Survival horror has been grown into a pale, anaemic shadow of its former self. With the dilution of such iconic series as Resident Evil, Silent Hill and even the recent Dead Space, nothing seems safe from the sanitisation of terror. Thank heavens for Shinji Mikami and Tango Gameworks forthcoming The Evil Within, which brought real fear to E3. This was a horror game which managed to make two people leave during the presentation. Surely there can be no greater compliment.
Opening the demonstration the game, Shinji Mikami noted that The Evil Within was intended to be a “pure survival horror” title: reassuring words from the man who essentially invented the genre. The game is about experiencing genuine fear and the sense of relief when the horrors are overcome. From the live gameplay we saw we can vouch for the fear and horror although the relief was much less evident. What was immediately clear was The Evil Within is an uncompromising, gory and unrelenting love letter to a genre mostly shunned by modern studios.
The game opens with detective Sebastian Castellanos arriving at the gates of a stately insane asylum. Answering a call from his superiors he is tasked with investigating the sudden radio silence from several officers who responded to an emergency call from the institution. Entering into the garden forecourt it is immediately clear something is amiss. Everything is deserted, there are no weapons in any of the patrol cars and the ground is free from shell casings or any sign of disturbance. It was a fairly slow but subtle build up that created a pleasingly unsettling atmosphere.
Sebastian soon arrived at the main doors to the Beacon Mental Hospital and instructed his rookie partner to wait outside before pushing slowly into the foyer with another detective. The entranceway was filled with dead bodies, mangled limbs and pools of blood. The animations of the two men gagging as they reacted to the scene was particularly visceral. Searching through the gore and wreckage, the detectives eventually found an injured and clearly insane survivor raving about something in the hospital.
Choosing to leave his partner with the man and try and find out what was going on, Sebastian moved off to explore the corridors next to the lobby. Reaching a small security room fitted with monitors, he examined the bank of screens only to see a small group of officers running from some off-screen horror. A band of static flashed across the screen, obscuring some dark shape as it brutally maimed and killed the men. It was something of a clichéd technique but was executed so effectively and with such dark malice that it delivered a real jolt of horror. As Sebastian turned his head to look away from the shocking scene he was suddenly rendered unconscious by an unseen attacker.
Here was where The Evil Within really brought out all the stops and certainly pulled no punches. As Sebastian regained consciousness he found himself hanging upside down in what can only be described as something an abattoir worker would have nightmares about. Several twisted and mutilated human corpses hung from meat hooks while pools of entrails and viscera clung to the concrete floor. A scratchy record of classical music sat at odds with the vomit-inducing surroundings. Just when it looked as though things could not get any worse a series of heavy footfalls signalled the arrival of the first enemy: it was not pretty.
Suddenly appearing from behind a curtain of gore-spattered plastic sheeting, hung from the ceiling, was a vaguely anthropoid “man”. Decked out in what looked like a fusion of work overalls and human skin, the hulking monstrosity moved to the corpse next to Sebastian and began to disembowel it. Here, the third-person camera perspective had shifted to a first-person view and we could only hear the wet squelches which left our imagination to do most of the work. It was a shockingly graphic sequence and really made us realise that The Evil Within is certainly going for a truly no-holds-barred approach to survival horror.
As the monster ripped down the carcass and dragged it to a butcher’s slab, Sebastian spotted his chance to escape: a knife stuck into a corpse in front of him. Using his momentum to sway back and forth, he eventually came close enough to grab it and remove his bonds, dropping to the bloody floor. Stealth will play an important role in the game and avoiding enemies is often not only a good way to preserve precious resources but also to survive dangerous foes. Crouching and sticking to the darkest areas of the room, the detective made it to a door but found it was locked. Inevitably, the key was sat in the open next to the bloody tiles the creature was busy eviscerating a body on.
Biding his time and carefully waiting for the right moment, Sebastian slipped close to the creature and moved behind it as it finished its gruesome work and moved to collect another body. Grabbing the keys he navigated back to the door and successfully unlocked it. While the sequence might only have taken a few minutes, it was a tense and impressive introduction to the horror of the game and the stealth controls seemed intelligently implemented and fairly robust. Climbing up a short flight of stairs, Sebastian made it to a corridor overlooking the meat chamber and spotted an exit on the other side. However, entering the passage triggered an alarm and the sound of those hulking footsteps meant that the detective was about to be pursued.
