I wasn’t really interested in The Evil Within after witnessing its several attempts to frighten people through sheer body-horror (torture, evisceration, gore and so on), but this year’s E3 demo was all about displaying its classic survival horror elements: keeping your cool, dealing with scarce resources, and resisting the temptation to act when inaction is the safest, but most terrifying, course of action.
Shinji Mikami, though busy with interviews for most of the demo session, said to us that he wanted to “bring the survival-horror genre back to its roots” with The Evil Within, which means pop-up scares, loud noises, and discombobulating environments. The problem is, after playing through the game’s 8th chapter, titled “The Cruelest Intentions,” I’m incredibly confused as to which direction it’s trying to go.
This is probably the strangest analogy I’ve ever made, but the game’s main character feels like a snail moving on a locomotive. Sebastian just doesn’t feel like he physically belongs in that world—not in look, but in feel. He either opens doors with the hesitation of a scared girl or all the gusto of Bruce Banner on a bad day. Now, I have never made a horror game, and I admit that this awkward “disconnect”—not between the player and the character, but the character and the world—lends itself to discomfort and unease, so I’m hoping that this is just the product of playing 20-30 minutes of a much larger experience.
At the same time, it’s really difficult for me to decide whether or not this is intentional. The game features incredibly surreal moments, like a wave of blood that engulfs you, dissipating in an instant to reveal a completely different area, sort of similar to how F.E.A.R would trick you into turning the camera, only to reveal upon turning around that you’ve been brought to a completely different area. There’s also the whole walking through a world comparable to TV-Static, where you catch glimpses of Sebastian’s reality, supposedly hints to help him make it through this nightmare.
In fact, I can’t even pretend like I knew what was going on. The chapter begins, apparently, with Sebastian waking up from a horrible car crash, walking towards a mansion after a doctor and passenger who were supposedly in the car with him. When metal gates at the mansion’s stairwell closes, it’s up to Sebastian to find his way around the house, haunted by Zombie-like creatures called “The Haunted”.
As I was exploring the house and examining its several “paintings with one person’s eyes ripped off of the canvas,” I was occasionally hunted by this entity known was Rubik. He’s essentially a hooded spiritual punk that you can’t damage; all you can do is run away, hide—get the hell out of wherever he shows up.
I tried running—it didn’t work out too well for me. Doing so landed me in a trap that wrapped itself around my foot and pulled me towards… a closet with two giant rotating blades. WHO KEEPS THESE THINGS IN CLOSETS?! WHO PUTS THIS SORT OF THING IN A MANSION?! HOW CAN A HAUNTED BITE ME IF THEIR FACE IS COMPLETELY COVERED IN BARBED WIRE?! These are the questions that came to mind as the complexion of my face came to match the whites of my knuckles.
…Still, despite how confusing it was, I could tell The Evil Within is as much about anticipation as it is tension. Every victory is a half victory. Turning a corner can turn your brilliant victory into an embarrassing failure. It’ll trick you into thinking you’re using your resources correctly, but will happily show you that you’re wrong.
Of course, 20 minutes with The Evil Within wasn’t quite enough time to explore its RPG-like mechanics, like leveling up the accuracy of specific weapons, using green jelly in the upgrade chair to increase things like hit points or endurance, or creating special ammunition for your crossbow, but I don’t think it’d add much, as a lot of enemies in The Evil Within simply can’t be killed. Shinji Mikami gives you the tools to feel powerful but makes you feel powerless. There’s something special about that.
Still, I can’t say that The Evil Within has taken a clear shape yet. It seems like one of those games you just need to play from beginning to end to understand—it’s more about the experience, I’d say, than the story.