The (Resident) Evil Within

Shinji Mikami's creative influence on The Evil Within is immediately apparent. Mechanically, my brief hands-off E3 demo had a lot in common with Mikami's survival horror milestone, Resident Evil 4. The over-the-shoulder camera, slow pacing and pulse-quickening enemies were all there.

That The Evil Within shares so much with Resident Evil 4 is a two-sided proposition. Resident Evil 4 was one of the greatest games of its day, but its ground has been retread many times by subsequent survival horror games over the years, and even by Mikami himself in Shadows of the Damned.

Where The Evil Within seems to stake its greatest claim is in its visual and thematic elements. The game stars a detective named Sebastian – Seb to his friends – who is sent to investigate a disturbance at a mental hospital. An unknown event has claimed the lives of several patients and possibly a few police officers.%Gallery-191139% Sebastian and his two partners enter Beacon Mental Hospital, discovering a lobby filled with dead bodies. Beginning his investigation, Seb heads to the security office, where he notices something strange on one of the camera monitors. A ghostly figure is attacking police officers in a different part of the hospital. The figure, manifesting some otherworldly power, suddenly appears behind Seb and assaults him, knocking him out.

Seb awakens, hanging upside down in a grimy meat locker, surrounded by bodies dangling on hooks. He then covertly witnesses a disfigured monster butcher one of these bodies – literally cut it apart, presumably for food. It becomes clear that Seb is in trouble and, without going into every detail, Seb spends the next few minutes running from the butcher monster, alternating between stealth and flat-out panic. Running from the beast, Seb gets slashed in the leg with a chainsaw and barely escapes the clutches of a human-sized meat grinder (that section falls under "panic," if you're curious).

Riding an elevator out of this nightmare, Seb emerges from the dungeon back onto the ground floor of the hospital, where it appears that things have returned to normal. That is until Seb steps outside, and it's revealed that the world has suddenly fallen to ruin, a huge crater blocking any escape. Skyscrapers lean in the distance, cars have fallen into newly formed crevasses. Either the world has rapidly changed, or Seb is no longer in the world that he knows, or he's going crazy.

At that point, a different section of the game was loaded and the demonstration shifted to The Evil Within's combat, which is where the Resident Evil 4 influence really came into focus. The combat demo wasn't given any context. All we knew was that Seb was cornered in a two story house and that grotesque, torch-bearing monster-people were slowly converging on his location. The echoes of Resident Evil 4 were palpable as Seb prepared the house for the oncoming invasion. He set up a few traps near the windows and waited for the onslaught.

Once Seb's pursuers arrived, familiar mechanics came with them. Third-person aiming, headshots, clipping monsters in the legs to make them stumble and leave them open for special attacks. Seb wasn't suplexing any zombies though, opting instead to set them on fire with a limited supply of matches. The whole thing seemed pretty rote, at least until Seb ran downstairs to escape the horde.

Out of nowhere, the setting shifted, and Seb had returned to Beacon Mental Hospital. It wasn't clear if he had teleported, or if he had simply imagined the whole thing. Either way, the situation seemed much improved – until he ran into a blood flood right out of The Shining. The demo ended with Seb encountering a humanoid monster composed mostly of hands and sporting a mane of black hair that would make Samara cringe.

Visual design like this was the strongest feature of the demo, and the story was intriguing, but the gameplay looked stale. The survival horror genre has evolved considerably over the last few years, especially in the independent scene, and The Evil Within's old-school colors are definitely showing. In fairness, Mikami and developer Tango Gameworks are aiming to return to survival horror's roots, so much of its familiarity may be intentional.

I'm a sucker for asylum horror though, and The Evil Within certainly has a great sense of its environment, and it's already playing some fun tricks with mental stability. I just hope the core mechanics aren't too familiar for their own good.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.