A strange demo
At first glance, The Evil Within should be the definitive title to save the long-decaying Survival Horror genre. Developed by Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda, The Evil Within’s viability as a AAA-horror title is apparent, especially with the venerable godfather of the genre, Shinji Mikami attached the to project as the game’s director.
For the last two years, The Evil Within has been silently sulking in the dark, progressing towards its August release date with little more than a cryptic trailer released infrequently to let video game fans know that the title still had a pulse. At this year’s PAX East 2014, however, The Evil Within was finally shown in real-time, giving eager fans their first full glance of the most anticipated survival horror title in years.
As a fan of not only the survival horror genre, but also of Shinji Mikami’s storied body of work as a whole, it is impossible to say that I didn’t have high expectations going into Bethesda’s The Evil Within demo last weekend.
I sat eagerly before the show started, wondering what horrors and haunts lay in wait for the viewing audience once the demo began. Despite being in development for a while and having one of gaming’s biggest names attached as a publisher, The Evil Within has kept quiet for long. I -as well as the rest of the audience – were going into this demo blind, as survival horror is best experienced.
I left the short demo feeling more perplexed by what I had seen than anything. The Evil Within’s demo hadn’t been bad by any stretch of the imagination, it was just different.
At PAX, two short gameplay sections were shown off in The Evil Within demo. The first took place in a modern city, complete with massive buildings sinking into the earth and hordes of what appeared to be flesh-hungry zombies. From the demo’s opening moments, it instantly became clear that every effort was going into making The Evil Within a visually impressive title. These great visuals, however, only ended up hurting the game in the demo shown at PAX. For as great as The Evil Within looked – from it’s impressive visuals and lighting effects to the hauntingly decrepit city displayed – the demo felt remarkably hollow and emotionless.
This feeling of emptiness resonated through to the game’s protagonist, Sebastian Castellanos, as he was shown in the demo looking onward towards a city quite literally falling apart with little cause for concern. This, of course, is not to say that stoicism is a bad trait for a video game character, but rather that making an effective survival horror experience hinges on creating an emotional connection and reaction from the player. By presenting your main character as unphased by the numerous horrors surrounding him (be it the city falling apart of the zombies in this demo), the player will naturally feel as though they should not fear the situation either. Removing this tension from the equation took me right out of the moment, and felt as though any threat within The Evil Within’s demo would be a non-issue.
As the demo progressed, we were treated to plenty of impressive scenery. It is worth noting again that The Evil Within – even in its demo state – boasts some seriously impressive visual and lighting features. Sebastian slowly moved through the city streets well, stopping every so often to watch a skyscraper come piercing down. No actual context was given for either of the game’s demo scenes, making what Sebastian was seeing a mystery to the viewers.
Towards the end of the first demo, The Evil Within showed it’s gunplay off. After tripping an alarm, Sebastian found himself being charged by numerous zombies. In the demo, Sebastian wielded a revolver, shotgun, rifle and crossbow, each of which were effective at dispatching his foes. Combat in The Evil Within looks to play an integral role throughout the game. If having the main character carry four weapons at a given time is any indication of what to expect from the full release, then suffice to say that The Evil Within will shy away from the traditional survival horror elements of infrequent – but intense – gunplay.
Seeing Sebastian be able to take out a handful of zombies was genuinely impressive. Sebastian is able to switch between different weapons with relative ease, ensuring that the player will always be able to have the right tool for a given situation. This feature may be exactly what genre newcomers are looking for in a survival horror title.
The second section of The Evil Within’s demo took place in a location that felt decidedly more traditional survival horror. In what appeared to be an abandoned building, adorned with white tile and decaying walls, Sebastian attempted to traverse his way through a maze of corridors. Doing so was much easier said than done, as he was stalked by hulking monsters each wielding weapons and locked safes for heads. From its outset, the second Evil Within demo section felt much more like what fans were to expect from the game. Tight hallways and horrific beings.
As Sebastian attempted to solve a puzzle to unlock the doors in front of him, he was never outside of harm’s way. The creatures that stalked him were efficient at locating him and the area’s close quarters ensured that the player would have to quickly make the decision to fight or run numerous times throughout the level. Upon choosing to fight, it quickly became clear that these beasts were no cakewalk, causing Sebastian to unload numerous rounds from different weapons into their massive frames. Seeing one killed, even in the demo, felt like a small victory.
It was at this moment where the previous concerns I mentioned about The Evil Within were brought to my attention. Two sections were shown in this demo -obviously from the game game, but markedly different. One felt hollow, almost boring in parts and the other felt like walking into a terrifying experience. The Evil Within’s greatest fault at this stage in the game, is that it currently delivers upon two polarizing experiences.
While I cannot say how this will work when the game is released in full, it is safe to say that without context for the scenes and settings shown in the demo, The Evil Within continues to raise more questions than could possibly be answered right now. The game’s visuals did little to sate my thirst for true survival horror, and after sitting through a a demo that confused me so, I cannot say for certain yet if The Evil Within will deliver upon that.
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