Hands-On Preview: The Evil Within - Haunted Mansion
Back during this year’s PAX East, I got to see a demo of The Evil Within. While I didn’t think ill of what I saw, I wasn’t exactly impressed either. I was told that we would see more of the game at E3 and sure enough we did. While at the Bethesda booth, I finally got to try this game out for myself.
After a brief presentation in a small theater, I went into a very dark room to play it. There were two playable demos and I got to try one. The section I played was later on in the game and it focused more on the puzzle aspects of the title.
It was appropriate that the section I played took place in a mansion considering that this is a game helmed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. From the outset, this game had a Resident Evil vibe. From the environments, weapons and character controls, this felt like Resident Evil in all but name. I should say the earlier Resident Evil games since The Evil Within is clearly focused on survival horror and not on over the top action.
There was no tutorial to help me out with the button configuration nor any on-screen guidance to show me the way. I did get a bit of help every once in a while from one of the people in the booth but I basically fumbled my way around the mansion most of the time. This way of playing is actually not unlike how it was to play survival horror games of old. Back then, you kind of just had to blindly explore to figure out what to do. I was told that this was intentional as the developers wanted you to feel a sense of being confused and lost. It was a bit annoying at first but I eventually saw this as being beneficial to the game.
The hallways and rooms of the mansion were appropriately scary. It was actually hard to tell sometimes what was real and what wasn’t. Shadows would shift on the walls and random noises could be heard from unknown parts. There were even illusions that popped up from time to time. This caused a few deaths because things that I thought weren’t real actually were.
Death is something that I had to get used to as well. The game is unforgiving and you have to learn from your mistakes in order to progress. When I first encountered an enemy, I instinctively tried to fight it with a melee attack. This only stunned it and it eventually recovered and killed me. Weapons such as guns and crossbows worked better but their ammo was limited. I eventually learned that enemies are best avoided.
As I slowly made my way around the mansion, there were quite a few enemies to avoid. I had to take out a few though so I tried to sneak up on them and kill them with a melee attack to conserve ammo. After bringing them down, I had to burn them to ensure they’d stay dead. There was one type of enemy which constantly chased me around. He was a ghost and whenever he got near me, the world would turn black and white. If I was near a door during this, I’d be knocked back from him opening it. You can think of this enemy as the Nemesis from Resident Evil 3. When I saw it, I hauled ass.
Although I liked playing it, I had some problems. The camera was a bit too close to the character and sometimes obstructed my view. The worst was when I’d open a door, hear a bomb about to explode and not have an idea of which way I should run. Movement itself was a bit on the clunky side which also led to some annoying deaths because the character reacted too slowly.
The thing that this game does right is create a dark and oppressive atmosphere. The fact that some of this may all be in the character’s head is a bonus since it gives the developers the chance to do some crazy stuff with the world. The game is gory as hell and that just adds to the horror of the areas you’re exploring. The film grain quality and the extra widescreen presentation also help in giving it a horror movie feel. The sounds were great too and this is a game that you want to play with surround sound headphones to really feel immersed in it.
The Evil Within is a game that could definitely benefit from being delayed. What I played was good but I could tell that it needed some extra polish. I do like the fact that Shinji Mikami and his team are doing a “back to basics” type of survival horror game and feel that this was the right way to go with this title. The game was spooky and it made me feel on edge the entire time. I’ll be keeping an eye on this one for sure.