Resident Evil isn't what it used to be.
Regardless of whether or not you're talking about the games' quality, it's a statement that you can't argue with -- the Resident Evil games of today are very, very different affairs to the fixed camera angles and tank controls of the series' earlier installments. Whether or not that's a good thing is a matter of opinion, but there's certainly a significant number of people who are keen for survival horror to get back to its supposed "roots."
Pleasingly, one of those people is Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, who has teamed up with Bethesda to work on The Evil Within, a new game that promises some authentically old-school survival horror gameplay -- and Mikami's first return to the genre since Resident Evil 4 way back in 2005.
Bethesda's demo of the game at Eurogamer Expo (seen in its entirety above) was sadly non-interactive, but it did give us a look at two distinct parts of the game -- the opening scenes, and a sequence from later in the story that demonstrated combat.
The game begins with the player character, the startlingly chiseled Detective Sebastian Castellanos, rushing to the scene of a mass murder with his associates. Upon arriving at the scene -- a mental hospital, because survival horror -- the crew finds it eerily quiet, with no signs of a struggle outside. The inside, meanwhile, is splattered with blood and corpses, and Castellanos starts to witness strange, impossible phenomena, one of which is an almost-invisible hooded figure moving at superhuman speed. He initially sees the... thing on a monitor, but is attacked by one almost immediately after, knocking him unconscious.
When Castellanos awakens, he finds himself hanging upside down in a strange, grimy underground area along with a number of other bodies who are apparently already dead. A huge, imposing and clearly not human figure stumbles over to the hanging corpses, doing something unpleasant to one that is just out of Castellanos' line of sight. After the monster staggers off, Castellanos frees himself by swinging over to a corpse with a knife conveniently embedded in its abdomen, cuts himself free and then tries to find his way out of the nightmare in which he appears to be stuck in. There then follows a sequence of events involving Castellanos running away from the monster -- who has a chainsaw, because survival horror -- getting injured, having to limp his way through a room with spiked blades closing in on him and having to manipulate the monster's behavior to progress through various obstacles. There's a touch of Resident Evil: Nemesis about this sequence, but also influences from newer horror games such as Amnesia -- a sequence where Castellanos is hiding in a locker follows Amnesia's model of not really showing you what the monster is actually doing outside, instead leaving much of it up to your own depraved imagination.
The combat sequence showed Castellanos battling against a variety of foes, many of whom can be dismembered with creative use of weapons. It looks as if some foes are more persistent than others, though, since there's apparently the option to light a match and burn the downed body of foes when necessary. It's also possible to make use of traps and lure monsters into situations that are advantageous to you -- in one sequence, Castellanos laid mines underneath two windows of a house he was defending, causing the zombie-like creatures that were bursting through the windows and walls to be blown to pieces as soon as they got too close.
In gameplay terms, The Evil Within looks like an interesting blend of the slow, deliberately clunky pace of early Resident Evil games with the over-the-shoulder 3D perspective of those from 4 onwards. Castellanos looks to be fairly unwieldy to control, particularly in sequences where he's injured and has to limp rather than run, and shooting while moving looks to be something that, while not impossible, will probably be largely impractical. Castellanos walks slowly, and the game seems to be set up to encourage the player to take their time rather than rushing through; it also deliberately misleads through clever use of lighting and shadow, leading you on several occasions to believe something nasty is around the corner when in fact it transpires the horrific-looking shadow you saw was, in fact, something rather mundane.
It's not afraid of jump scares, though, which were a defining feature of the early Resident Evil games. In the two sequences we saw as part of the demo, there were numerous jump scare moments, most of which put Castellanos in immediate danger thanks to a loud noise alerting a monster or, in the shot that closed the whole presentation, a deformed, many-legged horror bursting forth from a bloody corpse, blood spraying everywhere.
There seems to be a psychological aspect to the horror, too; in one sequence, we see Castellanos repeatedly walking down a corridor, only to be put back at the far end over and over again, until one time he is swept away in what appears to be a tidal wave of blood before finding himself back in a different place to where he thought he was. Similarly, once he manages to find his way out of the mental hospital after escaping the chainsaw-wielding monster, he emerges to what appears to be the entire city in ruins. Is it real, is it a Silent Hill-style other world, or is it all in his mind?
The Evil Within is looking like an interesting game that will probably prove somewhat divisive. Its resolute adherence to the unwritten rules of old-school survival horror, right down to tank controls -- albeit from a 3D third-person perspective rather than fixed camera angles -- is likely to turn a few people off, but those who have been hungering for a new Resident Evil that feels just like the old games may find a lot to like here. It's supposedly going to be Mikami's final directorial work; time will tell if it'll be the pinnacle of his career, or something best forgotten in favor of his earlier classics.
The Evil Within is set for release in 2014 on PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PC.