The Evil Within, The Good Without.
Forget about PAX East. At least where The Evil Within is concerned. A vocal portion of the press commented that the event was negative, but it was all based on hands-off footage in a theatre. Perhaps spurred by this, Bethesda and Tango Gameworks has seen fit to provide a two-hour hands-on session with two demos for The Evil Within during my stay during the pre-E3 Judges Week in Santa Monica. And while the claims that the game will revive the survival horror genre are idealistic for sure, it's surprisingly within striking distance.
I almost wish that Tango Gameworks would have kept the Japanese name of the title, Psychobreak, over to the American version because it perfectly describes the intent of The Evil Within to bridge the eerie psychosis of Silent Hill with the "shoot them all in the head" action of Resident Evil. Of course it helps when Shinji Mikami, the director of The Evil Within, was also the director/producer/advisor for more than five Resident Evil titles. Ten minutes into the game and his thumbprints are noticeable all throughout the design.
It's also clear from the very beginning that not everything is what it seems. If you've seen the trailers, you'll know that protagonist Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his fellow squadmates enter Beacon Mental Hospital on a strange but still understandable investigation, but soon enter a gory environment plagued by a nasty spectre. When Sebastian seemingly manages to escape the hospital, he's greeted by the outside world twisted like some kind of purgatory with levitating rubble and streets flipped sideaways. No, you can't completely trust what the camera says sees nor what the level says is a wall or not. I believe Sebastian is trapped in a mental patient's mind, maybe more than one, but that's just a complicated guess.
In a few ways, The Evil Within takes a few cues from the critically-acclaimed The Last of Us, with protagonist Detective Sebastian Castellanos needing to control his ammo and his footsteps. Making excessive noise or turning on his lantern will alert the Haunted, as they rummage around like zombies, so crouching around the environment and staying in the dark is important for creeping around enemies so as to conserve ammo or get behind them, whip out a combat knife, and stab them in the head. You can also throw a loose bottle to distract foes or lob a brick to stun enemies.
Better than that, the speed of walking and sprinting is just at the right speed to keep the tension high and to make escapes possible so long as you don't panic. Four equipment slots for weapons and health syringes are hotkeyed to the directional pad, but switching these hotkeys in the menu only slows down time—doesn't stop it—so you must be quick on your feet. Even on the easiest "Casual" setting, the tension is palpable, both thrilling and slightly nauseating at the same time. (I almost don't want to know what the hardest "Akumu" difficulty level will be like, which comes subtitled with two Chinese kanji characters just to let you know that shit is about to get real.)
This pressure was particularly pertinent in the first demo, featuring the beginning of Chapter 4 entitled "Inner Recess," which takes place in a town similar to the opening village of Resident Evil 4. Rancid, dilapidated, and bitter, this podunk has an unpaved road and several rundown shacks whose windows you can break, all while Debussy's "Clair de Lune" clumsily plays from what I think is a phonograph. Nothing like incongruent classical music to reinforce the creep factor.
Strewn throughout the town were plenty of green-gel bottles (for upgrades) and item-filled barrels to crack open with a swift punch. As much as that might indicate how strong Sebastian's arm is, he can't send enemies flying with a melee attack like Chris Redfield. At best, he can stun a shambling long enough for a shotgun blast. Enemies can also return to life if they're not torched, so burning the corpse with a match is a must, though blasting their heads off is just as potent a solution. If you run out of ammo for your primary weapons, you can run away, hide in closets or under beds, or choose to whip out the Agony Bolt crossbow in case of emergencies.
Ammunition for the crossbow is rarely found but well-earned, inflicting devastating damage when you need it, including a Flash Bolt that blinds opponents, an Shock Bolt to immobilize them, and an Explosive Bolt to destroy them outright. All these special bolts can be crafted by collecting gears, most of which are scavenged from sensor traps, wire traps, and bear traps. So watching your step is more than just good advice.
Some enemies, however, like a spirit that looks like the love child (or hate child?) of a spider queen and the girl from The Ring. In those situations, you can only run like the dickens and hope it doesn't give you a bad touch (of death). The same goes for Ravik, who will appear at the worst times to piss you off. The second demo that took place in a mansion with needs to be explored to open a giant locked door had several areas where the screen would suddenly be covered in a blue filter and Ravik would teleport around the room wanting to poke you. The game isn't even out yet, and I'm already looking forward to vanquish him back to the seven hells.
A solid and welcome attempt at a modern reboot of the survival horror genre, The Evil Within is expected to release on
August 26 [Edit: New Release Date] October 21 in North America for PS4, XOne, PS3, X360, and PC,