Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within looks to take the survival-horror genre back to its roots—but will dated gameplay mechanics and nearly ten year-old scare tactics be able to hold up against more modern survival-horror games like Outlast and the Amnesia series? A gameplay demo at this year’s Eurogamer Expo may give us an answer to this question.
The demo starts with the protagonist, Sergeant Sebastian Castellanos, getting a mysterious radio call from a deputy officer on scene at—surprise, surprise—a mental hospital. He and two other detectives arrive at the scene to discover several abandoned police vehicles. Before entering the hospital, Castellanos looks back at the only female detective and tells her, “Sorry kid, you’re staying here” (not very nice, but very Japanese). Inside they discover a lobby with bodies and innards strewn about the floors, walls, and furniture. The two detectives come across a distraught and barely conscious survivor. The doctor mumbles “it was Ruvik, I can’t believe it was him,” revealing the first piece to our mystery. Who is this Ruvik?
With his partner looking after the doctor, Castellanos walks over to the security station where he sees a live feed of three officers firing off screen; then an extremely fast, hooded figure—moving a lot like Wesker from the Resident Evil series—dispatches the officers with ease and glares straight at the camera as if he knows Castellanos is watching. Apparently, he did know; the hooded man appears right behind Castellanos in the security room, slashes down with a knife, and the screen goes black. That’s totally got to be Ruvik. Mystery solved?
The player wakes hanging upside down in what can only be described as a human butcher shop. He hangs there, motionless, as a disturbing selection of classical music plays. A hulking creature with its face caged in an iron mask begins to hack away at a victim off-screen, whom you can hear groaning and gargling blood as he is being dismembered with a large machete—the sound effects are very unsettling.
The butcher, with half of a bloody body still in hand, walks away to continue his gruesome work elsewhere. The player needs to act fast if he wants to avoid suffering the same fate. Luckily, there is a large knife sticking out of a dead man’s chest nearby, and with a couple of hard-fought swings; he grabs the knife and cuts himself free, falling to the floor with a resounding thud.
The player slowly makes his way to a door on the left and—you guessed it— it’s locked. “Shit, where’s the key?” Castellanos whispers in distress. Why, it’s hanging on a hook right near the bad guy of course—that’s new.
The butcher leaves the room, giving Castellanos his chance to grab the key and make a break for it. He unlocks the door and makes his way upstairs. During his escape the player trips an alarm thus alerting the butcher, who is not happy with discovering one of his prisoners missing. The butcher revs up a chainsaw and bounds upstairs. Time to get the hell out!
The player sprints down the hallway, but is caught and cut on his leg with the chainsaw. The butcher then stomps on a pedal and traps the player in a room with two rows of huge spinning blades rapidly closing in on him (you know, because every mental hospital has a room with giant spinning blades). Hobbling on his one good leg, the player barely makes it out of the room alive.
He slowly makes his way through a couple of small rooms until his escape plans are thwarted by another locked door. The butcher bursts in from behind and the player hides in a nearby locker hoping the murderous foe will not find him. The butcher tears through everything in sight; surely he is going to check the very obvious locker right next to the exit door? Nope. The butcher walks right past and even opens the locked door for the player; what a gentleman. The player carefully follows in hopes of finding a way out, but that means he must sneak past the butcher.
Now, I don’t know whether the player was purposely trying to get killed, or if he was just really bad, but twice he walked right out in front of the butcher, then tried to hide behind some crates (in plain sight), and then danced around as the butcher stood there flailing his chainsaw around aimlessly. We were eventually spared suffering through more of that awkward scene when the player was impaled and lifted of the ground by the chainsaw-wielding brute. If the guy demoing the game was looking for a fluid way to show a gruesome death animation—that was not the way to do it.
On a second try, the player makes it past safely—only for a moment— before being chased down another hallway. Still hurt, and moving very slowly, he makes his way to the end of the hall. In reaching the end of the hall, a gate to an elevator shaft opens by itself (okay?) and the player dives in as the gate shuts just behind him—by itself again (really?) Fade to black.
The player exits the elevator as the building starts shaking. He takes off in a sprint (because his leg is better now, obviously) and runs out the front entrance of the hospital as the camera pans out to show a view of the city completely decimated by the violent quaking felt before. Fade to title screen.
The second part of the demo focuses on The Evil Within’s combat. It looks to move and feel very much like Resident Evil; slow and clunky. The player comes across two glowy-eyed zombies with sharp instruments sticking out of their heads. They run at him until they get close, and then they slow down to give him an easier target. A head shot eventually brings the first one down, then the player sprints past the second, turns around and shoots the it in the knee, dropping the it to the floor—and this is the best part of the whole demo—he pulls out a match, strikes it against his thigh, and flicks it on to the downed zombie—burning it alive!
The player runs back upstairs to find a horde of torch-wielding zombies bearing down on the house. He pulls out a few mines and strategically places them under each window. The horde makes short work of the windows and begins clamoring into the house, sending the player fleeing back downstairs.
He runs into a dark hallway with another door at the end of it. Through this door is another door. And the Doors created the soundtrack for this game (just kidding about that last part). Entering room he finds a mass of bodies. As he gets closer, this large and horrifying creature—a cross between the witch from Left 4 Dead, a spider, and the Ring girl—climbs out and starts crawling after the player. It’s actually pretty damn creepy. This thing pins him to the floor and swipes downward with her claw-like hand as the demo closes.
Several times I laughed out loud during the demo, and when your game isn’t intentionally going for laughs, that’s not a good sign. The controls looked to really hinder the overall experience, making the player fumble around like an idiot. I was not impressed, and most disappointingly, I wasn’t scared. Sure, the Ring girl monster thing was creepy, but so is Bert and Ernie, and I’m not scared of them. Well…
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