The lights go down, and the room visibly changes. Granted, flipping off the light switch will do that, but it’s also probably because it’s the Bethesda E3 demo theatre and the entire thing is full of journalists trying to write things down on a notepad. The point, however, remains. Shinji Mikami had just finished introducing his latest game, The Evil Within.
Mikami, perhaps best known for the head honcho behind Resident Evil 4, describes The Evil Within thusly: “it is a return to the roots of horror.” From what I saw in our half-hour hands-off, eyes-on demo that seems to be mostly true. Horror games, for the most part, are about anticipation and scarcity. It could be the anticipation of darkness, demons, or imminent death, and it could be scarcity of ammo or safety, but those two things seem to be the grandest of the horror game tent-poles.
The demo opens with our protagonist Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his partner driving to the Beacon Mental Hospital. Given the use of the sirens and some yelling, they appear to be in a hurry. When they show up, they’re led into the asylum by a third detective, though the entire building appears to be abandoned, the front driveway littered with empty police cars and blinking lights. It’s a dreary scene with a bleak, grey sky letting loose a solid, horror-infused drizzle that looks, quite frankly, pretty neat. Aurally, there is a palpable anxiety building with an incessant heartbeat-like thumping, just soft enough to not be heard but loud enough to certainly be felt. I guess all the dead bodies on the ground add to it, too.
This third fellow and Sebastian head into the security surveillance room and discover an addled doctor, rambling on about some sort of terror or monster or something. Who knows? Let’s go to the monitors! The live feed shows three guards shooting at something off-screen, each one being taken down by some sort of specter. Before Sebastian can react, the ghostly figure disappears only to reappear behind him and stab him in the face with some sort of syringe.
Now we wake up in some sort of topsy-turvy world. Err, correction: we are topsy-turvy as we appear to be hanging upside down and bleeding, given by the slow crimson drip coming from our fingertips. A fleshy, grunting brute trundles in and chops up another nearby hanging body (there are dozens in this dimly lit, presumably smelly basement), hauling its detached torso over to a table where he begins to further cut up the meaty mass to the tune of some grainy vinyl classical music. Our hero’s goal appears to be to swing over to another body that has a glowing video game objective knife stuck in its side, using it to cut himself free. Unfettered, he approaches a locked door, realizing he has to snag a key ring from right next to the brute, who promptly and conveniently leaves. Armed with a set of keys, Sebastian opens the door and runs up a flight of stairs before triggering some sort of alarm.
At this point, I remember I kind of need to breathe.
The brute apparently hates loud noises because he then proceeds to chase after you with a chainsaw, which he uses to cut a rather severe-looking wound into our protagonist’s leg. Hobbled, he starts to flee with a horribly awkward and painfully stilted gait, eventually making his way through a room of spinning blades.
The next bit reminds me an awful lot of the parts of Deadly Premonition where FBI Special Agent Francis York Morgan has to hide from the Raincoat Killer except pulled off much more adeptly. Sebastian has to hide behind walls and crates and inside of a locker to evade the brute’s search (though at some point the demo pretty much breaks when Sebastian limps by directly in front of his pursuer with no consequence, a byproduct, I assume, of this being a live demo). He then barely escapes by scrambling and crawling through to brightly lit door.
Then we fade out to a third section of the demo that is, unsurprisingly, very similar to Resident Evil 4, though it’s introduced as a segment that will show that “nothing is what it seems.” It’s some over-the-shoulder combat in a house that you are to defend from an invading horde of supernatural baddies. Ammo appears to be rather scarce, though some proximity-sensitive explosives (they appear to be homemade bombs) help out as Sebastian places them under all the windows. As the evil undead begin to break in and the headshots start to roll in, he scampers about and eventually makes his way down into the basement.
And whoosh, the hallway flashes and we’re no longer in the house. It flashes again and we’re in what looks like the white-tiled interior of a hospital. Then a wall of blood rushes towards you à la The Shining and bam, it’s an empty hallway again. Sebastian enters the room at the end of the hallway and is greeted by a whirling dervish of limbs and blood and scary noises.
Based on this demo, The Evil Within appears to be a dichotomy of horror. On one hand, the opening non-paranormal bit where you come across an eerily abandoned, still active crime scene and the initial escape of the sloppy butcher feel fresh and exciting in the world of video game dread. On the other, the combat feels like it wants to be the star of the show while appearing to be rather refined and reined in, but it also feels well-worn. Both halves appear to be well within the grasp of Mikami’s skillful hands, but the question now is how he will balance the two. The potential is already very apparent, as a roomful of tensed-up journalists can attest. Thank god they turned on the lights.
Look for The Evil Within sometime next year on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC.