When legendary developer and horror game kingpin Shinji Mikami first unleashed the T-Virus onto the PSone in 1996, he not only managed to popularise the genre with mainstream audiences, but also founded a blockbuster franchise that would go on to sell millions. Some 18 years later, it could be argued that the long running Resident Evil series has outstayed its welcome, but since jumping ship post-Resident Evil 4 to work on new projects, the aforementioned luminary has managed to remain fresh. We travelled to Bethesda’s headquarters to find out how that’s helping upcoming PlayStation 4 title, The Evil Within.
Our hands-on session was split into two different demos: one taking place near the beginning of the game, and the other a fair chunk into the campaign. For this reason, we’ll not be discussing any of the story beats or main characters, not just because of spoilers, but because the excerpts that we experienced didn’t allow us to get overly acquainted with the narrative.
The first chapter starts with protagonist – and Troy Baker lookalike – Detective Sebastian Castellanos entering a dilapidated and walled settlement accompanied by a doctor. With the gates firmly sealed behind him, we apprehensively trudged past the rundown shacks that the village once comprised of, and towards a light source that emanated from around the corner.
Perhaps what was most striking about this opening section was the audio design. It’s incredibly important that a horror title worth its salt offers an engrossing atmosphere, so we were thrilled that, as the rain lashed down around us and lightning lit up the sky, we could pinpoint the direction of every sound. What made this open air locale quite so unique, however, was the way that subtle noises, such as a lurking foe, were completely juxtaposed by booming thunder, making this already tense introduction even more so.
As we rounded the corner towards the light, we were greeted with a grisly scene. Several undead, shuffling figures were busying themselves piling corpses onto a tall bonfire, and as we edged closer, one of them caught sight of us and gestured for us to leave. After backing off to a distance where it lost interest, we employed the detective’s sneaking ability to gingerly evade the monster’s line of sight, keeping tabs on the eye symbol at the top of the screen that shakes from side to side if something’s looking for you. Satisfyingly, as we dropped to a crouched stance, the music and sound effects were dulled – as if the game was trying to sneak with us.
From inside one of the huts, we could hear serene classical music playing. These, we were told, were save rooms. They appear in all levels and permit as many visits as you wish, allowing for step-by-step progress to be saved. That’s not to say that there aren’t any checkpoints, but meticulous players will probably wish to ensure that they lose as little progress as possible upon dying. These rooms are also locations where players can upgrade their equipment with parts found strewn throughout levels, although sadly these quarters were off-limits during our demo.
Disobeying all common sense, we proceeded into a house’s basement, encountering a long corridor, and, taking a few steps down it, we turned to see the doctor had gone and so too had the entrance. Instead, behind us now lay an infinite length of corridor, and in front, a solitary door. With atmospheric music now completely silent, our footsteps echoed as we walked towards it. However, not three steps from our destination, a six-foot tall torrent of blood tore towards us, carrying us away and depositing us in an even drearier location.
If the PS4 supported smell-o-vision, this area would smell very, very bad. The sound of flies was deafening, as we stood up to discover we were waste-high in blood and human remains. Looking around, we appeared to be in some sort of dungeon, lit dimly by red lamps on the walls, and after wading our way past a couple of bodies, we clambered out and headed towards the exit.
As we approached, an ominously hooded figure appeared before us for an instant and then disappeared, but in his wake the door had sealed itself and the dead bodies that littered the area began to wake up. We sprinted away from the beasts along a walkway, but managed to trip a wall-mounted explosive, which took a huge chunk of our health off and allowed an opportunistic adversary to dive in to bring our life to a miserable end. The range of nefarious traps that you encounter can be disabled via a minigame, but it’ll frequently be the last thing on your mind. It’s also worth pointing out at this point that we were playing on the easiest difficulty because we’re really brave like that. That and this game takes no prisoners.
