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Shinji Mikami and Bethesda rejuvenate action horror
Since Resident Evil 4 there really hasn’t been a great action horror title on the market. Dead Space and it’s sequel certainly came close to recreating the atmosphere and mixing it with action successfully, but even that was missing something. In some ways, Dark Souls managed to create a rather perfect horror environment though the fear of losing progress against its grotesque creations. But, time and time again, Resident Evil 4 is held in high esteem as the title that got everything right. And, because of that, it seems that Shinji Mikami has managed to do it again with The Evil Within.
Ushered into a pitch-black room, illuminated only by the dull glows of PlayStation 4 DualShock 4 light bars and warm light of TV screens, I sat down in an enclosed booth to enjoy the solitary delights of scaring myself shitless on The Evil Within. For the purposes of Gamescom, and largely so we had no idea what was going on, the preview build dropped us in at the deep end of Chapter 9: The Cruelest Intentions. But that wasn’t before we had to pick the level of difficulty to play on – which we were instructed really changes gameplay quite drastically. While there were only two options available to us, Casual and Survival, there were actually four in total – Nightmare and Akumu being the others.
So, being the Resi veteran, I decided it was best to venture in on Survival – as I quite like the challenge, little did I know that the challenge would be far harder than I imagined, and without save points activated for the purpose of the demo, it was bloody annoying to die as frequently as I did. So, in the interests of journalism (or that’s what I tell myself) I unashamedly knocked things down to the Casual setting.
Either difficulty, things start the same way. Beginning on a path approaching an old mansion, everything is in black and white until a shadowy figure approaches and the world bleeds out into colour. Unsettling start, but nothing too drastic. It’s then, after entering the mansion courtyard, we see a doctor ushering – what looks like – a patient in a straightjacket into the building, following them yields little as once inside they progress through a huge set of double doors that lock behind them. So guess what we’ve got to do to carry on? Yes, that’s right, unlock those doors by solving three puzzles. It’s your standard Resi fare then, and even the way it feels to play is distinctly Mikami – although tank-like controls are thankfully not present here.
Entering a blood covered door to our left certainly seems like one of the stupidest ideas I’ve had, but inside there’s only a mirror on the wall – and these are your way into a specially segregated safe zone for saving your game and upgrading protagonist Detective Sebastian Castellanos’ abilities. Visiting Nurse Tatiana, who’s manning a desk in the empty halls, allows you to save your game, and through a cell door sits a doctors chair straight out of a nightmare – complete with needles that skewer Castellanos’ head into place when sat down. It’s in this chair that you upgrade your abilities through green gloop collected from fallen enemies and dotted around in jars in the level. It’s an odd moment, and definitely feels surreal to play, raising questions as to what the games title even means – making me think that this could really be a tale of inner struggle instead.
With that all explored and done it was on to solve the first of the three puzzles, so it was up the stairs and into the library to pick up the first piece and clue of the puzzle. It was also in here that I encountered my first set of enemies, and also died for the first time. Stealthy takedowns see you grabbing an enemy from behind and shivving them with a knife or getting the jump on them, and that’s really how you want to approach almost all enemies. What’s more, once felled you’ll need to burn them to ensure that they don’t reanimate and get you later on. And, to make things extra hard, you have a limited number of matches to burn bodies with.
I could sit here and walk you through everything that I encountered in the hour or so playtime I had, including a horribly grisly moment where I ended up getting dragged down a corridor and into a meat grinder . But in all honesty it’s something best left discovered. We’ve already seen glimpses of some of the invincible enemies that The Evil Within throws your way, but this preview slot contained a Nemesis-esque opponent that apparated randomly and walked slowly behind you in pursuit before teleporting away and leaving you scared and alone again. It certainly doesn’t help that the music tone shifts, the screen changes to a blue hue, and you never quite know where the hooded figure actually is.
Sometimes all you can do is run, you’d do well to remember that. Heck, even punching an opponent does little more than buy you a couple of valuable moments to either mount an armed attack, or get the hell away. Hiding is another option that’s worth considering, and when in Casual mode you’ll gain a handy indicator that lets you know if an enemy is aware of your presence or suspects something – in a not-so-surprisingly-similar fashion to that of The Elder Scrolls’ sneaking detection system.
So, it’s unmistakably a Bethesda game then – which is good. And it’s undoubtedly a Shinji Mikami title too – which is also good. So there’s very little reason to believe that this will be anything less than fantastic, a game that Tango Gameworks can be proud of, and a game that’s going to keep you awake at night – and not just because you’ll want to be playing it all the time.