E3 2014: The Evil Within Strikes Uneasy Balance Between Action And Horror

After watching the hands-off gameplay demo of The Evil Within at last year’s E3, I was both excited and terrified of what was to come. Shinji Mikami, well-known as creator of Resident Evil, was producing something that would bring survival horror back to its roots—or so I thought.

Personally, I don’t normally do horror. I get scared very easily and I'm uncomfortable around gore. But I always found myself intrigued by the mystery behind the older titles in series like Silent Hill and Resident Evil. From a game design perspective they seem intelligent, utilizing every fiber of code to directly manipulate the emotional reactions of the player.

And that’s where I fear Mikami’s new title the Evil Within may fall short—though Mikami and Tango Gameworks are free from the shackles of Capcom’s franchise, they can't escape the fact that action sells. The title, at least in this particular demo, relies on disturbing stomach wrenching gore rather than mechanics and action. Will this follow in the tracks of Resident Evil 4-6, or is Mikami really going back to what made the genre so fascinating?

It might be too early to answer this question. With only a small portion of a massive game it’s hard to get a feel for the title as a whole, especially one as involving as survival horror. In many ways the Evil Within plays a lot like Resident Evil 4. The camera is third-person over-the-shoulder and your enemies can be taken out by headshots or crippling shots/hits to the legs. Once they’re down, however, it’s important to burn the bodies (an action similar to the Resident Evil remake when dealing with Crimson Heads). Overall, the controls are a little clunky—definitely an improvement over Resident Evil 4, but not quite as smooth as the later titles.

The two demos at E3 left me with both concern and hope. The first demo featured far more action—starting me off with a shotgun, pistol, grenades, and a knife. While ammo was meant to be scarce, I was able to find plenty of it spread about the dreary environment—an environment that contained subtle nuances of RE4's Los Ganados. In the background zombie-like creatures marched mindlessly, moaning in despair. Moist noises of flesh being devoured gave me a sense of imminent threat. Doors creaked. Footsteps muttered. It was a symphony of noises that electrified the hair on the back of my neck.

Yet this electric fear was lost when I realized I was being followed by a friendly NPC. Together we ran through a house and into a basement, shooting down the occasional enemy whose presence was obvious thanks to their loud breathing (decaying flesh obviously leads to bad allergies). On the plus side, the enemies are hard to kill and can take you out with a hit or two.

The basement area was slightly different, bringing in psychological fear factors reminiscent of the insanity level in games like Eternal Darkness. Hallways changed direction or disappeared, blood filled passage ways, and occasionally we’d have to run from a white spectral entity that appears to be the game's main antagonist. While these reality-hiccups were at times surprising, they were not necessarily scary.

Eventually we came across a massive horde of enemies and were forced to kill them in order move on using traps, grenades, fire, and weapons. To me, this was the sequence that ruined an aspect of horror this level had, turning it into a Gears of War meets Leon-protects-Ashley moment.

I found hope, however, in the next demo… which sadly I didn’t have as much time with. The second demo had us placed in a mansion similar to the original Resident Evil title. Here, the atmosphere is legitimately horrific, featuring flickering shadows and laughs that sounded as we worked our way through each room. This demo used sound and environmental design to create a nerve-wracking experience. Stealth and wits were more important than firepower. Instead of fighting hordes of zombies, we were solving puzzles to progress through the mansion. There was a horrible puzzle that involved performing a lobotomy. While I could dub this an act of needless gore, others could say that being uncomfortable is all part of survival horror.

In the end, I’m still hopeful for the Evil Within. Though the demo proved to have far more action that I originally thought, the game still has much more to offer. The game will be hitting the shelves for the PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS4, and PC on October 21st, right in time for Halloween.

Katy Goodman is a freelance writer and graduate student in English. When she isn’t busy training birds of prey, horses, or freshman composition students, she can be found playing video games or climbing trees. She also really likes grilled cheese. Follow her on Twitter @InvizzyB or on her blog, Pixel Hearts.