PAX East: Searching The Evil Within for a Reason to Care
There's been an immeasurable amount of hype behind Shinji Mikami's return to the survival horror genre with The Evil Within. One of the great minds behind the Resident Evil franchise, Mikami's commitment to bringing back the spooky, scary style he helped develop all those years ago had devoted fans eager to step back into the darkness. You could count me as one of those people extremely excited for a true survival horror experience from one of the modern masters.
I sat in the dark theater at Bethesda's booth at PAX East with about a dozen others, eager to get our first real glimpse of what The Evil Within had to offer. We'd seen trailers and screenshots, but here was our first real look at what awaited in a somewhat unfiltered gameplay demo. As we settled in, there was a palpable tension in the theater. Aside from a few open laptops, the only illumination came from the massive display showing lead character Detective Sebastian Castellanos slowly walking through a devastated cityscape. There were massive buildings crumbling all around, and smoke and debris provided more unease. Where were we? What happened here? Why is this carousel in the middle of the road still working perfectly? The mood was set. The creep factor intensified.
And then nothing happened.
That's not exactly true; Castellanos faced off against a few zombie-esque enemies shambling through the world. It was very dull. The pacing was leading towards something grander, some reveal that was worth the plodding walk through the city streets. At least that's what I thought. When you want to show off a game to the public for the very first time, it helps to have some kind of hook to make them invested. People spent hours in line to catch a glimpse of someone else playing The Evil Within. What they got to see was a man walking down a street and shooting a few zombies. If this segment was put together to get me excited about The Evil Within, it failed miserably.
A second sequence featuring the Boxhead creature was a tad more successful at bringing some much needed flavor to the demo, but even that left me wanting. Remember how great it was to turn cranks in Resident Evil? The Evil Within has improved on that formula tremendously by letting you turn valves. That's the kind of innovation we were hoping to see from someone like Mikami. What about a creature that stalks you through a level, while you try to find an exit before he smashes your head in? Yeah, pump enough buckshot into the beast, and you'll slow him long enough to turn the next valve. And the next one. And the next one. The whole Boxhead sequence just left me even more disappointed that this was the best Evil Within had to offer. Oh, it's creepy. Oh, it's scary. Oh, it's the exact same game you played fifteen years ago, except the presentation is better... barely.
The trailers and footage released prior to PAX East painted a picture of a really twisted tale full of intrigue. When the demonstration of The Evil Within was over, the only thing I was intrigued with was what else was at the show. It's still possible to do strong survival horror, and there's still a market for this kind of game out there. I've been let down by games in the past, and The Evil Within would hardly be the first game that didn't live up to the hype surrounding it. I've fallen for the story of a big time creator and some cool imagery before. It sucks when what you see didn't live up to the version of it in your head. I don't know that I had a specific idea of what The Evil Within was, but at least now I know what it definitely isn't.
The Evil Within will release on Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PC on Aug. 26.