The Evil Within – E3 Preview
Survival Horror isn’t a genre you see bandied about very often anymore, and in the last few years it’s undergone a serious amount of stagnation. Worse, many titles that start off that way soon deteriorate into something far more insidious and unwelcome as they attempt to appeal to every common denominator. Dead Space went from an intense horror experience that I was too scared to continue playing to a third-person shooter you could play with your friends, Silent Hill went from iconic fogs and Pyramid Head to machine guns and burly men unafraid to throw punches, and Resident Evil went from the chainsaw-wielding El Salvador to whatever the hell Operation: Raccoon City was. Since Resident Evil 4 it seems that no-one can bring the scares in a big way, so perhaps it’s a welcome omen that the first title that looks like it can bring fear screaming back to the forefront of gaming is The Evil Within – Shinji Mikami’s first horror title since the aforementioned zombie-slaying series.
Appearing before us to introduce what we were about to see – the opening chapter of the story – Mikami told us that throughout The Evil Within you would first experience fear, then the triumph of overcoming it. An attempt to bring survival horror back to its roots, you will be forced to fight with limited resources and weapons, utilise stealth, and flit between gameplay focusing on survival and action. Playing a detective named Sebastian, players arrive outside the doors of a mental hospital after an incident leaves all of the dispatched police disposed of. As he attempts to investigate, he’s confronted with the scenes of what looks like an absolute massacre, with the only survivor a doctor who can only muster a few words before losing consciousness. Forcing other members of his team to keep watch – and his third partner attending to the doctor – Sebastian saunters to the other end of the room to survey the security footage as guards in another part of the complex begin opening fire on an unseen foe. As seconds of gunfire ring out, their efforts end up for naught as they’re instantly murdered by a supernatural foe, who somehow spots our hero behind the camera, appears behind him and strikes.
Moments later, Sebastian regains consciousness, only to find that he’s been left hanging upside down along with plenty of other corpses, as a hideously disfigured form starts dismembering one of the hanging deceased. Spying a knife lodged inside a nearby cadaver, players must start swinging from the rope and use their momentum to reach the blade before their captor returns. After a few attempts, the bounds are cut and the detective slams back-first onto the cold floor.
Attempting to sneak past the now occupied aggressor, his efforts are scuppered as he discovers the door to freedom is locked, and the keys are hanging by our foe. Using a brief moment of distraction to grab the keys and make a break for it, things only got worse as – with the coast apparently clear – our detective trips an alarm, sending sirens blaring and causing a humongous figure wielding a chainsaw to come charging in, forcing our hero to make a dash for it if he doesn’t fancy being carved up into chewable pieces.
Barely managing to escape, a gate falls between the two, but Sebastian hasn’t come out unharmed; in fact, his leg has been injured and is forcing him to slowly and painfully limp away in the hopes of escape. It soon becomes apparent that our chainsaw loving maniac isn’t done searching for you yet, and with only moments to spare the detective hides inside a locker, barely escaping imminent wrath and swift death. There’s a pause and a brief respite for your pounding heart as our foe begins to leave, only for it to jump into your throat as he starts swinging it around the room, destroying every other hiding place and potential cover in an attempt to hunt you down. Sure, hiding away in a locker isn’t exactly new, but the fact that the enemy started destroying objects in the room in an attempt to find you made me jump like mad, and I spent the next few moments convinced he was about to stick his ‘saw into the locker and end the demo prematurely.
Had I been the one in charge of playing the demo, I sincerely doubt I’d have moved out of that locker for another couple of minutes – if indeed ever – so I found myself mumbling in concern as Sebastian started to sneak off again, only to almost become accosted once again by our resident power-tool enthusiast, if indeed it is the same relentless stalker. Things don’t go as planned, and with sprinting unfeasible thanks to the recently-pronounced limp, the ensuing chase becomes severely close to putting an immediate kibosh on the whole escape thing. The figure’s shadow looms ever closer to our protagonist as he haphazardly circumvents the wheelchairs blocking his path and slowly lumbers over a stretcher, nearly breaking out into a death-guaranteeing crawl as the doors of the elevator shut behind him as chainsaw man takes an almighty swing.
Relief threatens to break through as the lift slowly brings Sebastian back to the ground floor and he makes a dash for the front door of the hospital, only to discover that his colleagues are gone and the entire city seems to have been destroyed in his absence. More gameplay from later on in the story was teased, but unfortunately the graphics card in the demo unit chose that moment to unceremoniously conk out and leave us all in the lurch for what was to come later on.
Despite it being more tense than terrifying to watch, the opening moments of the story showcased an emphasis on non-violence and stealth, with balls to the walls action and stunts nowhere to be seen. Though it may be frustrating that for the most part these sequences seem like “one mistake means game over” situations, it’s the best compromise I can think of to keep the content so intensely suspenseful. Oddly, the first title that come in my head as a comparison wasn’t more traditional horror affairs, but Lara Croft’s return in Square-Enix’s Tomb Raider reboot; both have similarly presented context-sensitive actions, set up an emphasis for stealth rather than power in their opening moments, and really place emphasis on the concept of survival.
Though Tomb Raider dropped most of the sneaking and tension after the opening in the name of exploration and climbing on things, The Evil Within should hopefully keep the same atmosphere throughout, and though I’m worried that the action portions may undo some of the overall creepiness, I doubt I’m ever going to be picking it up and playing it myself, owing to the fact that I quite like having clothes to wear that aren’t covered in my own fear-inspired piss, sweat and fecal matter. With a 2014 release date, The Evil Within has plenty of time to up the ante even further, and if it’s successful, then it’ll be the survival horror we’ve all been waiting for.
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