Of all the games we saw at Gamescom, The Evil Within was one that really excited us. Why? Because it’s a survival horror from Shinij Mikami, which will also be his swansong as director. We didn’t get to go hands on with the game but we did see a demo that covered at least part of two of the chapters – the Prologue and Perth House.
The game has a true Resident Evil 4 aesthetic to it. The prologue opens with you arriving at a mental hospital only to find a sea of abandoned police cars and a massacre that has taken place inside. Making your way to the security office, you arrive just in time to see some of your colleagues get butchered on the CCTV system by some kind of spectral assassin who then appears behind you and knocks you out. It’s then that the game really shows what it’s capable of as you get launched into it properly.
Finding yourself suspended from a hook, surrounded by a host of other unfortunate souls your first job is to escape and avoid the attentions of a huge beast who seems to delight in ripping people in half. As in any good horror game, the atmosphere comes as much from what you can hear as what you can see. The dismemberment of a person just off screen has a brilliantly horrible squelch to it, and seeing their torso getting dragged across the floor just heightens this. Once you get yourself down from the ropes, via a very conveniently accessible knife, it all becomes a game of sneaking around as you try to get the keys to escape.
Unfortunately you very soon trip an alarm and it becomes a game of cat and mouse as the hulk comes after you with, you guessed it, a chainsaw. This is a very different kind of battle though as very soon you find yourself injured and limping with no way to defend yourself. The sound again becomes very important as you try to sneak your way around without being seen, only for it all to go horribly wrong. People watching the demo, us included, actually jumped at a scene where the chainsaw wielding maniac suddenly appears behind you with only a second to get out of the way.
Continuing on you find a locker to hide yourself in, continuing the theme of helplessness, before finally escaping into a lift and getting away. You find yourself back in the lobby where you started only to go out the doors and see that a terrible catastrophe has hit and the city lies in ruins. As a start to the game, it doesn’t get much more breathless than this.
After the Prologue, we saw a section called Perth House. It doesn’t look like they follow on exactly from one another but we can’t be sure. As you’re about to find out the game delights in unsettling you and making sure you never know exactly what’s real and what isn’t. The first part of this chapter had a much more traditional survival horror element to it as you collect yourself a med-kit and some ammo. Proceeding down some dark stairs into a basement you find the first real enemies of the game to fight. Though they look like zombies, we’re sure that they’re not undead in the traditional sense. Though you have to take them down with some headshots, the real innovation here is the need to burn the bodies lest they come back as something even worse.
Immeadiately after this, you find yourself under attack again by an entire horde. We saw some new weapons here, with the ability to set traps to defend yourself as they broke into the shack you’re set up in. We also saw that killing all the enemies looks to be a very rare occurrence in the game, with retreat much more likely. As you run away, back to the corridor you just came from, the lighting and sounds shift. The ‘zombies’ are no longer chasing you but as you try to leave via the door you find yourself placed back at the start. A second attempt ends with a river of blood coming towards you and the scenery shifting again, this time to a facility. The demo ended as you walked to the end of this corridor only to find a spider-like monster attacking you and a terrible scream arising, from you or the monster we couldn’t tell.
There’s a lot to take in from the demo but a lot to be excited by. It look’s like a return to the traditional survival horror genre after many other games seem to have gone down the action route. The idea here is not to just kill all the enemies but to outwit them, whether this involves running away or hiding is up to you, so long as you survive. Ammo seems scarce enough and the idea of destroying the bodies after shooting them is a nice twist to ensure that you are careful with every move. The shifting corridors and scenery also add to the idea that you can never really trust what you see.
It’s good to see Mikami behind one last project, if only to once again re-invigorate the genre. The Resident Evil traits are all there, with threats that you constantly have to avoid, nasty combat and item management. Even the button prompts that come up when you find items look very RE. Perhaps with The Evil Within, we have finally got a spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 and if that doesn’t get you excited, then nothing will.
And yes, this time you can move and shoot.