The Evil Within preview: more survival than horror

Shinji Mikami has quite a background in survival horror games, having created the Resident Evil series, then turning the genre on its ear with RE4 in 2005. So when he said he wanted his newest title, The Evil Within, to bring the survival horror genre back to its heyday with a solid blend of action and horror, we were curious to see how he would do it. After seeing the first 15 minutes of gameplay from Mikami's Tango Gameworks studio, the game as it stands is a bit more ho-hum than scary. focalbox The premise for the demo was simple. Cops arrive at an asylum to investigate a report of a murder. Detective Sebastian and two partners arrive late, but they find all the police have vanished when they get there. As is to be expected in a survival horror game, the place is full of blood smears, spatters and dead bodies. One survivor is found, a doctor who seems to be in an incoherent daze. "It was him" he says. "But it couldn’t be." The tease is compounded when Sebastian enters a security office to check the video from the surveillance cameras. He sees officers firing at some unseen target, but then a hooded apparition flits quickly among them, killing them instantly. The apparition then glances at the camera, appears behind Sebastian and all goes black. The scene cuts to what looks like a morgue. Sebastian is hanging upside down, and he hears sounds of flesh being chopped and then a large figure walks by slowly, dragging half a policeman's corpse behind. The detective is able to shake free, but predictably, the butcher discovers his escape and comes after him with a chainsaw. The whole scenario becomes a scripted challenge for the player to escape and begin to solve the bizarre mystery. The twist is that, as the detective finds his way out of the asylum, he finds some sort of disaster has devastated the city and life as he knew it is gone. While the end of the chase out of the asylum into an annihilated world was a bit unexpected, the whole scenario had a been-there, done-that vibe. Even the butcher felt a bit more comical than horrifying. The game tries to keep the player on his toes as it shifts between what is supposedly the real world and a nightmare world. When asked where the game takes place, producer Masato Kimura said through an interpreter that "it's complicated. The game takes place in many locations that will make sense as you go through the game. Where you are and how you got there is part of the mystery." There are numerous undead encounters as the game progresses, but the scenes seem to phase shift on occasion. In one instance, Sebastian is running down a long corridor, when the scene suddenly changes to door. As he approaches, a torrent blows open the door, forcing him to run back the way he came. As he tries to escape, the scene shifts yet again to another unfamiliar area.

There is plenty of blood to go around in the demo

The setting is sufficiently creepy, with zombie-like creatures as the primary adversary. One scene shows the equivalent of a tutorial on the different ways to dispatch them through shots to the head, burning or dismemberment. There is plenty of detail, even in low light, showing off a rather impressive looking version of the game's modified version of id Tech 5 engine--although we couldn't see what platform it was running on. There is a minimal interface, with small icons popping up to show things you can grab. An inventory screen is easily accessible, as needed. The game could easily be mistaken for one of Mikami's Resident Evil games, but Kimura said the game has a bit more strategic combat, such as the ability to place mines in key location to kill the undead. He also said that the team is adding other things that are different from traditional survival horror, such as the collapsed city the detective must navigate. Kimura's answers did little to defuse the déjà vu feeling of previous survival horror games, and while the player will probably want to go through and solve the mystery of what is happening in the game, what we saw as a first glimpse into the world of The Evil Within offers little in the way of actual fright. Even when a blood-drenched spider-like creature with hands and arms for legs springs out of the ground and kills the detective to end the demo, the feeling was that developer Tango Gameworks still has a way to go to deliver on Mikami's promise of the rebirth of true survival horror he envisions. The game is scheduled for release in 2014 for PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.