The Evil Within Hands-On Preview: The Lost Spiritual Successor
Every time I’ve seen The Evil Within in action up to now — always in hands-off video demos — I’ve seen it as being the spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 that never was.
Of course, that’s not a hard conclusion to reach. It’s Resident Evil’s creator Shinji Mikami’s return to horror, and so much of what of The Evil Within we’ve seen recalls images of RE4′s third-person shooter tactics; its slow Resident Evil-style movement; its strange not-quite-zombie Los Ganados enemies.
A new take in the vein of an older classic sounds good, but there are some issues that The Evil Within has to deal with that Resident Evil 4 never faced. Things have changed drastically in the last generation. The third-person gameplay that made Resident Evil 4 remarkable is no longer a smart novelty in any genre, and it one could argue third-person shooters of its type have grown wearisome in the years of the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. In short, where Resident Evil 4 was a game that defined a genre, The Evil Within will garner no such good will just for its mechanics and approach. It’ll have to get by on its other elements.
After finally getting some hands-on time with The Evil Within earlier this month, however, I found it to be very much what I want out of Mikami and a follow-up to Resident Evil 4. The Evil Within seems to take many of RE4′s cooler aspects and ratchet them up: It’s altogether more gory and gross, with enemies that take a lot to kill or outright refuse to die, and in which the game’s reality itself is subject to twists and changes.
The two out-of-context demos presented at Bethesda’s Pre-E3 event in early May came from somewhere near the middle of the game. We’ve seen the opening, in which gumshoe protagonist Sebastian Castellanos finds himself in a mental hospital full of dead police, flees a huge guy with a chainsaw and emerges to find the city around him torn apart in some apparent calamity. The portion I played was pretty far removed from that context: hanging out with a psychiatrist who is pursuing a fleeing patient called Leslie, a young man who seems integral to the strange horrors that have gripped the world.
In the opening demo level, The Evil Within presented a big dose of what combat will be like for the duration, it seemed. We were headed toward a large house, in front of which was a huge bonfire. Within a few seconds, it became apparent it was a giant, flaming pile of bodies, with barbed wire-covered zombie-folks tossing more innocent victims — at least some of whom were alive — atop the blaze.
The creatures that haunt The Evil Within are mostly impervious to damage when shot; they suffer pain and can be knocked back and down, but like zombies, they’re tough to kill just by shooting them. The only way to keep them from standing back up and coming after you is to burn their fallen bodies with matches you find throughout the game, but those are often in short supply, just like bullets.
My own guns were basically empty after a first, cutscene-induced battle. In order to conserve ammo, I head to the bonfire with the plan to try out The Evil Within’s stealth mechanics.
Stealth allows a crouching Sebastian to sneak up behind some enemies if he can manage to avoid making too much noise, and the whole system is akin to what players are used to seeing in games like The Last of Us and Splinter Cell. Approach an enemy unseen and you can hit it with a knife or other melee implement, bringing it down mostly silently for burning. It’s a good way to conserve ammo and the best way to deal with enemies if you have a choice. I quickly learned also that if you can manage to break enemies’ line of sight, you can turn a full combat encounter back to a stealthy one. Sneaking around bales of hay near the bonfire, I was able to kill one enemy, and then lose the second that came after me long enough to get behind him and take him out as well.
Next, I followed the doctor into the big house, where he finally reached Leslie. A few moments later, we were confronted by the hooded figure, known as Ruvik, who seems to have been responsible for the massacre at the asylum. I followed the figure down the hall despite the doctor’s warnings, and suddenly, reality shifted, leaving me alone in a long concrete hallway.