I wasn't overly impressed with The Evil Within when I saw it last year. It felt too copy/paste to me, too many familiar elements from too many familiar games. It all felt like more of the same, and while I could understand the desire to return to the roots of survival horror, I didn't enjoy it. It wasn't my jam. I wasn't scared.
I'm scared now.
I was given the option of choosing which of two sections I'd like to try out, and I opted for the one that focused more on exploration, story, and puzzle solving. I'd seen the combat in previous demos and knew the drill there, but I wanted to get a sense of the atmosphere the game had to offer. Scarce resources and the need to burn your enemies (to make absolutely, positively sure they stay dead after you put them down) is a fine basis for combat, but if The Evil Within wasn't creepy, I wasn't going to be interested. I started exploring the grounds of an abandoned mansion, scanning rooms for pickups and collectibles. It was dark and dank, ruined and foreboding. Pretty much survival horror by the numbers. Yawn.
Hubris, my friends. Hubris that I would soon pay for.
I crept around the massive mansion, which was full of heavy dark wood furniture, rotting curtains and dank portraits. There was wealth here once, and splendor, but in the cold way of palaces and museums, not the warm mess of a family home. Whispers and ghostly laughs followed me, gradually ramping up my unease. A shadow in the other room was doing ... I'm not really sure what because suddenly there was a crazed attacker trying to chop into my skull with his hatchet. GAH! Where did he come from? Ok, ok. Put him down, burn that sucker. Ok, we're fine. Easy peasy.
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The Evil Within (May 2014)
Moving from room to ruined room, I found a few notes left behind by the previous inhabitant, who was engaged in some kind of experiments. Mad scientist, sure, I can work with that, wait, why are all of the faces in that portrait slashed except for the young boy? Ok, no problem, I get it, the boy's the survivor, wait oh my god what is that thing trying to kill me shotgun shotgun take its head off GAHHH it turned into some guy in a hood that's coming right at me and my bullets are doing nothing and GAHHHHHHHH.
Ok. We're fine. No, we're fine. It's gone, whatever it was. Let's check out this bedroom.
It's stupid to pick up the jar of green goo; it's used to pay for upgrades like improved health for protagonist Sebastian, but that part of the game doesn't work in the demo. But I do it anyway, because that's what you do. You look for pickups and you pick them up. Cling to the things you know and you might live. I turn to leave, and notice the fireplace grate has been knocked down, and a tunnel stretches out from the back of the firebox. I'll have to crouch down to get into it, but it must be important, so in I go. I'm a few steps in when an eye icon pops up. I ask what it is. "Oh, that means something can see you."
"Oh, and it might be chasing you."
I make it all the way through the passage and discover a small hidden lab. Anatomical charts adorn the walls, and on the small desk, in between a tape recorder and some equipment, is a severed human head in profile. It's still alive. Oh, and several probes are jammed into its exposed brain. The tape contains some notes the scientist made about wanting to stimulate the fear center of the brain, which he has handily mapped out on a sketch next to the recorder. To solve the puzzle, I'll have to guide a probe into the correct brain section and insert it. No problem.
The eyes move wildly as I move the probe, the head moans and screams. Puzzle solved. What did I unlock? The room I recently left now has a pair of corpses and an angry ghost in it. I hide until the ghost leaves, and exit the room, just in time to glimpse something pink and gruesome at the end of the hallway.
NOPE. THAT'S IT. I'M OUT.