The Evil Within

Evil is in res­i­dence once more as Mikami re­turns to the ac­tion-hor­ror genre

EDGE - - GAMES - Pub­lisher Bethesda Soft­works De­vel­oper Tango Game­works For­mat 360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin Ja­pan Re­lease Oc­to­ber 24

360, PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox One

An ex­plod­ing head is just about the last thing you’d ex­pect to feel com­fort­ing, but some­how The Evil Within man­ages to con­vey a deeply nos­tal­gic as­sur­ance with ev­ery skull you burst. Plant a shell or two in an en­emy’s face and a warm, frothy spray of gore bub­bles forth like the le­mon­ade of child­hood, cou­pled with a sound ef­fect as crisp and ripe as the crunch of a sum­mer ap­ple. This kind of plea­sur­able as­so­ci­a­tion is for­tu­nate for The Evil Within, be­cause it has a long shadow hang­ing over it, and it’s not the shade of the as-yet-un­named malev­o­lent force that serves as the game’s an­tag­o­nist. Rather, Shinji Mikami’s lat­est bears an in­escapable sim­i­lar­ity to Res­i­dent Evil 4.

Not con­tent with el­e­vat­ing head­shots to an art form, con­tain­ing a shop­keeper that spawned a thou­sand im­pres­sions, and hav­ing a lead with tremen­dous hair, Res­i­dent Evil 4 set the tem­plate for the mod­ern third­per­son shooter. It’s one hell of an act to live up to, and of the few de­vel­op­ers that haven’t balked at the thought, al­most all who have tried have failed. Mikami, how­ever, fol­low­ing for­ays into schlock hor­ror ( Shad­ows Of The Damned), schlock sci-fi ( Van­quish), and slap­stick punch­ing ( God Hand), ap­pears to have stopped fight­ing it and em­braced his her­itage.

The open­ing sec­tion of The Evil Within’s playable demo proudly dis­plays that his­tory, start­ing you off on the out­skirts of a ru­ral Euro­pean ham­let. Cor­rupted vil­lagers dump bod­ies onto a bon­fire while you watch from a dis­tance, wait­ing for your cue to march in and start shoot­ing. Even the let­ter­box­ing is fa­mil­iar. And, of course, when we score our first head­shot, the re­sem­blance be­comes un­mis­tak­able – the bub­bly crunch as you nailed an­other Ganado through his rus­tic Span­ish hat is up there with the greats in terms of re­ward­ing player feed­back, and the equiv­a­lent here is ev­ery bit as sat­is­fy­ing as it was back in 2005.

This ad­her­ence to

the Res­i­dent Evil 4 tem­plate is about more than aes­thet­ics, though. While dap­per pro­tag­o­nist Se­bas­tian Castel­lanos is a bit more mo­bile than Leon Kennedy and his aim is a lit­tle less shaky, he’s just as ca­pa­ble in com­bat. On any­thing above the de­fault dif­fi­culty, the demo’s set­piece fights are pre­cise and deadly. Your zom­bielike op­po­nents are the usual loose group­ing of sham­bling, groan­ing foes, but this time come ac­ces­sorised with crowns of barbed wire, glow­ing eyes, and em­bed­ded shards of bro­ken glass. As with The Evil Within’s spir­i­tual pre­de­ces­sors, en­e­mies are closer to Romeroslow than 28 Days Later-fast, but their lethargy seems to be care­fully cal­i­brated. They’re paced pon­der­ously enough to be

threat­en­ing and in­ex­orable, but not to the ex­tent that lin­ing up shots is triv­ial.

For all in The Evil Within that’s fa­mil­iar, there are some twists on the for­mula, too. The game fre­quently toys with psy­cho­log­i­cal hor­ror, un­pre­dictably shift­ing lo­ca­tion and warp­ing the en­vi­ron­ment, and puts a sav­age gar­nish on its com­bat by in­tro­duc­ing a drop and burn sys­tem, whereby tem­po­rar­ily knocked down en­e­mies can be ren­dered per­ma­nently out of ac­tion by set­ting them on fire. It’s jar­ring, how­ever: your op­po­nents flare up so eas­ily from a sin­gle match that it’s a won­der they don’t self-im­mo­late from the static charge they build up from shuf­fling around on the car­pet. Still, be­fore up­grades, Castel­lanos can only carry five matches.

