No one would think to question the scare factor in The Evil Within, not when the game is helmed by survival-horror legend Shinji Mikami. This is, after all, the man credited with creating Resident Evil, what is arguably the most famous horror series known to gamers. While that particular franchise is no longer in his hands, Mikami will be taking us all through another tour of hell later this year with The Evil Within. And trust me when I say it's scary as all hell.
During our hands-on opportunity with the game, Bethesda made sure our experience would be conducive for having the ever-living tar scared out of us. This meant no lights except for the glow of a computer monitor, and being separated from everyone else by black curtains. A press-on light placed by the keyboard served as a "panic button," and throughout stressful two hours, I heard more than one person scream. Yeah, this is that kind of game.
The Stuff of Nightmares
Our time with The Evil Within began quite a ways into the game, when protagonist Sebastian Castellanos seemed to have partially accepted the living nightmare he was trapped in. What's a guy in his situation to do? Roll with it.
The demo I played was a two-parter, and the first segment featured a more action-driven style not unlike the gameplay of Resident Evil 4. Though Sebastian is a capable man much in the same way Leon Kennedy was, his training as a detective can only do so much against the monsters he now faces. Don't assume that makes Evil Within any less terrifying, however. Even when armed, Sebastian is at a clear disadvantage, adding that suffocating sense of dread most horror fans are more than familiar with. Ammo tends to be in short supply, and the better your weapon, the scarcer the ammunition will be. Choose wisely.
That being said, not all enemies are made equal. The most common baddies are still mindless meat puppets that can be outwitted and outgunned, but let's not focus on them. The real stars of the show are the ones you can't kill.
At one point, Sebastian encounters a spider-esque woman (sometimes referred to as "Laura") that looks like she was ripped directly from an Asian horror flick, marked by her long black hair and multiple limbs that carry her around like a spider. She can't be killed, and this is a terrifying truth that becomes clear almost immediately after she is violently birthed from a mutilated corpse in an operating room. The only option left here is to run, which is what I do (I'm told later by devs and writers that they tried and failed to defeat her with a puny handgun).
As if being chased by this monster wasn't terrifying enough, I find the hallway I had come from closed off, and the only door I see is locked. Precious moments are spent frantically trying to open it, but the stubborn door waits until she's nearly upon me before granting access. The corpses that litter my escape route suddenly explode in blood, the dead flesh acting as alternate doorways for this horrible creature. When Sebastian finally reaches an elevator, a body is found lying at his feet...
Yes, the pursuit was a scripted event, but the ordeal is no less frightening when all is said and done. When my screen faded to black, my heart was still pounding, and I was clutching my controller that much tighter.
A Quiet Madness
The disappearing hallways and locked doors just examples of the ever-shifting world, designed to mess with both Sebastian and the player. Before long, I was actually starting to wonder whether the game might be happening inside the good detective's head, and the various clues I discovered only raised more questions regarding his role in events past and present.
The second half of the demo was significantly slower paced and served as an interesting contrast to the first by dealing more with puzzles and exploration. This is a clear throwback to the classic Resident Evil games, which boasted a very similar atmosphere that capitolized more on tension than overt threats. While Sebastian is never truly free of the literal monsters in the game, the tone shifts significantly from one area to another. When I went from the asylum to an abandoned mansion, for instance, much of the crippling terror just naturally went away, replaced instead by a quiet yet constant sense of foreboding.
Yes, the mansion was still scary, but in a completely different way. I learned a quick and harsh lesson that no place is truly safe, when I decided to hide under a table upon being paid a visit by the recurring (and mysterious) entity, Ruvik. Huddled underneath furniture, I saw his tattered feet walk by, before they suddenly turn to face me, and I see him staring straight at me before Sebastian experiences an instant death.
Also part psychological thriller, The Evil Within isn't just about scaring the living daylights out of the player. In some ways, the game felt like a bizarre journey of self-discovery for the ill-fated protagonist, but I really can't comment too much. Sebastian has at least proven to be an intriguing character, thanks namely to his apparent ties with the horrors that now surround him.
The time I spent with The Evil Within might very well be the longest two hours of my life, and that's okay. As the survival horror genre makes its comeback, Shinji Mikami appears to have taken the opportunity to show he's still a master at his craft.
The Evil Within will be available starting October 21 for PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4 and PS3.
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