The Evil Within Preview: Don’t worry, it’s still scary
The demo that Bethesda had shown off at PAX East last month left a bitter taste in many mouths. For The Evil Within, a game from Shinji Mikami, the father of horror, had essentially shown no signs of survival or horror elements. Of course, this was experienced during a hands-off preview of two portions of the game with no setup whatsoever. At a recent Bethesda-hosted pre-E3 event earlier this month, I finally got the chance to play the game for myself. And after nearly two hours of hands-on time with the game, I can say that the horror is real -- in a good way, that is.
Keep in mind, I played the game in pretty much the best setup possible: in a silent, dark room with very nice headphones and no distractions -- you know, the way survival horror games are meant to be experienced. So while it’s likely that the environment in which I played the game had some effect on my anxiety, the game, too, played an important factor.
In my two hours with the game, I played parts of two chapters which ultimately gave me a better understanding of both the combat and puzzle-solving aspects of the game, as well as the overall atmosphere of the game.
The first part involved me exploring a house. The story was a little confusing, but that’s understandable given the circumstances of my preview. More importantly, this gave me a better look at the combat mechanics of The Evil Within.
Before I continue, it’s important to note that there were two difficulties available for previewing: an easy “casual” mode and a more difficult “survival” mode. There were two other presumably harder difficulties shown, but unplayable.
The reason I point out the difficulty of the game is because The Evil Within plays and feels like two incredibly different games depending on what you’re playing on. On casual, the ammunition is more abundant; enemies go down quicker, with less skill and ammunition required; planning my approach wasn’t necessarily as imperative to my survival. Survival difficulty wasn’t too much harder, but there was a noticeable difference in how I had to approach the game. Mostly, I had to employ some sort of tactics in my encounters. The key difference here is that enemies required much more ammunition to kill. I specifically remember a part in the sewers that I had no problem with on casual, but on survival I couldn’t just stand there and fire endlessly at the swarming undead.
Survival difficulty meant more ammo conservation. I found myself sneaking around more, using my melee weapon to take out enemies. I found myself relying on my bow because I could craft arrows using spare parts from disarming traps around the level.
So now that we can assume that the game’s difficulty is what you make it to be, let’s talk about the overall atmosphere of The Evil Within. Whereas the presentation at PAX East did little to establish any sort of tension or anxiety, the demo that I played really set an uneasy tone. From the overall grainy look of the game, to the horrifying background sound effects, to the suspense of just awaiting something to happen -- I constantly felt unnerved.
Again, my personal “cubby” in which I played was certainly more conducive to survival horror than a room full of 20-or-so others, but if the gore and horror that I witnessed was any indication as to what the entire game will entail, then damn. Get ready to see some nasty stuff. In just the first demo, I witnessed a psychotic doctor performing surgery to “expose everything” on an already dead corpse. I don’t consider myself squeamish, but seeing parts of a brain splatter to the floor as this mutilated former-doctor played surgeon wasn’t a pretty sight.
All of this was build-up to an encounter with that female spider-looking creature covered in blood (known as RE-Bone Laura). After firing six-or-so rounds into her, I quickly found that bullets do nothing. Not only did being completely helpless against her add to the tension of the chase sequence, but the fact that she could spawn from random corpses around the halls added to my anxiety. I don’t want to spoil too much about the chapter, but I was presented with an interesting puzzle during the chase in which I found myself in an elevator with a corpse. Knowing she could spawn from it, I thought I’d be smart to burn the corpse, preventing her from doing so. Not so much. The door opened and because I had burned that corpse, she instead spawned from the one right outside of the elevator door. Well played, Tango Gameworks.
The second portion of my demo, Chapter 8: The Cruelest Intentions, introduced the puzzle-solving aspects of The Evil Within, and this is where the game really began to feel like Resident Evil to me. Basically, I found myself in a mansion, and to open the exit door I had to restore blood flow to the lock. To do so, I had to locate three different brains scattered about and perform a test on them. The major differences in difficulty was that on “casual” the end puzzle was automatically solved, but on “survival” I had to use clues found around the mansion to solve a riddle and manually unlock a safe. Other than that, monster difficulty was the only major difference between the two.
Though this chapter wasn’t necessarily as action-oriented, it certainly didn’t lack suspense or terror. The mansion was filled with disturbing sounds and sequences that had me on the edge of my seat, but the most freakishly terrifying experience for me was the sudden appearance of Ruvik who, at random times, would make the entire room fade into a dark-bluish tint and begin slowly walking towards me. If he got to me, it was essentially a one-hit kill.
Based solely on this chapter, The Evil Within seemingly does a good job of not only presenting puzzles, but giving you enough context clues to know what to do without blatantly spelling it out. I don’t want to spoil exactly what I had to do, but I will caution you to pay attention to your surroundings as it often provides clues on what to do.
Anyone concerned that Shinji Mikami may have lost his way with The Evil Within can rest easy; it is every bit as survival-horror as I had hoped and expected -- at least from what I’ve played so far. I’m not sure exactly what to say about that PAX East presentation, but what I witnessed in April and what I played this month was night and day different experiences. I wasn’t necessarily scared during my two hours, but I was anxious, tense, and extremely alert. There was a certain uneasy feeling I had when playing, established by both the environment and the creatures within. If the rest of the game can follow suit and evoke these same feelings consistently, then The Evil Within will be a perfect fit for October. Ah yes, sadly, The Evil Within has been delayed.