Some­times not even fire will save you: we find our­selves fre­quently pur­sued by en­e­mies who can only be avoided. The first, and by far the most dis­tress­ing, of these is a livid clot of

While its set­piece tricks may be cheap, the project as a whole clearly hasn’t been

fe­male limbs that vomits black hair out of its front end be­fore scut­tling af­ter you. Any at­tempt to fight this psy­chi­a­trist’s gold mine just leads to it smash­ing your head into the con­crete, so you’re left with no op­tion but to turn tail and run, feath­er­ing the sprint but­ton to avoid de­plet­ing your stamina bar and nerve-shred­dingly ne­go­ti­at­ing trip­wires as the thing gives chase be­hind you.

The sec­ond one you face is less ef­fec­tive, how­ever. A hooded, mu­ti­lated ap­pari­tion who pops up sev­eral times dur­ing our demo, his leisurely pur­suits are vaguely com­i­cal, es­pe­cially given that you need only out­pace him for a few sec­onds be­fore he gives up. De­spite this, he’s still a threat – get within touch­ing dis­tance and you’re dead – and needs to be re­spected as such, even while you’re leading him on a merry dance around a desk. And hav­ing an in­vin­ci­ble thing chase you to­wards an im­pos­si­bly dis­tant, slowly clos­ing lift door is like putting a dog in jeop­ardy in a movie – it’s cheap and ma­nip­u­la­tive, but un­de­ni­ably ef­fec­tive.

Yet while its set­piece tricks may be cheap, the project as a whole clearly hasn’t been.

The Evil Within is as lav­ish in its pro­duc­tion val­ues as it is with its blood, blend­ing the am­bi­ence of a Peter Cush­ing hor­ror flick with the pol­ish that a Peter Jack­son budget can buy. Bethesda’s back­ing is ob­vi­ous: the man­sion sec­tion’s in­tro­duc­tion is finely de­tailed and of­ten beau­ti­fully lit, with Tango Game­works lov­ingly de­pict­ing moon­lit pine forests and crum­bling ru­ins. The at­ten­tion to de­tail comes through just as strongly in the tan­gi­ble kick­back of the weapons, the pre­ci­sion of the con­trols, and the physics pow­er­ing the soft swish­ing cur­tains. Lit­tle but the oc­ca­sion­ally puni­tive check­point restarts be­trays that this is a game still months away from re­lease.

Mikami, how­ever, finds

him­self in a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion hav­ing in­voked his own past. Should he stray too far from his her­itage, fans will grum­ble; stick to what he knows and he’ll face just as many crit­ics. The Evil Within very much plays it safe – if that’s the right word for a game set in a man­sion con­tain­ing se­cret in­dus­trial-meat-grinder traps and homi­ci­dal, glass-faced mad­men. The game may star­tle when a burn­ing ghost sprints un­ex­pect­edly out of a door or a corpse jolts into life, but on the ba­sis of what’s been shown so far, it’s rarely go­ing to sur­prise.

Safe, vi­o­lent and un­set­tling, how­ever, could be a pretty good deal. Af­ter all, the third­per­son shooter may be a crowded genre, but who is Mikami re­ally com­pet­ing with, other than him­self, in this niche? Res­i­dent Evil

5 baked to death in the African sun thanks to block­headed AI; Res­i­dent Evil 6 splin­tered into four sep­a­rate games of wildly vary­ing qual­ity;

Dead Space looks to have been put on ice af­ter a grab for the main­stream dis­si­pated the ten­sion. So in this in­stance, fa­mil­iar­ity may breed con­vivi­al­ity rather than con­tempt. Slip­ping into Castel­lanos’s shoes, pok­ing your head over his shoul­der with a squeeze of the left trig­ger, and find­ing yourself stalk­ing down a dirt path to­wards a haunted man­sion or a mur­der­ous old-world vil­lage is like com­ing home. A gory, dan­ger­ous home, per­haps, with camp di­a­logue, creepy shop-win­dow dum­mies, and farm-im­ple­ment-wield­ing evil peas­ants, but home nonethe­less.

Castel­lanos is a pro­tag­o­nist in the Leon Kennedy mould, al­beit with a cos­tume ripped right out of the hard­boiled rule­book. He looks as if he could be tak­ing a breather from a stren­u­ous Lindy Hop

Shinji Mikami, cre­ator and game di­rec­tor

The set­piece traps are glo­ri­ously im­prac­ti­cal, re­sem­bling theme park rides con­ceived by Clive Barker and im­ple­mented by sadists with an un­lim­ited budget

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