For horror fans, The Evil Within is a pretty big deal. This is because of a bunch of reasons, but a majority of it stems from some extremely high expectations for the team behind it, as well as the commonly held belief that AAA horror is either dead or dying, depending on who you ask.
With so few big budget horror games on the way and the remaining kings (Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Dead Space) either dying slow deaths or losing much of what made them special in the first place, The Evil Within stands out as a potential “savior” for the survival horror genre. Many hope the game will “bring back” survival horror, at least in the now depressingly desolate AAA space.
Looking at the gaming industry as a whole, you would think that horror, in all its myriad forms, is not only alive, but flourishing. And that’s because it is.
This is entirely thanks to a steadily increasing number of indie horror games from talented developers of various sizes and backgrounds. They range from passion projects from one and two-person teams (Neverending Nightmares, Homesick), to ambitious debuts from small studios (Among the Sleep, The Forest), to horror games from established developers (Daylight, Until Dawn).
I could go on, but that would probably be redundant.
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that The Evil Within has a lot of people excited, that Mikami has a lot to prove, and that maybe, just maybe, we should all stop looking for a savior for the genre and instead enjoy games like this for what they are. Because you know what? While I wouldn’t go so far as to label Mikami’s return to horror as revolutionary, it’s still very much something that’s worth getting excited about.
For the uninitiated, The Evil Within is a survival horror game developed by Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda, the latter of which I still refer to as the House of Doom, partly because of the series of shooters, but mostly because it sounds cool.
It’s the first game from Tango, which was established by Shinji Mikami — a name Resident Evil fans might recognize as he’s largely credited for both creating the iconic series back in 1996 and rebooting it in 2005 with the gargantuan success that was Resident Evil 4. Mikami has spent a significant portion of his impressive career making Resident Evil games, and it shows in his work.
Earlier this month, Bethesda flew me and a bunch of writers out to Los Angeles to get some hands-on time with the game. Having been looking forward to The Evil Within since its reveal last April, it took me all of five seconds to throw my journalistic integrity out the window and accept the offer to fly out to L.A., stay in a swanky hotel, and play a game I’ve been dying to get my hands on for a little over a year. It sounds boastful, but I’m only being transparent. All that was on Bethesda’s dime, and while I don’t believe it had any impact on my opinion of the game, it’s still something you should know.
Enough foreplay, let’s talk about the game.
Once I was finally sitting comfortably in my seat, surrounded on three sides by a black curtain that separated me from the view of the other games journos, with a desk in front of me, I was ready. My body was ready.
The computer monitor was big enough to make me ache for one like it at home, the headset was top-notch, and while there was a mouse waiting for me, I instead elected to go with the controller. Shut up, PC master race.
There were two demos available to play, and after I chose the first one I was greeted with four difficulty options: Casual, Survival, Nightmare, and Akumu. Only the first two were available, so I went with Survival. When I was finished playing the game, I asked one of the random Bethesda badged passersby what it was. With an almost mischievous grin on his face, he told me it was nearly impossible to beat. I think I’ll be taking you up on that when October comes around, thankyouverymuch.
The first demo starts off a few hours into the game and opens with Sebastian and Jiminez — the doctor seen tagging along in the above video (at the 1:29 mark) — who are searching for a boy named Leslie. After a brief cut-scene establishes that, I’m free to take over and seek out my first victim: a large, gurgling man who’s wrapped in chains like a dirty Christmas tree and entirely oblivious to my presence.
In an effort to get a look at his face, I cautiously creep up behind him, gun drawn, until he notices me and begins to slowly turns around. He looks like any of the many ‘villager’ type enemies we’ve seen scattered about all of the game’s trailers. A bulbous body covered in damaged flesh that’s clearly been dead for some time, as it lacks the color a living person would have.
There’s an underlying theme of pain that permeates The Evil Within’s selection of enemies. Every one of them looks like it had been tortured using chains, spikes, barbed wire, or some combination of the three. The body horror doesn’t end there, as all of them have also been mutilated and disfigured, with parts of their face having been removed, crushed, or torn.
It’s unsettling to say the least, and the creep factor is only elevated by their glowing eyes and the inhuman sounds each emits — including, but not limited to growling, wheezing, and howling.
Once I was sure the area was clear of enemies, I decided to start inspecting. The inventory wheel, which slows down — but doesn’t stop — time when accessed held dedicated spots for a number of items and weapons, many of which can be easily mapped to the d-pad for quick use while in combat.
The weapons I had available to me included a pistol, shotgun, combat knife, syringes, grenades, and a nifty weapon the game referred to as the Agony Crossbow (more on that in a bit).
The syringes are used to heal Sebastian, with each use replenishing a portion of the health bar. There are also med packs that can be found and used to completely refill one’s health as well as offer a small increase to Sebastian’s maximum health. The only downside to using one of these is it renders Sebastian temporarily incapacitated, so you’ll want to use it in a safe place.
Sebastian’s arsenal of weapons should be pretty familiar, assuming you’ve spent any real amount of time playing shooters. The one that differs from the rest is the Agony Crossbow, which offers a significant amount of strategy to the game’s combat.
