The Evil Within Preview: The Spirit of Resident Evil 4 Returns
Echoes of RE4
In the gameplay we saw, there was quite a bit that brought to mind the presentation of Resident Evil 4. You’ll control Sebastian from an over-the-shoulder third-person perspective, and he’ll pick up flashing items like ammo and health syringes that hit all the same visual feeling as those in an RE game. Objects you can inspect lend a bit of text that shows off Sebastian’s inner monologue.
The second portion of the demo featured a bit of combat, with Sebastian this time handling a firearm. He encountered a pair of enemies in small, poorly lit building, one of which seemed to pull itself up from the ground as if it had been lying there for some time. To refer to them as “zombies” would probably be accurate, although their position in the game’s lore is harder to divine at present. One had what seemed like tens of knives sticking out of his body, for a start, but the shambling movement and dim-wittedness called up plenty of parallels to the undead. After a few shots each, they were dropped.
Heading through a hallway and up a flight of stairs, Sebastian found a door and windows leading outside, coupled with strange sounds. A quick look out the window revealed the trouble: more of those maybe-zombies, closing quickly, in a scene that echoed the defensive sieges of Resident Evil 4. Sebastian used a piece of furniture to block the door and planted mines, one of the big gameplay elements in The Evil Within, between the windows of the room, letting the zombies come in and blow themselves up. Despite the traps, it wasn’t long before he was retreating down the stairs as monsters came shambling after him. Just as it seemed the creatures’ numbers would be insurmountable for Sebastian, there was a rumbling sound, and the world seemed to reform around him.
The ‘Psychological’ World
As Sebastian wandered down the hallway he’d just left, the world transmuted from a tan-and-red-hued residential building to a hospital interior. As he continued toward a pair of double doors at the end of the hall, Sebastian was greeted with a roiling wave of blood that came pouring out — a visual instantly recognizable from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The wave swept over him, there was another rumble, and the hallway shifted slightly again — the wave had disappeared.
Kimura said players can expect to see these moments throughout the game, in which the world changes around the player at specific places or moments. Some of these moments will be story-based, occurring at the proper moment in the action, and others will be gameplay-based, requiring the player to remember the locations where one place shifts into another, and return to them to reach different areas.
The demo ended with Sebastian entering those double doors into a hospital morgue, and being accosted by a four-armed woman-like creature that pulled itself out of a huge bloody puddle on the floor, and seemed to tackle and kill him (off-screen) with little difficulty. But at this point, who knows what’s real and what isn’t in The Evil Within; certainly Sebastian doesn’t, as his reality seems to be shifting around him with unreliable frequency. Kimura’s comments seemed to suggest that the game inhabits two melding worlds that have different degrees of influence: Sometimes the “real” world will be dominant, and other times, the “psychological” world will have a larger effect. It may also be telling that the game’s Japanese title is “Psychobreak.” Maybe “The Evil Within” is within Sebastian, and having a serious impact on his sanity.
It’s the lack of trust of what you can see and what’s happening around you that seems to be The Evil Within’s big thrust to make it different from Mikami’s efforts in the past, specifically Resident Evil 4. It also seems to be the way in which The Evil Within means to pump up its ability to scare players, something Mikami and Kimura cited as a big goal for the game.
Bringing the Fear
As for just how scary The Evil Within might be — that’s something that will need to be determined sometime later, when builds of the game are actually available to play. The hands-off demo had its moments, but it was relatively short, and it was difficult to gauge how intense the gameplay would be from just watching. But Kimura said that Tango and Mikami hope to make The Evil Within scary enough to really resonate with players.
The difficulty, and the reason for the lack of horror games in the mainstream industry, Kimura said, is in the balance. Survival-horror has to be frightening, based in the horror side, but it also needs an action element: a way for the player to overcome and defeat that fear.
“People who give up on playing horror games, we want those people to play it again and so they should be satisfied, and not just feel fear.
“We believe there are still horror game fans, particularly survival horror game fans, and survival-horror games are a little bit difficult to create…. It’s not an action game; it’s not a horror game,” Kimura said. “It has to have a balance between those two. So that’s why not many people are making them now, but we’d like to challenge that again.”
Apart from what he learned working on Resident Evil, Kimura said Mikami takes a collaborative approach to finding ways to scare players. Mikami might be leading the vision of the game, but he’s certainly not the only one with input on what makes things scary.
“He (Mikami) has a lot of discussions with a lot of people inside of the studio,” Kimura said. “He takes a lot of ideas from a lot of people. So — ‘How can we make this game scarier?’ He asks that question of a lot of people in the studio, and he takes ideas from all of them. Each staff member has their own sense of fear and scariness. So when Mikami wants to create one type of fear in the game, if this guy is the best guy to create that kind of fear, then he delegates designing this part to this guy.”
Ultimately, Kimura said The Evil Within should hopefully appeal both to horror fans and to a wider audience.
“As we said, The most important thing of horror is the balance of those two elements — horror and the achievement of defeating things. So the guy who defined the survival horror genre, he’s trying to create a game with the best balance of that. So people who give up on playing horror games, we want those people to play it again and so they should be satisfied, and not just feel fear.”
Mikami achieved that balance in Resident Evil 4. If he and Tango Gameworks can do it again in The Evil Within, survival-horror fans might have yet another genre-defining game on their hands.
Right now, however, the walls of the asylum are shifting too much, and it’s still too early to tell.