Preview

The Evil Within

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What is ‘Survival Horror’ to you?

Do you think Silent Hill’s style of oppressive environments, creepy creatures, reduced character control and relentlessly atmospheric music is a fair representation of ‘true’ survival horror? Would you point to the earlier Resident Evil games to define survival horror for you? What about games like Fatal Frame, Haunting Ground and Siren, or Amnesia and Penumbra? Or perhaps Dead Space and Dead Space 2 are more your cups o’ terror tea?

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According to Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, Vanquish), true survival horror games aren’t being made for the modern videogame audience and he’s trying to remedy the dearth of entries to this genre with The Evil Within from Tango Gameworks and Bethesda, the first horror game he’s worked on since Resident Evil 4 in 2005.

During an E3 2013 presentation of The Evil Within, Mikami explained that he and the team are trying to make a game that is truly terrifying, going back to the roots of survival horror by putting players in scenarios filled with real fear, but also with opportunities to triumph over those fears (even if it’s by the skin of your teeth).

By sneaking around the front of the demo theatre, Mikami pantomimed the kinds of skills you’ll need to master in The Evil Within in order to survive while making effective use of your limited resources and ammunition, slashing at an imaginary (and presumably hideous) enemy with a knife, before lighting a match and dropping it on the body… not a real match, but Mikami was very convincing in his playlet.

At one point Mikami stopped cold during the act and shook his finger while saying through a translator: “No boring QTEs.” A clear message for his contemporaries.

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With that, we were introduced to the bleak, film grain filtered world of The Evil Within (called ‘Psychobreak’ in Japan) as detective Sebastian Casianos and his crew arrive at an asylum in the middle of the night with rain pouring down on a frighteningly foreboding scene, with a dozen slain police officers surrounding the entrance to the building. Sebastian and co. creep further into the hospital but the sights get no better: Fresh blood is splashed liberally over the walls and floors with dozens of dead bodies and limbs strewn about the place.

The transitions from cinematics to gameplay look incredibly clean in The Evil Within and the high visual fidelity is carried through, too. As Sebastian sauntered in with his fellow officers, there was a definite ‘Clint Eastwood’ vibe to the character, however slight, in his casual confidence and quips. After watching a security camera and witnessing more officers being mercilessly struck down by a horrifying and ghostly figure, Sebastian’s self-assuredness is soon shattered as the phantom appears behind him, knocking him out and setting off the events of the game.

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Sebastian wakes up hanging upside-down in what appears to be a meat locker of some kind filled with other bodies strung from the ceiling, only instead of a pristine and clinical room the environment is filthy and caked in grime, rotting meat and layers of dry, coagulated blood. Sebastian is currently contributing to the crimson mess with blood dripping from his arm down to the floor below, and as he glances around, a hulking fiend with a very uncomfortable-looking spiked mask lumbers through the room, cuts a body loose from its hook and slowly drags it out, giving Sebastian precious moments to swing and escape his bindings.

What followed was an exceedingly tense few moments of stealth as Sebastian tried to sneak past this danger and flee. Bethesda says that enemies in The Evil Within will have unpredictable movement patterns, so you’ll need to have your wits about you to if you’re not up for a fight.

Unfortunately, our hero trips and alarm which alerts the fiend, sending him chasing after Sebastian with a rasping, gravely chainsaw rattling in hand ready to cut his prey down in an instant. From what I saw, The Evil Within will rely (at least in part) on claustrophobic situations to increase the tension and enhance the feeling of proximity to danger – a number of chases took place in an extremely narrow corridor and before long Sebastian had to retreat to the sanctuary of the inside of a cramped storage locker as the monstrous enemy wrecked the room in search of the escapee.

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These moments were made all the more unnerving while listening to the muffled and garbled shouts and grunts emanating from the chasing brute, making it seem even more inhuman and terrifying, and the atmospheric music amplified the force of the scene using sharp stings and hair-raising strings to add another unreal layer of horror. Every action performed by Sebastian is also very deliberate and meticulous, and even the simple act of opening a door as quietly as possible is a white-knuckle interaction.

In the next section of the demo, we found ourselves in what looked like a manor house where Sebastian had acquired a few items, including a handgun, matches and explosive mines, or traps, all of which would come in very handy over the next few minutes.

Once again trying to find a way to safety and protect himself from deformed grotesques shuffling and lurching with violent intentions, Sebastian placed a few of these mine traps around the room and under window frames to dissuade his enemies from breaking down barriers leading into the room. It seems they can’t listen to reason, however, and soon smashed through the wooden barricade only to be decimated by a series of highly explosive blasts, sending their corpses flying around the room.

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According to Bethesda, the unpredictable nature of The Evil Within will be extended to the death of your enemies and until you throw a lit match on a body you won’t know if they’re completely taken care of or not. Match quantity is limited, though, so you’ll need to decide whether or not to burn these creatures or leave them be, which means they might just get up again and follow in hot pursuit.

Moving further down into a decrepit cellar or basement area, the creepiness factor of the world increased dramatically as we were met with cult-like scenes of burning candles set up in peculiar configurations and more grunge coating every surface of the place. Before long, another chase sequence kicked off in a constricted passage, but this time was different: The more Sebastian tried to run down the hallway, the less ground he made and just at his most desperate moment a torrent of glistening blood came flooding through the corridor… before disappearing a moment later. A vision?

Is Sebastian’s mind playing tricks on him and has his mental state been severely damaged by the horrors he has seen so far? The demo ended as an indescribably twisted six-armed creature hacked and slashed at our protagonist, but questions over the stability of his psyche lingered. In The Evil Within, what is real, what is imagined and how will Sebastian escape this nightmare?

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Another question arose: Is this ‘true’ survival horror, as Shinji Mikami promises? Will fans of the genre appreciate the game’s emphasis on tension and terrifying visions, or will The Evil Within be dismissed as another action-oriented attempt at pleasing aficionados? All of the hallmarks of a survival horror game seem to be in place, with limited resources, alarming creatures and environments, the barest trickle of information important to your continued survival, and a skin crawling soundtrack with unsettling sound effects to match.

While I can’t say I’m chomping at the bit to be scared out of my wits by The Evil Within, I’ll be following the game’s development very closely and monitoring reactions to the game leading up to its release in 2014 to see if Mikami can make good on his claims and make a full return to a genre he had a significant hand in popularising in the creation of Resident Evil.


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