If you have time, firing its many different types of bolts can be used as traps. For example, firing an electric bolt at a wall turns it into a proximity trap, which electrically immobilizes the first passersby (not including Sebastian). If you don’t have time, the crossbow can also be used like any other weapon, though firing shots requires a short charge to increase its efficacy.
If you’re feeling creative, the crossbow’s ammunition comes in a plethora of flavors, including flash bolts, explosive bolts, freeze bolts, harpoons, and the aforementioned electric bolts.
It’s easily my favorite weapon.
A few minutes into the first demo introduces me to a large bloody room filled with corpses, rusty walls, and so much blood. It looks like a scene out of Silent Hill’s Otherworld. It’s also covered in various tripwire traps, that Sebastian can either duck and walk under, evade entirely, or take the time to disarm them for supplies.
Just be warned that in choosing the latter option, failure can seriously injure Sebastian.
When I tried to go for the exit — because I’m weird and bloody, corpse laden rooms creep me out — Ruvik (the hooded bad guy we’ve seen in a few of the game’s trailers) appears and summons some a horde of the bad guys.
I dispatch them, though not without some effort (and at least one death). When I make my way through to the next level, I see something that sends the hairs on the back of my neck tingling. It’s the room where RE-Bone Laura — the four-armed blood witch — crawls screaming out of a puddle of blood. I am so no ready for this.
And of course, once I draw near enough, she comes. Knowing I won’t survive a close encounter, I immediately run in the other direction, which turns into a long and ridiculously intense — though strangely easy — chase scene. The most unsettling part about the whole thing were the sounds she made as she slowly creeped up behind me. It was bizarre.
That marked the end of the first demo. Sweaty and anxious, I booted up the next.
The second demo starts off in Chapter 8, with a very brief dream-like sequence that has Sebastian walking through a dark wooded area, blurred somewhat by a hefty noise filter. Ruvik appears, as he does, then it’s back to the “normal” world.
This would become the first of many times I’d get to see Ruvik, one of my least favorite things about an other wise incredibly promising horror game.
Chapter 8 starts off in the woods outside of a large mansion, lead by an expansive, albeit untidy, courtyard. I was almost immediately reminded of the Spencer estate from the original Resident Evil, and that feeling was only heightened when I went inside.
The layout is almost like a homage to that mansion. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was deliberate, seeing as it’s been done it before in the Resident Evil 5: Lost in Nightmares and again in Resident Evil 6.
The two-story mansion is almost completely open to exploration, with its many wings and elaborately detailed rooms marked with the glimmer of the occasional collectible item. I came across a piano in one, and as I passed it I half expected ghostly fingers to start playing “Moonlight Sonata”.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
The goal isn’t immediately apparent, but it becomes so after some exploration. I liked this level a lot. It was creepy, brimming with atmosphere, and there aren’t too many enemies.
What there is, is a fun room with huge double doors that suddenly open, revealing massive spinning blades, that drag Sebastian into their screaming maw, forcing an extremely quick response from the player. This thing killed me twice.
This is the first are with a series of puzzles that make you think. They’re not terribly difficult, but they are gruesome.
The goal of this level is to get through this big metal door that has three locks, with each corresponding to a puzzle that’s been hidden at a different part of the mansion. Naturally.
I won’t spoil anything, but the puzzles themselves revolve around discovering what part of a brain needs to be poked with a needle. The only thing is this brain is very much attached to a living head that squirms and makes facial expressions as you poke and prod your way to the puzzle. I found myself apologizing more than once after making a mistake.
Getting through the mansion is easy enough — it’s the annoying, and seemingly random, appearances of Ruvik, who’s either a an interdimensional being or a (dangerous) spirit. He’ll randomly appear, begin walking toward you Jason Voorhees style, and if he manages to catch up, he’ll sap all of your health. If you manage to avoid him for 15 seconds, he just disappears. It’s annoying, cheap, and entirely unscary.
I can tell Ruvik is almost definitely going to be the main baddie in this game, and that really bums me out. I’ve never been a big fan of enemies in games that A., can’t be killed, B., chase you every-goddamn-where, and C., kill you instantly or deal an unfair amount of damage. This guy has all of the above. Let’s get rid of that.
I noticed a few new features during my time with the second demo that will likely appeal to fans of Resident Evil 4. In that game, when you’re low on ammo, you have options. In The Evil Within, you do too, and they’re a lot of fun.
Scattered about the game’s world are bottle, which can be thrown as distractions for enemies. They can also be thrown at an enemy’s stupid, malformed face, causing them to stagger, giving you a very small window off opportunity to walk up to them so Sebastian can proceed to ventilate their face with his combat knife.
That’s right, there are contextual executions, and they can be used on enemies that are either stunned or unaware of your existence behind them. You can even pick up an axe dropped by the guy who’s face you just poked a hole in to use it on his friends. It’s fantastic.
The Evil Within is a great horror game. It’s flawed, but it’s also a work-in-progress. I greatly enjoyed my time with it, even if to get a better grasp on its still very bizarre story. If you’ve been looking forward to this, keep doing that. It’s going to be good.
The Evil Within releases for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One on October 21.