Shinki Mikami returns to survival horror in what could be the scariest game since the first Resident Evil. We play The Evil Within.
Shinji Mikami is a name synonymous with ‘Survival Horror’ games. The Resident Evil series, his most famous creation, has spanned countless sequels dating back to the original Playstation, but had all but lost sight of its roots in the action-heavy sixth iteration released last year. Mikami’s newest effort is The Evil Within, which hopes to be the return to form for the genre we’ve been eagerly awaiting. We recently got the chance to play two chapters at a preview event to see whether the scares can deliver.
While the later Resident Evil titles put a greater emphasis on combat and co-operative play, The Evil Within aims to bring back that sense of fear and dread through terrifying monsters, the need to ration ammo, a sense of isolation and the good old ‘jump scare’ that had us leaping out of seats as zombie dogs burst through windows.
Protagonist Sebastian Castellanos, a detective investigating a spate of bloody and gruesome murders, gradually finds himself stepping further from reality and uncovering a world where monstrous creatures roam. Our demo began outside a derelict and decrepit cabin in the woods where you are searching for a missing patient – an archetypal horror setting if there ever was one.
The controls will feel instantly familiar to anyone who has played any of the Resident Evil games from Resident Evil 4 onwards. They don’t really break any new ground but are suitably good enough to get you from scare to scare as you unravel the many mysteries of the story. Weapons can be assigned to the D-Pad, making switching faster to give you an edge in the ruthlessly brutal combat, but it means none of the respite you got from rearranging your Tetris-like inventory in Resi 4.
The first of many bloodthirsty creatures awaits as you enter the cabin. Pumping them full of bullets will put them down, but means sacrificing precious ammo; by hiding under beds or in cupboards you can avoid confrontation altogether. Doing so creates a nice claustrophobic effect as you peer out with a limited field of view, heart racing but able to hear the shuffling outside. A stealthy approach will let you sneak up on enemies, instantly killing them with a shiv to the back of the head, and you also have access to a crossbow, for which you can craft different ammunition using scavenged items.
Our immediate impressions were of a combination of classic Resident Evil jump scares, with some of the psychological and body horrors reminiscent of Eternal Darkness and the Silent Hill series. At one point Castellanos finds himself in a darkened, endless corridor where the lights disappear one by one in a classic psychological horror trope which is nevertheless tense and effective.
What terrified us most of all were the enemies you simply cannot kill. Exactly who or what they are was not revealed in the demo, but were shown in an introduction sequence so we knew what to expect. These are creatures that leave you with no option but to about turn and run for your life and they were terrifying, especially one which had multiple limbs and moved like a demented spider.
The mansion in the second part of our demo felt like a homage to the classic Resident Evil Spencer mansion, and even featured some of the same puzzle solving mechanics. Activating three locks on a door that are triggered by successfully completing brain experiments on corpses you find elsewhere in the mansion is a lot more gruesome than matching armour and sword keys to their respective doors, however. This all ties into the narrative really well, with each successful brain experiment triggering a pseudo-flashback that reveals just a bit more of what exactly is going on in this surreal and morbid world. We’ll avoid revealing too much other than to say we were intrigued to find out more.
The tension rapidly shoots up as you progress, and we died a number of times throughout both chapters. Collectibles can apparently be used to augment your character later in the game, giving you a better chance at survival, but this wasn’t included in the demo so we’re not sure how this will affect the difficulty.
Playing with 5.1 headphones on in a darkened room certainly turned the tension up a notch further when combined with the dark, foreboding graphics and gloomy atmosphere. After 2 hours it felt like we were only just scratching the surface and were left wanting more. There were a few graphical glitches and other oddities we associate with unfinished code, but we were suitably teased ahead of The Evil Within’s late October release.