, and that’s definitely something worth getting excited about.
Hands-on based on time spent at preview event. The Evil Within will be released on October 24th, 2014.