Impressions from PAX East
A behind-closed-doors play session for upcoming survival horror game The Evil Within wasn't as evil as I hoped it would be. I still have high hopes for the next game from Resident Evil vet Shinji Mikami and his new studio, Tango Gameworks, but the two gameplay sessions I saw today at PAX East seemed to draw a bit too much on his past works, and not enough on the freaky stuff.
Some of the imagery from the new trailer had my hopes up, but we didn't see much of that in our demo today.
The first live play demo had protagonist Sebastian stuck in an elevator in a world that seemed to constantly shift and crumble, like a crazy sideways demonic earthquake. This elevator fell into standing water, and Sebastian had to pry himself out and into the open. Once out, he was able to walk through a city that regularly rumbled with ground shifts; its sky looked like a missing scene from the movie Inception.
The first half of this demo worked out to be a laid back walking tour of this upended city. I suppose that school busses falling from the sky were supposed to be exciting, but this and other big set piece events fell completely flat for me as they looked triggered and mechanical. Buildings fell into the ground and walls slid in to narrow passageways, but they really seemed to pose no threat to the player. While these events may sound exciting to read about, they didn't do much for me.
When a shotgun finally came out, I got my hopes up. A being that looked like he used to be a fireman appeared around a corner, and before he could pose a threat, he was shot and then set on fire, making a strange moaning noise as he burned.
As the player navigated through a maze of gates and other barriers, more enemies like these seemed to pop up for what looked to be a bit of target practice. None of the enemy appearances looked to be anywhere close to threatening, though. For this demo, Sebastian was armed to the teeth with all kinds of guns and grenades. Headshots and grenades took these enemies down too easily. I liked seeing chunks of flesh flying everywhere, and the gunplay looked sharp, but the feeling was more Gears of War than survival horror, save for the huge water monster that reminded me of the water boss from Resident Evil 4.
There was at least some evil in the second demo we saw. I dug the closed corridors of what looked like it used to be a mental hospital, but what now might be a stairway to hell. After freeing himself from a chamber, Sebastian entered a dark, foggy hallway to find what could be Pyramid Head's (Silent Hill) counterpart waiting for him. A large creature wearing what looked to be a butcher's apron had a metallic box for a head -- Boxhead. Some close-quarters shooting made it look like this thing would be pretty hard to take down with anything but a shotgun, and some later handgun shots proved this.
Gameplay was mostly room running to find a clear shot, and then taking it before getting clobbered -- if you've played any recent Resident Evil game, you know this kind of fight well. The demo showed several of these fights, and had Sebastian using several different kinds of weapons to hold these box-headed things back. One weapon allowed for different types of bolts to be used. The freeze bolt froze a box head temporarily, letting Sebastian finish it off with a shotgun.
For this entire demo, a toxic fog filled the floor, and seemed to affect both the player and the enemies. The last 30 percent of a gauge at the top right of the screen was colored red, and marked with a skull and crossbones, so you can be sure the air is bad news. At some points in the demo, Sebastian would open valves to regulate the air. At one point, after turning it up in one room, one of the box-headed enemies ripped its own head off!
Running down a stairway into a lower level, Sebastian came across a box on the floor. This box seemed to rattle a bit, and then suddenly jumped and attached itself to his face, with tentacles grabbing on to take over his head.
While the second demo reminded me a bit of The Evil Within's earlier showings, gameplay looked more tense than scary, and certainly not evil. The backdrops to this action could have been pulled from a Silent Hill game, and they looked appropriately spooky, but when combined with the play the overall feel was pretty tame.
And the first demo was a bit too third-person shooter for me. I like my survival horror games to be more about horror than anything else, but nothing shown here was scary by any measure. Interesting? Sure. This is a game that I definitely want to play. But what was shown today barely touches weird fun house territory for me. Nothing scary or freaky. It's like a tame, supernatural Resident Evil.
I'm hoping that there's more evil to be found further within.