Platform: Xbox One
The Evil Within Preview - E3 2013
Survival horror returns to its roots with this new IP
The runaway success of Resident Evil 4 helped to spark a trend in the AAA horror genre - let’s call it “The Great Actionification” - of stripping away disempowering “survival” features and replacing them with powerful weapons, quick-time events, and cover-based shooting. Now, Resident Evil series progenitor Shinji Mikami is seeking to buck that trend by returning to his roots, with a new survival horror entry called The Evil Within. We sat in on a demonstration for the game at Bethesda’s E3 booth to see how it’s shaping up.
Mikami was on hand to set the stage, stressing his desire for a “pure survival horror experience” without “boring QTEs” and with heavy limitations on resources and ammo. As his translator looked on, bemused, Mikami mimed sneaking up on an imagined enemy and slitting its throat. “You’ll need to use your wits and....erm....stealth kills” ventured the translator. A Bethesda rep then introduced the demonstration, mentioning that it would be entirely possible for the player on hand to be killed in this gameplay section, as had occurred a during a few earlier presentations.
We were introduced to the protagonist, Detective Sebastian Castellanos, as he drove in a police car with 3 associates to a aid some other officers at the scene of a crime. In fitting homage to Resident Evil, that crime scene turned out to be a mansion/mental health facility, and the heroes arrived to find their fellow officers’ cars abandoned, the men nowhere in sight. Sebastian and company made their way to the front door, drew their guns, and entered.
Waiting for them inside was a grisly scene: bodies of orderlies and nurses strewn about, and blood everywhere. A noise emanated from a nearby security room. Seeing little cause to stick together, Sebastian and a single teammate named Oscar elected to investigate, finding a bewildered, soon-to-be-deceased staff member. As Oscar tended to the hapless fellow, Sebastian took a look at the security camera feed. In it, he witnessed some of the missing officers firing at something off-camera. A hooded figure that looked a bit like a ghostly version of Ezio from Assassin’s Creed teleported into view and seemingly killed them. As Sebastian watched, the figure looked knowingly into the camera. And then suddenly he was there, behind Sebastian, and plunging a needle into his neck.
Waking, Sebastian found himself suspended from the ankles in a Hostel-esque nightmare of a butcher’s shop. He watched helpless as a hulking, masked man eviscerated an unseen prisoner to his side, then spotted a knife buried in a hanging body to his front. As the butcher turned his back, the player swung back and forth until he could grasp the knife and cut himself free. With feet on floor again, he crouched and waited until the butcher stepped away for a moment, then made his escape. Unfortunately, in the process he triggered an alarm near the exit. Suddenly the butcher was behind, chainsaw in hand, and the chase was on.
Sebastian ran as the chainsaw roared behind him. He fell, and the butcher triggered a trap that brought spinning blades on the sides of the room ever-inward. Sebastian limped along, barely making it past them, and hid in a locker further down. When the chainsaw-wielding foe caught up, he tore the area apart in frustration, but eventually left his guard down enough for the player to shamble past. Returning to the lobby, Sebastian heard thunderous noises and the ground shook. He opened the doors to find the exterior had become a bizarre, M.C. Escher version of itself; the ground around the hospital torn apart so that escape was impossible.
From there, the demo jumped to a new location, a graveyard and adjoining building. Sebastian made it inside and killed a few humanoid enemies with spikes through their heads, burning the body of one with a match. Looking out a window, he spotted a horde of new enemies swarming the exterior. He opened his inventory and selected a “mine trap”, placing a few on the windows and hunkering down on the stairs to begin his defense. The enemies made their way in, regardless, and after embarrassingly missing his shots with his revolver, the player retreated down into a hallway. Suddenly the screen blinked, and it was another location entirely, the enemies gone. A distant door slammed open, and blood flooded out, knocking Sebastian to the floor and covering the screen.
When he got back to his feet, he was in a hospital hallway. In the distance was a room filled with bloody handprints, with a mass of viscera in the center. When he reached it, it erupted into a monstrous beast, something like a contortionist arachnoid woman with claws. The player fired at it ineffectually as it closed in, shrieking. It reached up a claw for a fatal blow, and.....title screen. End of demo.
All things considered, it amounted to a fairly substantial demonstration, showing much of The Evil Within’s introduction, and a few of the mind-bending twists it has in store for later. What was shown was very encouraging: the game seems to be able to inject tension and split-second decision making without resorting to quick-time events or other such gimmicks. The gameplay portions were frantic without ever appearing unintuitive, and seem to reward quick thinking and a strong sense of self-preservation. Fighting, in other words, didn’t always seem to be the answer.
The over-the-shoulder camera calls back to Resident Evil 4, but the creatures and mind games shown seem to be decidedly more of the Silent Hill take on horror. We’re expecting the action to be tight, but more limited than AAA heavy hitters like the later RE games or Dead Space. Survival horror fans should be excited; this was one of the more impressive showcases at E3.