Over the years Shinji Mikami has played a major part in many popular franchises and cult classics. He was director of Resident Evil, God Hand and Vanquish; he re-invented his own series with Resident Evil 4; and executively produced Devil May Cry, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Viewtiful Joe and Killer 7.
Now, four years on from his last game as director and having set up his own studio in the form of Tango Gameworks, Mikami has elected to return to the genre that – for video games – he helped define.
The Evil Within is a horror game through and through, making no qualms about being so - with vivid, horrific imagery being used in every screenshot and trailer. You play as Detective Sebastian Castellanos, who is called to a mass murder at a mental asylum only to discover an evil force awaiting him. After being attacked, Castellanos awakens in a world gone to hell and must find out who or what is behind it all.
In terms of plot it offers nothing new, and that really extends to all aspects of the game we played at publisher Bethesda's London base. Whether this is a good or bad thing however, will depend entirely on where you stand with the horror genre.
The game's E3 demo is split into two parts from chapters four and eight. Save rooms were inactive but could be heard behind closed doors – appearing to be set up in a Resident Evil typewriter fashion. We also played without an upgrade system which will allow players to improve their health, stamina and weaponry.
Gameplay is served from an over-the-shoulder perspective very reminiscent of Resident Evil 4, albeit with less cumbersome (through not cumber-less) controls and the ability move and shoot at the same time. The game is also viewed in a cinematic letter-box aspect ratio (2.35:1 to be precise) and with a film grain effect layered over it.
These two features of the game's aesthetic lend to a heavy atmosphere supported by grimy visuals and a smattering of neat enemy designs. Neat, but few really stand out. Standard enemies shuffle like, and look scarcely different from, the lumbering foes of Resident Evil, while the more gruesome monsters and ghoulish presences bring to mind the creations of Silent Hill and Fatal Frame.
To dispose of enemies you naturally have a pistol, knife, shotgun and crossbow; each with limited ammo scattered through the game. There are also grenades to be found and if push comes to shove you can push or shove your foes away to put some breathing space between you and the threat. Some enemies are also prone to re-animating, but that can be prevented by burning them using a limited resource of matches and torches.
Health is restored with syringes and med kits, and all of the above can be assigned to the d-pad by entering your inventory – which slows down, but does not stop time, adding further peril to combat and a need to plan ahead. Enemies can also be dispatched by using environmental features such as traps, which can be dismantled for parts. These parts, as well as green gel found throughout the game are used in the upgrade system not available in this demo.
A river of blood
The Evil Within is an amalgam of horror trends, throwing everything at the player and using every trope. There's body horror, psychological horror, it plays like Resident 4, looks like Silent Hill and has the hammy dialogue of earlier Resident Evil games. After tinkering with a brain he finds lying around, Castellanos says to himself "What have I set in motion!?" and earlier deduces that "Something is seriously wrong with this place" after being chased down a corridor by a river of blood. Well done detective.
If horror games are your cup of tea then there isn't a whole lot to dislike however. Combat is competent and relatively infrequent, there is some good design work and overall the game looks set to scratch an itch many horror aficionados have felt since Resident Evil elected to equate bang with buck.
That said there's very little to get properly excited about either, with horror that proves difficult to invest in when cliché (well executed or not) oozes from every dank corridor and moody mansion library.
On this evidence Tango Gameworks appears to be revelling in the "Resident Evil meets Silent Hill" tag that The Evil Within has inevitably been handed, strictly adhering to that notion and in doing so, forgetting to inject the game with any real personality of its own.
The Evil Within will be released on 24 October, 2014 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC.