Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within was on display at Bethesda’s booth at E3 this past week, and besides a nice theater presentation, there was also a playable demo on hand that featured two chapters from the game. It wasn’t hard to miss The Evil Within on the show floor thanks to the massive brain and barb wire statue that has been used to promote the title since last year, so once I found the brain I knew it was time to get frightened, hopefully.
The demo took place in a pitch black room to help set the mood for this mysterious, fear inducing title, and the PS4 was the platform of choice. The demo itself featured two different chapters from the game, with the first one offering a glimpse of chapter 4, and the second taking place during chapter 8. I went with chapter 4 first, which played out in a very dark and moody town that seemed to be in some sort of swamp environment. The first thing I noticed about The Evil Within while firing up chapter 4 was the fact that its load times are abnormally long. I’m hoping this is just because we were playing on unfinished code, because if not gamers will most definitely take umbrage with the near 2-minute load times I experienced.
Anyway, once the chapter did I load I was able to take control of Detective Sebastian Castellanos, who is the main protagonist in The Evil Within. He was with an NPC who seemed to be some sort of Doctor, and they were looking for the Doc’s brother in the demonic infused town that I mentioned above. Like many survival horror games before it, The Evil Within doesn’t feature any sort of markers on the map to highlight where you should be going or doing, which in one regard really helps to add to the tension and anxiety of the game, but on the other hand some gamers may get frustrated by not knowing where to go. I tend to fall into the impatient crowd, but I do understand why this game doesn’t employ any sort of objective markers, so I embraced it and went off in search of my objective.
While stumbling through the darkly lit town I was able to appreciate the graphical fidelity of The Evil Within, which does pack some killer atmospheric lighting effects to really sell the “evil” factor of the game, and to also keep you on edge as you approach every new dark corner or run down shanty to explore. Sebastian, with my help, eventually found a house of interest to explore, which in turn kicked off a cinematic, so I knew I stumbled on the location that the mission had tasked me with finding. As I crept through the building I heard the rants of a crazy person, so I shut off my light to investigate the sounds without disturbing whatever unholy demon awaited me in the next room. It just so happens that this character happened to be the Doc’s brother, who had succumbed to some sort of demonic possession and was tearing chunks of flesh from his own head while he stood over a disembowled corpse that may or may not have led to his madness.
Without getting a great look at the overall narrative it was hard to tell what the hell was going on with this guy, but it was clear that he had been possessed, or infected by some sort of evil that made him none too pleased to see me standing in his operating room. The Doc started to attack, which gave me my first taste of The Evil Within’s combat. First off, I was very surprised that I was allowed to shoot my firearms without aiming. Unlike many survival horror games I was able to hip shoot, which allowed me to attack and move at the same time, which usually isn’t the case for this genre of game. You can aim, which will lock you into place, but the ability to shoot and move definitely changes up the tactics for The Evil Within.
Secondly, you need plenty of tactics, because each and every enemy is brutally punishing. The Doc’s brother quickly depleted my handgun ammo, and my melee attack seemed inefficient, so I ended up having to switch to a shotgun to finish the job. After a few pulls of the trigger I thought I had him beat only to see his corpse reanimate and begin attacking me again. This happened because I didn’t light him on fire after taking him down, which is a move you can pull off if you happen to have some matches in your inventory. Unfortunately, just like ammo, matches are a scarce commodity, so you must use them sparingly. Sometimes there’s no shame in running and hiding in The Evil Within, so don’t expect this game to be all about killing every enemy that comes across your path, because it’s a bit more tactical than that.
It should also be noted that The Evil Within does use a weapon wheel, but time doesn’t stop when you use it, so you must go into any armed conflicts prepared, so it’s suggested to map your most useful assets to one of the d-pad buttons for quick access, because if you take too long looking for weapons in your wheel you will die quite quickly, even when fighting basic enemies.
I did find the action moments to be very tense though, so Mikami and his team have done a great job at making you feel vulnerable at all times during skirmishes, which leads into a natural feeling of anxiety every time you come across the jacked up looking demons that inhabit the dark world of The Evil Within. Some you will want to kill, some you will have to kill, while others you will need to run from, so it never feels like this game is just another third person shooting gallery full of gruesome violence and digital giblets.
Unfortunately, the game crashed midway through chapter 4, so I opted to try out chapter 8 while I still had some time with the game. Again, the code wasn’t final, so glitches like this can happen, but just like entering chapter 4 I did experience a super long load time to get into chapter 8. Once I loaded in I was placed into some sort of haunted forest that had a mansion in it. The locale is probably best described as a plantation from the southern US, but just like the setting in chapter 4, this environment was also dark and dreary with plenty of signs that something evil was at hand.
I cinematically stumbled up to a mansion that I could explore, which kicked off another cutscene. To my surprise I saw the Doctor from Chapter 4, not the possessed one, but the one I was traveling with, and he ran by me with a body in tow and locked a door. It appears that at some point this guy may double cross Sebastian, because it doesn’t seem like he wants the good detective to follow him anymore. Anyway, this led me to a puzzle to solve that involved finding knobs for a safe that could potentially open the locked door. Again, there are no objectives marked on the screen, so I was forced to explore the mansion with no real clue where the knobs could be located. This forced exploration is actually a great way to keep you immersed in the game while also keeping you focused on the environment to make sure you don’t miss anything. It made me embody the character of Sebastian, and almost become him, which is a feeling I imagine Mikami wants everyone that plays his game to feel.
While exploring I ran into more demented things to kill, but due to the limited resources I had to make sure I wasn’t just killing for killing’s sake. In fact, I even hid under a bed to avoid a conflict, and I also re-rigged a booby trap to do my dirty work for me. Using the environment and what’s available around you will be huge in The Evil Within, as I found out multiple times when I either ran out of ammo or matches to finish the job. The whole booby trap mechanic is a great way to take enemies out without putting yourself in harm’s way, but you must be careful because they can also kill you if you don’t disarm them first.
After playing through parts of two very different chapters from The Evil Within I can say that I have many more positive thoughts about it than I did coming out of PAX East. The game does offer a high level of visual polish, but it does use a film grain effect that kind of washes out some of the backgrounds. Outside of that the game looks pretty brilliantly dark and moody, and it plays really well. I was surprised that it didn’t use the standard survival horror shooting controls, but having the ability to be mobile while shooting is a nice one to have in a game like The Evil Within.
The Evil Within’s world is definitely jacked up, dark, but mysterious enough that I want to know more about it. The gameplay is very atmospheric, so horror fans should be pleased at its ability to keep your guts on edge, even while exploring the most mundane of locations. If the long load times make it into the final build they’ll definitely tarnish the experience a bit, but overall I now have high hopes for The Evil Within, which is set to hit retail on October 21, 2014 for the Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, and PC.
If you have any questions in particular please use the comment section below and I’ll do my best to get back to you with an answer if I have one.
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