Today’s session sees our detective leading man making his way through a sinister mansion full of strange noises, tortured sobbing, wet ripping sounds and a host of nasties sporting dead-eyed barbwire couture. Forget any concerns about the ‘haunted mansion’ cliché, this is the sort of nasty setting we’ve missed in recent years. And don’t forget, this is just one stage of Shinji Mikami’s blood-soaked love letter to the genre he helped to define.
It’s also the first decent taste of horror on new-gen hardware and it suitably impresses on the graphical front from the start. It’s the shadows that really put you on edge though. Be it the flickering shards emitted by your gas lamp as you edge down a dim corridor, the light behind a sheet betraying the twitching silhouette or the gradual pouring of light into a dark room as you slowly creak open a door into the unknown.
Enemies are often first spotted via their shadow as they stagger around a room in a daze before the smell of your flesh sends them into a frenzy. The crazed residents certainly have an undead look to them, but they aren’t your usual shufflers, instead they’ll dash at you, bringing up memories of everything from 28 Days Later to Siren: Blood Curse. Why they’re often wrapped in barbwire is the sort of question we’re not sure we’re ready to answer.
Some will attack with gaping maws and scratching paws, but others carry knives or even shotguns. Headshots are often the best tactic, although blasting half a skull apart isn’t always guaranteed to stop them. Wilier enemies wear bullet-proof masks, so you’ll either have to shoot them in the back of the head or give them a belly full of lead. Because life needs to be tougher for Sebastian, some enemies reanimate and come back at you, either straight away or the next time you come back to the area. He can burn a corpse to put them down for good if he has any matches, but just like bullets and health packs, they’re in short supply.
The camera angle is close and third-person favouring shooting if not a wide view of your surroundings. Close range pistol aiming can be a little wild, but the shotgun provides blissful relief if enemies get too close. Skull stabbing stealth kills are also an option if you can approach an enemy unawares – you’ll save precious ammo too. A basic melee strike with any weapon or gun can be enough to finish off an already weakened enemy or push them back.
Sometimes fleeing is the only option. Remember that spooky hooded guy from the trailers that murdered all those cops in a heartbeat? Well, he shows up in ethereal form and you can’t hurt him. If he gets too close, it’s over. Of course it’s reminiscent of Nemesis from the Resi games, but at least Mr. Hoody (or Ruvic to his mum) gets bored sooner, allowing you to turn around and carry on. You’ll see some passive spectres along the way in a ghostly replay of a scene from an earlier time, which is much more interesting than the usual documents/audio diaries (but they’re present too). I’m pretty sure that the maniacal doctor that keeps popping up is voiced by Edwards James Olmos (Dexter, Battlestar Galactica too, but we’ll have to wait for the finished game to land to get a look at the extended credits.
It wasn’t clear what difficulty the demo was set, but the challenge was certainly a stern one. Enemies are aggressive and don’t take long to slash through your health bar and resources are very limited, with my inventory never holding more than around ten bullets for the revolver. Even health syringes comes with a caveat, use a full one and you’ll be dizzy for a few seconds, leaving yourself open to attacks. These aren’t complaints though. After all, panic, desperation and scavenging are solid pillars of the genre.
That said, some of the checkpoints can be a bit of a grind, especially if you blunder around a corner and set off a trap that blasts you in half or get pulled into a giant meat grinder before realising you shoot the light on the machine rather than the rope. Nobody likes replaying chunks of game after dying, but once you know where you’re going, it doesn’t take as long as you initially think to get back to the area where you carked it. We’re not talking Dark Souls levels of frustration or difficulty here.
As far as tasks go, I needed to unlock a central door in the mansion that had three locks. But rather than three keys, I had to find three brains in hidden rooms and perform laser surgery on specific parts as instructed by a crude illustration. Choose the wrong one too many times and you’ll die. It’s all the more unnerving as the head seems to be alive still, complete with blinking eyes and panicked mumbling.
So, that’s an example of what lies ahead with The Evil Within. Unpleasantly designed enemies, panicked shooting, gory puzzles, deadly traps, shoot or flee dilemmas and a whole lot of death. Bring it on Mikami. We’re dying for more.
The Evil Within is released October 14th on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, 360 and PC.