The Evil Within Preview: The Spirit of Resident Evil 4 Returns
Shinji Mikami is hailed as the creator of the survival-horror genre, and arguably his efforts in horror games culminated in the last entry into the genre that he directed: Resident Evil 4.
Where the Resident Evil series before RE4 had reveled in a number of mechanics whose purpose was to hamstring the character — plodding, tank-like movements, limited ammunition and health kits, and level design based on fixed camera positions that often left players struggling to identify threats — Resident Evil 4 blew the doors open by adding action-oriented elements while still managing to maintain scares. The opening fight, in which angry, torch-wielding villagers force the player into an abandoned farmhouse, and which players can barricade in a losing struggle to keep the enemies at bay, still stands as one of the most intense, frightening and exciting moments ever created in a video game.
So it’s not entirely surprising that The Evil Within, Mikami’s return to survival-horror after leaving Capcom and joining with Tango Gameworks, feels quite a bit like Resident Evil. That, of course, is where Mikami started in the genre, and over the course of the franchise, where he learned a number of important lessons about scaring players, and just as importantly, helping them to overcome those scares.
Earlier this month at a Bethesda pre-E3 preview event in Los Angeles, Producer Masato Kimura and Studio Liaison and Translator Ray Nakazato presented journalists with a hands-off demo of Tango’s upcoming survival-horror game. At first glance, it looks very much like Resident Evil 4, and that may not be an accident, Kimura said (with Nakazato translating).
“He (Mikami) is trying to make it more scary and provide a better user experience,” Kimura said. “So in that sense, a lot of the things that succeeded in making Resident Evil 4, we’re doing the same. That’s his success, his kind of experience from his past games, so he’ll probably do the same things again. Not only Resident Evil 4 — there are other games that he made in the past (such as Vanquish and God Hand), and all the good mechanics or good things that he made are being incorporated here.”
It makes sense, to a degree, that The Evil Within would be a culmination of the developer’s experience in the genre, and the demo gives that impression. But there might be something more subtle at work as well — the post-Mikami Resident Evil games took a turn toward action over horror, with Resident Evil 5 putting players in a cooperative scenario that took place in broad daylight. Resident Evil 6 ratcheted the action even higher.
Maybe The Evil Within, which Kimura and Mikami have said they hope will leave players saying, “That’s the scariest game I’ve played in a long time,” is a reaction to that change. It may well be that The Evil Within is something like a Resident Evil that might have been, but never was.
Fleeing a Chainsaw-Wielding Maniac
The Evil Within’s demo begins ostensibly at the game’s start, when Sebastian, the title’s protagonist detective, arrives at an asylum where a crime is being investigated. He and two other detectives find the police who arrived ahead of them mysteriously missing, and inside, discover them dead. As they move deeper into the building to find out what has happened, things start to get a little crazy. Reality seems especially mutable when Sebastian watches a figure on a security monitor attacking a survivor, and suddenly that figure looks up at the camera — and seems to appear behind Sebastian, knocking him unconscious.
“(Mikami) is trying to make it more scary and provide a better user experience. So in that sense, a lot of the things that succeeded in making Resident Evil 4, we’re doing the same. That’s his success, his kind of experience from his past games, so he’ll probably do the same things again.”
When Sebastian awakes, he finds himself hanging upside-down with other bodies, and quickly makes his escape. The first portion of the demo is completely combat-free, with Sebastian finding himself gearless and in unfamiliar territory. As he starts to search for a way out of the asylum, things go from bad to worse, as a hulking, chainsaw-wielding fiend starts to hunting Sebastian. In dodging the man (creature?), Sebastian’s leg is wounded — and suddenly he’s limping, lurching forward precariously, trying to move fast enough to escape and just barely losing his pursuer in the asylum’s winding halls.
Not for long, as one might expect.
Still, the arrival of a masked man with a chainsaw is exceedingly … familiar. Resident Evil 4′s first tangle with its chainsaw foes, who wore burlap sacks and called up references to every slasher film ever made, were more of the tense, scary action the game became known for delivering. There’s something of that in the hands-off demo, as well; Sebastian is helpless, with only his wits to keep him from dismemberment.
The demo continues with Sebastian giving the killer the slip, but only briefly. His bleeding leg is leaving a trail, and when Sebastian hits a locked door, it’s only a few seconds before the roar of the chainsaw begins to grow closer. Sebastian ducks inside a nearby locker. We watch for a few long moments as the killer stalks through the tiny, cuts the lock off the door and heads out ahead of Sebastian. With the way back blocked, there’s only one option: Follow the psychopath.
In the next few hallways, Sebastian has some idea of where the chainsaw freak is searching, and that gives him a chance to lie low. As Sebastian limps toward a heavily windowed room filled with operating tables and dividing curtains, we see the killer head inside, checking hiding places for Sebastian’s whereabouts. Staying low, the detective is able to sneak past the windows slowly, but the way ahead is blocked. He’ll have to go through the room.
To do that, Sebastian picks up a nearby broken bottle and tosses it past the killer, deeper into the room. The sound draws him away — a mechanic we’ve been seeing since Splinter Cell, but which is also used to survival-horror ends in Naughty Dog’s upcoming The Last of Us — and when his back is turned, Sebastian stumbles through another doorway and out into the relative safety of the hallway beyond.
The last bit of the stealth portion of the demo finds Sebastian entering a hallway littered with gurneys and wheelchairs. In his weakened state, Sebastian struggles to get past them, which makes it a perfect time for the arrival of the chainsaw killer. As Sebastian finds himself flopping over gurneys and crawling beneath them, the killer slams them out of the way with the chainsaw. It’s only just barely that Sebastian clambers into an elevator and shut the metal gate behind him, escaping the frustrated killer by a hair.
A few seconds later, Sebastian hits the front doors of the asylum he used to first enter it — to find the world literally shattered, with huge cracks ripping through the ground and leaving gaping chasms that seem to have destroyed not only the road ahead, but the city beyond. The psycho, the bodies, the shifting world, it all results in one big, dread-inducing question: What the hell is going on?