Trying again, we attempted to gun down our shufflin’ foes. Bringing up the weapon wheel slows time, but doesn’t stop it, and you’re allowed to equip four items. We elected to use a pistol, shotgun, knife, and healing syringe. Ammo for all of the weapons are uncommon, and you have to make it count – shooting anywhere other than the head will prove to be a huge waste.
Dropping a couple of the aggressors, we carefully ducked under the trip mine’s sensor and sprinted to the end of a walkway over the human soup below, but, turning back to crack off a couple of shots, we were horrified to see the enemies that we’d just killed picking themselves up and leaping back into the fray. The game features an interesting mechanic that sees you having to set the bodies of defeated foes alight to prevent them from haunting you again, but with a limited supply of matches, you have to choose who gets cooked wisely.
Checking our ammo counter to see only a few shots remained, we decided it was time to use the environment to our advantage. The mines had somehow been zombie-proofed, so, waiting for our surprisingly nimble enemy to catch up, we sprinted past one, detonating it, and ensuring that he was not going to return. Equally, we used one of our last remaining shots to set fire to a whole group when they stumbled across a puddle of some kind of fuel.
With the room finally cleared, the doorway unsealed itself and allowed us to proceed. Unfortunately, if we’re being perfectly honest, that section didn’t blow us away. Being sealed in a room and forced to kill a load of foes to continue is a staple of brainless action games, and while there’s something to be said for having to use your wits to emerge victorious, here’s hoping there aren’t too many more situations like it later on.
We’d taken one hell of a beating over the course of the previous ten minutes, and so decided to use one of our rare health syringes. Perhaps appropriately, it didn’t heal us much at all, and as we ran down the corridor, we noted that our stamina was proportional to our health, so if you’re wounded, you’re not going to get very far, very fast. At the end of the corridor was a room. The music had stopped and there was silence. Something frightening was about to happen.
As we sprinted away from the six-legged creepy Grudge-like spider girl thing that was tearing down the corridor after us, this writer began to question why he’d volunteered to cover this game. Twisting and turning down stairs and lifts as we ran, we appeared to be on the home straight. There are monsters in horror games that you know you just can’t beat, so running is the only option, and as we threw ourselves through the closing steel doors with the monster screaming deafeningly behind us, we foolishly allowed ourselves to breathe a sigh of relief as the hooded figure from earlier appeared at the bottom of the flight of stairs in front of us.
The demo didn’t continue much longer after the reappearance of our aggressor, but the mind-bending psychological elements continued in full force as we proceeded onto the second demo that took place in the most classic of horror locations: a big scary house. In the lobby of the monstrous mansion lay a peculiarly out of place reinforced steel door with three large locks. Our mission here was to proceed into the various wings of the house – both upstairs and down – in order to find the method by which they could be unlocked. We found this to be a brilliant piece of design, harking back to the days of revisiting locations to fetch the key cards required to continue.
However, in this instance we were dodging the undead and constantly haunted by our primary antagonist. Moreover, we had to crawl through hidden passages to locate secret, disturbing laboratories in which severed heads with their brains exposed were the keys to unlocking the door. Each secret lab had one, and each had a particular part of the brain exposed for us to try and identify which node we had to ram a huge syringe into. Perhaps most disgusting was that the individuals seemed to still be alive – eyelids fluttering and mouths opening and closing. With the final cortex correctly injected, the large door swung open, and our hands-on session drew to a close.
We left Bethesda with one thought in mind: The Evil Within is distinctly Mikami. Many of the genre-defining tropes that he helped to introduce are present, but old habits die hard, and so campy dialogue and a number of unfortunately unoriginal monsters are also commonplace. Gameplay-wise, the title has some interesting mechanics, and we were thrilled to see the linearity of the first demo make way for a bit more freedom and exploration in the second. However, while we didn’t get a lot of time with the plot, we feel that it could make or break the game. The atmosphere is excellent and the gameplay is strong, but without a compelling reason to force oneself through jump scare after jump scare, many may not bother to give it a go at all.
Are you enjoying the horror genre’s resurgence on the PS4? Are you shaking in anticipation for The Evil Within? Cremate our corpse in the comments section below.