I am not a squeamish person. I don't frighten easily, either. Yet something had me on edge right from the beginning of my demo of Shinji Mikami's return to the survival horror genre. For the unaware, Mikami is the creator of the Resident Evil series, and The Evil Within gives off strong Resident Evil vibes. I've never found the Resident Evil games too frightening, but The Evil Within is something else altogether. It's an unknown entity, and I never knew what to expect. Something tells me that's exactly what Mikami wants.
At first glance, The Evil Within might pass as a new Resident Evil title. It has the same over-the-shoulder viewpoint from Resident Evil 4 onward, the same grainy-film look, and a similar grizzled hero. It's quickly apparent, however, that The Evil Within places much more emphasis on bizarre, gruesome, and psychologically intense sequences.
The demo began with an odd vision. I walked Sebastian Castellanos, a detective and the game's protagonist, down a path. A sunflower appeared in the distance while a hooded, undead man walked through it and towards me. Then suddenly, the hooded figure disappeared along with the sunflower. Unnerved, I continued through a game and up some steps to, surprise, a mansion surrounded by foreboding fog. Within a crazed doctor dragged a patient down a hall as a set of massive doors closed behind them. The complicated mechanism upon on the door told me it was my mission to find a way through those doors. I never even got close.
I was surprised by a nonlinear approach. Many paths branched out before me. I could take a few doors to my left or right, or climb a staircase up and explore the second level. I grew more unnerved at the lack of murderous zombies and chainsaw men as I moved about, however. Sebastian carried with him a small but varied arsenal: a standard pistol, a shotgun, a knife and a peculiar weapon called the Agony Crossbow. I felt safe, but as time wore on without any enemies I grew more frightened. My first scare was a good one: a bomb, strapped on a wall and hidden behind a crate, exploded, sending Sebastian flying and knocking off a chunk of health. I soon learned these bombs could be scavenged for parts to make ammo for the Agony Crossbow, such as explosive arrows or freezing bolts, but I found the boms too nerve-wracking to approach and disarm. Soon after the creatures came, so I stuck to my shotgun.
Ammunition, like in any good survival horror, is scarce. The Evil Within takes matters a few steps further. Melee attacks only slow down enemies, and most creatures need to be burned upon “death.” otherwise they'll get back up again. Oddly enough, Sebastian can only hold five matches at a time, despite being capable of carrying around a shotgun and a giant crossbow in those pockets of his. Regardless, the further restrictions placed on me added to the already considerable amount of tension. Do I sneak past the zombies, and run and hide if they spot me? Or do I shoot them and waste both ammunition and matches? Both methods might have came back to haunt me, so I was loathe to make the decision each time it presented itself.
Perhaps the most frightening was the ghastly hooded man and how he stalked me throughout the mansion. I found a med-kit and used it to heal up some health I lost from a bomb or axe wielding zombie man, and as soon as it took effect, my vision warped and blurred. The specter stalked into the room, approached me, and sapped all my health. To make matters worse, a glowing-eyed zombie man followed behind once the ghostly figure disappeared. I managed to survive that encounter, only to enter another room and spring a trap. A coil of rope wrapped around Sebastian's feet and dragged him into a meat-grinder, and unfortunately I was too slow to shoot the sensors and avoid a gratuitous amount of blood and gore.
To be honest, I was relieved. My demo over and I wouldn't have to continue on and face anymore horrors in that mansion. I felt free. I hadn't enjoyed the amount of dread I felt as I opened each door and walked down each hallway, nor did I enjoy that hooded ghost man stalking me through the halls. I might not have the courage to play The Evil Within when it launches in October this year, but nevertheless Shinji Mikami and his team at Tango Gameworks have made a game that promises to embody the dread and suspense the way only a survival horror game can.