In his final role as a game director, Shinji Mikami is aiming to return to his survival horror roots with The Evil Within. The creator of Resident Evil hasn’t directed a title in the genre since Resident Evil 4, and while parts of his latest title show that series’ influence, there are other components that tap further into the psychological aspects of horror. At least, that’s the impression the game left me with after I got to see it at E3 2013.
The demo opens up on the game’s protagonist, a cigarette-smoking, trench-coat-wearing detective name Sebastian, as he and his team answer a distress call from other officers to a mental institution. Upon arrival, Sebastian knows something is amiss. The entrance is littered with abandoned police cars without a soul in sight.
Giving some instructions to his fellow law enforcers, Sebastian moves into the asylum to find blood and bodies littering the lobby. He makes his way to the surveillance room to check the cameras for clues, and he finds something shocking. A white, ghost-like figure is seen moving through the institution, impervious to the police’s firearms and killing at will. When Sebastian turns away from the screens, the figure appears right in his face, screaming and causing the detective to black out.
When Sebastian comes to, he’s strung upside-down in a room painted with bloodstains and filled with hanging corpses. It’s then that a faceless, hulking creature walks up to one of the corpses and hacks meat off of it. This demonic entity appears to double as a butcher, though perhaps not the most mindful of them. It’s left a knife in one of the corpses, which Sebastian is able to swing toward and use to cut himself free. Sebastian makes a loud thud as he lands, but the butcher is too busy chopping away at what he had lopped off from the other body to notice.
Trying not to alert the butcher to his liberation, Sebastian finds that the only door out is locked with the key dangling next to the butcher’s cutting block. He waits until the creature goes into a back room to store his meat, then quickly and quietly makes his way to the key. As he returns to the door and opens it, Sebastian believes he’s scot-free. That’s when a chainsaw revs behind him, and the detective turns just in time to watch the butcher sink the tool into his leg.
The chainsaw cuts deep but doesn’t sever the limb, and Sebastian is able to break free as a result. What follows is a terrifying mad dash down a long corridor with the butcher hot on the protagonist’s heels. Sebastian barely limps through the door, but not to safety. This next room has rotating blades that close in on our hero, and he once again has to stumble in a race against time, making it through and into an open room with inches to spare.
The butcher bursts through shortly after, and a game of cat-and-mouse ensues. Sebastian, wounded and unarmed, must limp from cover to cover to avoid detection and certain death by the butcher. Eventually, the detective stumbles upon a glass bottle, which he uses to distract his pursuer and run to the next room. The distraction doesn’t last long, and the butcher is soon on the hunt again. Sebastian hides in a locker to avoid detection, then makes his way to an elevator. As the doors close, the butcher shows his face once more and tries to use the chainsaw to reach the detective and stop the elevator, but the attempt luckily fails.
When the elevator stops, Sebastian finds himself once again in the lobby. As he walks to the door, it appears that his nightmare is at an end, but upon opening it he finds that it’s only just begun. The city before him lays in ruins and the earth is torn asunder in front of him.
It’s here that the demo changes direction to show the action elements featured in The Evil Within. In the new scene, Sebastian is holed up in a wooden cabin, with a horde of ghouls coming to tear him apart. Based on which weapons, traps, and ammunition Sebastian has, and how the AI adapts to the use of those resources, this situation and others like it can play out a variety of ways. In this demo, the detective is only armed with a few explosive traps — which he places strategically under the cabin’s windows — and a few bullets.
Though the traps take out some of the initial wave, there are way too many creatures coming through for the bullets to eliminate the rest. Sebastian is thus left to flee, which is a completely legitimate and viable method of managing any conflict. After heading downstairs, however, Sebastian finds that the dark depths of the cabin are not much of a sanctuary at all. The lights go out, leaving him alone in a mysterious corridor.
The detective presses on only to find that the door at the end repeatedly vanishes and reappears off in the distance. After the door finally stops playing hard to get and Sebastian opens it, he’s confronted by a shadowy figure that quickly sprouts spider-like legs and darts straight for him. Sebastian tries to draw his pistol to defend himself… and that’s when the demo concludes.
It’s clear that though The Evil Within will have some action elements, its true focus is to set as creepy and terrifying a scene as possible while messing with the player’s mind at the same time. As Shinji Mikami wanted, the game is certainly a way for him to finish his directorial career by not just returning to his own roots, but by bringing the horror genre back to its own, as well. We’ll find out how well The Evil Within will do that when Tango Gameworks and Bethesda release the game for the Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4 in 2014.