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The Road to E3 2014: DoubleTake: The Evil Within

Posted on May 27, 2014 AT 04:05pm

Evil unleashed

Recently, both of us had the chance to play an extended demo of Shinji Mikami’s upcoming horror game The Evil Within. Before we get to that, though, I want to touch on our mentalities going into the game. For me, I was definitely excited to give it a go. I’ve been a fan of Mikami’s games for a long time, I’ve always loved Japanese horror titles, and what I’d seen of the game so far gave me hope that we’d once again be getting a unique take on the action and horror genres. So, I was all in. But what about you, Ray? Did you have any sense of what The Evil Within would be before playing it, and were you excited for it at all? Eric
Ray I had an idea about what it was all about, and I was familiar with Mikami’s legacy, but my enjoyment of horror games pales in comparison to yours. Before going into our demo, I would say I was more cautiously curious about The Evil Within than excited for it, but boy, am I a believer now! This demo had me literally shaking at points and I don’t think I can recall a single time ever before a game has made me do that.
It’s interesting, because Mikami’s stuff typically sits differently with different groups of players. Some people find stuff like Resident Evil scary, where I’ve never thought that. That isn’t anything negative against you (or others), just more that people end up taking away different emotions from games of this style. I will say that Bethesda really put out a lot of effort to set the proper mood for playing, though—we were all lead into a dark room, and each station was set up to be cut off from other players by using a bunch of black curtains. It was a set-up that really showed they cared about how we’d experience The Evil Within, as was the fact that they gave us a good, long, two-chapter demo to play. Where most times demos try to rush us in and out, this one wanted us to get a real taste for what the game is about. Eric

Ray Yeah, we were able to play through part of a chapter about 25% through the game, and another section at about the halfway point. And while part of it definitely could have been the atmosphere Bethesda put us in, I think, more so than Resident Evil, The Evil Within goes out of its way to keep you on your toes. The level could turn itself on its head, literally, on a moment’s notice. One second we were in free fall, the next we are sliding harmlessly across a sterile asylum floor, using friction to slow our momentum. Monsters and death traps could come from anywhere and out of anything. And if we died, the enemy layout was different every time, making sure we couldn’t just run in with some trial-and-error tactics.
There were definitely some interesting things going on with the enemies. During the second demo, there was this strange man named Ruvik who would show up randomly, and when he did, all you could really do is run away or else you’d be dead. Another foe was the spider lady shown in some of the teaser trailers, who—again—can’t be defeated, or at least couldn’t at the point we were at. Unbeatable enemies can be really annoying when used incorrectly, but here, I thought they were handled pretty well—creating tension instead of frustration. What about combat overall? For good or bad, it really reminded me of a spiritual sequel to Resident Evil 4. Obviously, some more modern polish, some new tricks like the Agony Crossbow and the whole trap element, but also familiar. I enjoyed how the game plays, but I think if people go into this thinking it’ll feel like the big-name Western third-person shooters that are now out there, they could be disappointed. Eric
Ray Ruvik freaked me out more than anything, and often I’d run right into a trap because I was so busy looking over my shoulder to see if he was gaining on me. Not only was he creepy, but he worked as a great mechanic to keep you moving through levels and not let you settle down in one spot too long to muster your courage back up. When there were enemies we could kill, however, I think that’s when the game really shined. The weapon wheel felt easy to use, and the crafting system for upgrades and new bolts was simple and intuitive. Because this isn’t just some action shooter, though, ammo conservation is a much higher priority, and so I felt I really needed to use some strategy when dealing with enemies— even with an assortment of pistols, shotguns, and the aforementioned crossbow at my fingertips. Whether distracting them with throwable objects and then stabbing them in the head The Last of Us style, or luring them into environmental traps, I only felt good walking away from a conflict when I didn’t fire a single shot.

Yeah, I’m really curious to see how the whole trap portion of the game will end up playing out in the full version. When the game was first introduced, a big deal was made out of them. In the demo, however, I kind of felt like I was disarming traps so that I didn’t personally run into them, but not doing much in the way of using them to my advantage or setting up my own. I hope that changes when I get into the full game, and I find myself making use of them more. The Evil Within also allows for stealth kills, which I had mixed results with. Sometimes they worked great, other times, I totally failed. Like, at one point, there were two of the zombie-like creatures feasting on a dead body, and I threw a bottle to draw their attention away from my direction, but no matter how many times I tried that, they never cared one bit about the noise. Stealth kills in a horror game have to be a strange thing to implement, though, because if they’re too powerful, then a lot of the fear can be sucked out of the game. Eric
Ray At first, I didn’t use the traps much either, but later on, especially in the mansion part of the demo, I found myself specifically looking for them. One specific moment, there were two of the zombie-like creatures huddled near an explosive trap and I blasted it with my pistol to set it off and kill them both. I also noticed how weird the enemy AI sometimes was, making me question whether the zombie description we’re using is appropriate. In another instance, I got the jump on two of the creatures, and instead of them both coming at me, one lumbered towards me at an expected zombie gait, the other actually ran away to grab a nearby cleaver and then came after me. Did you notice anything interesting in regards to the AI?
Well, I feel like that was also an idea played around with in Resident Evil 4, when they were sort-of-but-not-really zombies that could do things like speak, use tools and weapons, and so on. Here, they definitely display some more human-like qualities, another way that the game may mix up the genre a little. But hey, speaking of zombies having brains—there was a brain puzzle that you pointed out to me after you played (which I think was a day or so before I did). There’s definitely going to be puzzles in addition to the action, but what stood out to you about that one particular puzzle? Eric

Ray The brain puzzle freaked me out because you had to drill into three open scalps and insert probes into the correct sections of the brain. If you did, a door would fill up with blood and let you proceed to the next section. If you didn’t nail the right sections, however, you did damage to yourself. It made me start thinking, was I somehow drilling into my own skull? All the while this creepy medical recording was talking about how it wanted to remove all your willpower, and I just had this really twisted shift in perspective take place. That’s getting to “drilling into your own eyeball during Dead Space 2″ territory.
It’s funny how different Japanese and Western horror games often feel. Even here, where you can tell Mikami and the team are taking some influences from sources outside of their home country, there’s still a definite difference in flavor versus how the game would be from a different developer. Some of what you have to go through or do is pretty freaky, but not always in a “blood and gore” way. That brain puzzle wasn’t really bloody or gory, and yet it definitely was kind of creepy. Speaking of the puzzles, though, another thing that stood out to me was how the difficulty you play on affects them. For one, we had to unlock a padlock by finding the combination. On normal, you just had to find the numbers, and it’d unlock automatically. Talking to the staff, on hard, you’d have to actually remember and enter those numbers. I really appreciate when games alter their puzzles depending on the difficulty setting—and I think this method might actually be better than changing the actual challenge level of the puzzle (which can be hard to implement). Before we wrap things up, and other elements or moments that really stood out to you? Eric
Ray Just how fitting it is that The Evil Within has been delayed to near-Halloween. While I’m disappointed it’s slipped a couple of months for polishing purposes, if this demo was any indicator, I can’t think of a more fitting way to spend the holiday.

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