Fleeing into a corridor, a trap initiated with either side of the hallway suddenly littered with rotating metal blades that moved towards the centre. This gave Sebastian the narrowest window to escape but bought him some time to get into a room ahead of his pursuer. With no immediate way to escape he was forced to hide in a dented locker as the beast ripped its way into the room with the aid of a blood-coated, rusted chainsaw. The ripples of fear this situation created could be felt in the room as a host of journalists suddenly seemed to find excuses to look away or check their notepads. In a fit of rage, the monster ripped through a wall with the chainsaw creating an exit for Sebastian to slip through. Collective sighs of relief were breathed.
However, the protagonist was by no means in the clear yet and still had to avoid the chainsaw of the man-thing. Slipping into what appeared to be an abandoned medical room, he grabbed a bottle and threw it to one side; distracting it enough for him to move to some shadows. Carefully waiting as it edged perilously close Sebastian snuck into an exterior corridor and finally seemed to have lost the beast. Spotting an elevator at the end of a hallway he made his way towards it but, out of nowhere, the monstrosity appeared and sunk its chainsaw blade into the top of his thigh. Blood sprayed against the screen. Two people left the appointment.
Nobody was expecting such a turn of events and the following few seconds were some of the best of the presentation. Having to crawl and limp, blood flowing out of the wound, Sebastian had to drag his body to the elevator. There were no tedious quick-time events or cut-scenes and the detective had to manoeuvre carefully, using stained and mangled hospital beds and IV drips as temporary barriers against the power tool that was itching for another taste of flesh. Reaching the lift, Sebastian hammered the button and the doors slid shut but even then the horror was not quite over as the monster thrust the blade against the grating, showering the interior with sparks. Thankfully he was safe, for now, and the horrible roar that drifted up the shaft after him was not enough to hide the sense of relief we felt.
Reaching the lobby, still leaking blood, Sebastian limped to the doors to find aid but is instead greeted with a horrible revelation. The courtyard of the asylum was no more, replaced with an enormous crater filled with debris, ruined vehicles and destroyed power lines. It was a real shock and as the game faded out, we were certainly pleasantly surprised by how The Evil Within toyed with conventions by being both familiar and different at the same time. The game had a distinctly old-school feel to it and the horror was almost animalistic in its brutality.
The developers had another “treat” in store for us, skipping ahead to an unspecified point later in the game. Sebastian was holed up in a dark building, seemingly in a European-style forest. Holding an old-fashioned lantern in one hand and a revolver in the other, he made his way down a series of narrow corridors filled with uncomfortably tight angles. It was easy to see how enemies could suddenly loom out from them and be immediately in your face. Reaching a room with a fire burning initially seemed like a place of safety but two emaciated creatures emerged from the shadows.
These beasts were tight-skinned, leathery corpses with metal bars and nails protruding from their faces, arms and torsos. Taking careful aim, Sebastian fired off a round and disintegrated one of the monster’s heads, sending brain matter and blood flying. The second creature was knocked to the ground with a few well-positioned rounds before being doused in oil and set ablaze with a flick of a lighter. It was an explicit, violent sequence and brought to mind the kind of combat seen in the Resident Evil GameCube remake.
Leaving the room, collecting some ammunition and items along the way, Sebastian reached a room with a view outside into the dark trees. Hordes of the thin creatures began pouring out of the blackness, giving him a few seconds to plant improvised nail bombs underneath windows before retreating to a secure position. As the figures smashed the windows and climbed in they were blown into pieces (gruesomely). Despite the casualties they sustained Sebastian had too few bullets to stand his ground. The sequence brought to mind the cabin assault from Resident Evil 4 but with a far, far stronger emphasis on survival horror where resources were more limited.
Running desperately, Sebastian found himself in a dingy, long passage that stretched on into illimitable space. Tentatively walking towards a light in the darkness, a long, thick blood trail was visible on the floor. Following the passage into a medical operating theatre, with a large light providing some illumination, he focused on a large lake of blood in the centre. With a sudden, ear-splitting shriek a multiple-limbed woman-creature burst from the pool and, despite his final bullets striking its face, the thing kept coming for the detective. The foul demon pounced forward grabbing Sebastian and the screen faded to black to an accompaniment of horrific sounds. Shinji Mikami certainly knows how to end a demonstration.
The Evil Within was everything we have been screaming out for from a horror game. Real fear, nerve-shredding tension and the kind of shocking scares that resonate more than a simple jump fright. It is not for the faint of heart, that much was made evident. Tango Gameworks have clearly spent a long time carefully crafting a title that evokes the atmosphere and feel of older survival horror titles but brings some new ideas to the table. The staggering visuals, courtesy of a modified id Tech 5 engine also go a long way to building such a sickening ambience. Few horror titles have had us this desperate to get scared and it seems that Mikami’s return to his genre will be a welcome homecoming. Due for release in 2014 for the PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 there is still plenty of time to buy in blankets to hide under. We will certainly need one. Or two