For almost a decade now the survival horror genre has tried to find new ways to reinvent itself. While some franchises, Resident Evil for example, have opted for a more action-heavy focus, others have stripped the formula bare, leaving players with little more than their wits and a flashlight.
However, few of those recent titles have found the success that Resident Evil did all those years ago. Which makes the promise of The Evil Within, a title created by original RE director Shinji Mikami, all the more exciting. We went hands-on with The Evil Within at E3 2014 to find out if this is a return to form for the legendary director.
Developer Tango Gameworks had two different demos on hand for E3 2014, one that was focused on combat/puzzling and another that highlighted the game's creepy atmosphere. Unfortunately, due to time limitations we could only play one, and through random draw we ended up with the combat and puzzling-focused experience.
The demo dropped us into Chapter 8 of the game, as protagonist Sebastian Castellanos searches a decrepit mansion for clues to the game's greater mystery. The sequence made an instant impression with intricately designed environments, a downright creepy atmosphere, and a smart use of music and sound effects. For all intents and purposes, the presentation for this particular level was spot-on, evoking memories of the original Resident Evil with horrific imagery/level design and a whole lot of blood.
Gameplay-wise, though, The Evil Within is still a third person action game that uses modern mechanics — i.e. over-the-shoulder aiming. There are some slight, Resident Evil-esque mechanics as well, like healing items, scarce resources, and a stamina bar, meaning survival horror veterans should feel right at home regardless.
Overall, what Tango had on display brought back a lot of memories of Resident Evil's heyday, when turning a corner was a scary proposition and not just part of the process. At various times throughout the game, a mysterious hooded figure appeared that would stalk Sebastian for a brief time before either causing him damage or, if the player could escape, disappearing. This seemingly random touch added an extra layer of tension to the experience, regardless of the environment.
That being said, I wouldn't call the section overly scary, but rather creepy feels more appropriate. Venturing through the blood splattered rooms of the mansion not only had that sense of dread, but the unconscious bodies and dangerous traps that littered the floors brought an urgency to the exploration. I didn't want to push forward out of fear, but hanging back didn't seem like a great idea either. And very rarely did the demo resort to the jump scare, which is a plus.
Surprisingly, it was the game's puzzling mechanics that caught my eye more than anything. Granted, they were on a small scale, but what was on display was not only thoughtful but also well-designed. One puzzle, for example, had me looking at several charts on a board in order to determine where to lobotomize the brain of a disembodied heat. Gross? Yes, but also pretty clever.
Rather than a dumbed down series of conundrums, The Evil Within presents players with all the necessary information when it comes to solving a puzzle without overtly telling them what to do. Not only was the puzzle-solving refreshing, but also it, like the survival horror elements, hearkened back to games of old.
Unfortunately, with only a sliver of gameplay to evaluate it's hard to say whether The Evil Within, as a whole, will deliver. Shinji Mikami certainly has returned to his roots, but with modern expectations staring him in the face, there's no telling whether fans will be receptive to this game, especially considering it doesn't carry the Resident Evil namesake. The demo make a great impression, was well paced, and played well. We'll see if that's true of the finished product come October
What do you think of The Evil Within so far? Does it look like a return to form for Shinji Mikami?
The Evil Within releases October 21, 2014 for PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One.
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