I was one of the many who pre-ordered Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within. For those who need context on the game, it’s being released by Bethesda, best known for their work on Elder Scrolls, Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas, Dishonored, Rage, and many newer adaptations of classic titles, such as Wolfenstein and the PS3 port of Doom 3. Mikami himself is known for being the driving force behind the entire Resident Evil series (through Resident Evil 4) with Capcom, as well as the creation of the original Devil May Cry, PS3’s Vanquish and Shadows of the Damned. In short, he’s the go-to horror guy. Oh, and he now owns his own studio called Tango Dreamworks.
With these two forces joined, I had no reason not to pre-order the game. Bethesda hasn’t published a mediocre game to date and the worst I’ve seen come from Mikami was Killer 7 in 2005, which got favorable reviews, but didn’t float my boat. The Evil Within is him unbridled, running the show on his own. Even within Japan, he was largely able to circumvent the ratings system. The game was censored to get their D (17+) rating, but all cut content was able to be restored via optional DLC.
Now for the meat of it. The Evil Within, from the couple of hours of gameplay I was able to squeeze in last night, isn’t a literal return to survival horror, which it is marketed as, though it falls back on those core elements to create tension. What we tend to associate with survival horror, such as puzzles and extensive inventory management, really aren’t prevalent, nor do we spend much time navigating confusing maps. However, that’s not a bad thing, for in Mikami we trust.
The Evil Within is truly a blend of carefully-selected modern gameplay mechanics mixed with the classic feel of being overpowered. All environments are restricted, but lack the confusion that came with the original Resident Evil titles. Instead of wandering, we’re faced with choices in a restricted environment. Going left or right around a corner could mean death on the first play of a map. It’s not confusing, every moment requires care. Right when you think it’s safest just to crouch all the time to avoid trip wires and sneak up on enemies, you realize bear traps are littering the ground…but you don’t want to be crouched staring at the ground and not looking out for enemies. But wait. Bear traps also present an opportunity. If you memorize where they are and fail at sneaking up on an enemy, you can trick them into running into one and beat them senseless, saving your precious bullets.
Yes, that’s right, you have to manage your ammo. Killing one standard enemy can take all or at least half your ammo. One hit takes at least 25% of your health if you’re lucky. You also have to take a guess when to use your matches to light up corpses, because you never know who may come back. There aren’t a lot of items, but you need to be careful with what you have, constantly debating if you can pull off anything without dooming yourself in the future. Uncertainty is key, as Mikami said it would be. Attention is paramount and, honestly, after one hour of playing I was debating needing a mental break.
All-in-all, The Evil Within is about the perfect horror game, barring the fact I’m not sure if I like it having a currency system. Other than that, my only complaint is a single hokey enemy that reappears a few times. So far, he’s just been in cutscenes and is supposed to appear essentially invincible. If the enemy is as hard as he appears, which games rarely get right, it’ll make The Evil Within one of the best five games of the year easily. Either way, turn off the lights, get some soda and give the game a go.