The Evil Within Preview - PAX East 2014
We visit the bloody new world from the creator of Resident Evil
After taking a break from the survival-horror genre he helped craft, Shinji Mikami - the brains behind Resident Evil and Resident Evil 4 - returns with his latest horrific creation, The Evil Within. Bethesda gave us a hands-off look at the game at PAX East, and while there is a lot which pays homage to Mikami’s Resident Evil success, what I saw didn’t leave me shaking in my boots.
The third-person, over-the-shoulder camera and the rigid character movement have long been staples of Mikami’s work. From Resident Evil to Vanquish, Mikami’s games have always lacked smooth controls, opting for stiff movements that challenge the player. The Evil Within might be a challenge, but it looked dated and unnatural. Detective Sebastian Castellanos, the game’s lead character, looks human, but his strange movements are artificial. The design will immediately draw comparisons to Resident Evil, maybe even spark nostalgia for some fans, but I don’t know if it will translate well when compared to contemporary gameplay.
As the gameplay demo began I saw Castellanos attempting to enter an old industrial building. It’s raining, the atmosphere is foreboding. The detective attempts to weave his way through a series of fences and barricades as he approaches the entrance to the building. As he gets closer, enemies appear. Draped in dark clothes, with a wraith-like appearance, these enemies swarm toward Castellanos. The enemy AI is another tie to Mikami’s previous Resident Evil work. The brainless foes attempt to attack with little thought of self preservation, much like the zombie hordes from Resident Evil or the parasite infested enemies from Resident Evil 4. It is unclear where these wraith-like creatures came from, or their narrative connection to the setting, but it all feels other-worldly, as if part of some demented dream. Castellanos weaves his way back and forth, as some enemies are attempting to attack him with their bare hands while others are hanging back and firing weapons. After Castellanos blasts away his foes, he lights them on fire. They writhe and scream as their bodies are turned to ash, preventing them from rising again.
The Evil Within is a new horror setting; it doesn’t pull from zombie lore or any other specific genre, thus Mikami takes liberties with his monsters. Having these wraith creature firing weapons doesn’t feel tense or horrific, it feels like stereotypical enemy-design from the third-person shooter genre. It might be a little tense as enemies surround you, but it has more of an action-vibe than survival horror.
After entering the building, Castellanos begins wandering the dark, murky waters of a decrepit sewer. The walls are stained brown, the floors are littered with substances we’re better off not asking about. Here is where The Evil Within really separates itself from previous Mikami efforts. While the game may not be a fright-fest, it is a disgusting mesh of visceral imagery. Everything from the ceiling to the floor is meant to turn your stomach. The atmosphere isn’t just oppressing, it is dirty and nasty. In the section demoed at PAX East, The Evil Within lacked tension. Being the scaredy-cat I am, I expected to have some white knuckles moments, but nothing struck me as scary in this short, hands-off demo.
In order to escape this sewer-dungeon, Castellanos is forced to manipulate a series of valves in different rooms, each opening a new door, aiding in his escape. While twisting the first valve, a new monstrous enemy attacks the detective. A lumbering hulk wearing a butcher apron and a war-hammer wrapped in barbed-wire, the monster called Boxhead gets his name from his safe-like cranium. After rising from the sewage water, the beast slowly walks toward Castellanos, brandishing his weapon.
The inventory screen comes up as the player switches between his revolver and shotgun. When bringing up the inventory screen, the x-ray of a skull acts as your options wheel, reinforcing the themes of mental instability The Evil Within plays with. Castellanos pulls out his shotgun and fires a couple blasts into the monster.
Boxhead loses a step as the shotgun shell tears into his flesh, but is only momentarily stunned before continuing his slow approach. Castellanos fires a couple more times and starts backpedalling to create some distance. Ducking into nearby walkway, he tricks his adversary to continually come around a corner, opening itself up for an attack. Castellanos can only run for so long before Boxhead is able to get a couple swings in. The monster’s hammer strikes Castellanos, and while blood squirts ambiguously from the detective’s body, yet he barely flinches from the attack. The only reaction he ever has comes after a Boxhead has landed a few blows, causing Castellanos to clutch his side, another nod to Resident Evil.
The fight with Boxhead goes through a series of stages, each ending with Boxhead exploding in a spew of blood and guts. The fight continues through four rooms, allowing progression after Boxhead has been vanquished and the room’s valve has been turned by mashing the action-button. The sequence has its high points; sometimes as Castellanos is escaping a room, Boxhead respawns - as he does - and comes lumbering toward Castellanos who shuts the door just in the nick of time. Unfortunately, the fight is a simple wash-rinse-repeat cycle and while Boxhead is a disgusting character, he doesn’t strike fear into your heart like more recent horror-game villains.
After a few rounds with Boxhead, Castellanos finally goes through the motions of the boss-fight one last time. He vanquishes Boxhead, turns the needed valve, and escapes through a final sewer door. It is hard to believe there won’t be more Boxhead enemies somewhere else in the game - he seems to be the resilient sort - but for now Castellanos is safe from the lumbering beast. After sneaking through the final door, the demo abruptly ends.
Shinji Mikami is an undisputable legend when it comes to survival horror, but his return seems lackluster. Maybe we’re expecting too much, but The Evil Within looks like a roadmap to Resident Evil with a new premise. In some ways it is good to see those influences back in the survival horror genre, but The Evil Within looks more like an action game with poor controls than a survival horror game limiting your abilities. It all comes back to the fact The Evil Within isn’t very scary. It is gross, it is disgusting - which is the point - but for all of its nastiness, nothing terrifying grabbed me during the demo.
For people who are simply hoping for more Mikami and the Resident Evil 4 formula, the spirit of his previous work is alive and well. As of right now, based on what we got a chance to see, The Evil Within seems to be missing the most important part of its genre: the horror. The Evil Within comes to PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC on August 26th, 2014.