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PAX East 2014: The Evil Within Gameplay Impressions

The Evil Within

Directed by Shinji Mikami, the renown creator/director of Resident Evil and several other survival horror titles, and developed by Tango Gameworks, The Evil Within was presented to PAX East 2014 attendees who braved the lines to catch a glimpse of its gameplay.

No members of the development studio were on site but a recorded video clip of Mikami introducing the game preceded a Bethesda staff member playing through two later sections of the game while an audience observed.  There were no story elements discussed nor any background given regarding the characters — instead, Bethesda simply wanted to let the footage speak for itself.  The first section of the demo was the perfect segue into The Evil Within’s unsettling atmosphere.  We see the protagonist, Detective Sebastian Castellanos in an elevator which appears to break free of its cables and plummet into a flooded area of metropolitan ruins.  As Sebastian frees himself and makes his way to solid ground, the intensity of the intro sequence is given a respite as the player slowly made his way through a devastated city.  Through much of this section, there were no enemy encounters, no jump-scares, and no viscera; rather this bleak area evoked a more surreal, unsettling feeling of dread.  Buildings crumble in front of you, vehicles come crashing down from above, and the earth itself shifts and sinks in all directions.

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The washed out colors and grainy filter also help to achieve a dream-like aesthetic that works very well.  When traversing through cramped indoor areas, Sebastian lights his lantern, which casts stark, dramatic shadows around him.  After a bit of navigation through the maze-like series of corridors formed by the falling and rising of the ground beneath him, the detective finally encounters a few enemies.  Resembling the undead hordes from Resident Evil, the zombie-like citizens of the city shuffle about looking to claim new victims.  The weapons Castellano was packing seemed to put the creatures down with relative ease, but they can absorb quite a bit of damage and will continually get back on their feet after having been knocked down.  As the player demonstrated, a good strategy is to run over to the body after they’ve fallen to the ground and use a matchbook to set them on fire, ultimately causing them to die permanently.  Armed with a sniper rifle, shotgun, handgun, a crossbow with explosive/freeze bolts, and melee attacks, Sebastian made short work of the enemies and ended up at a large body of water with a mysterious serpent lurking beneath the surface.  While it appeared that the monster could be lured to a specific area by hurling objects into the water, the first section of the demo came to an abrupt end when the detective was devoured upon trying to cross the river.

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The second part of the demonstration contrasted the first by offering something more conventionally terrifying: monsters lurking in the dark, traps that ensnare you when you least suspect it, terrifying sound design, and plenty of gore.  Castellano finds himself trapped in a series of damp, decrepit, tiled rooms and being persued by hulking monstrosities.  A thick, rolling fog covers the floor and gives way to some incredible lighting effects as well as some pretty creepy moments as enemies are harder to spot until they’re right on top of you.  The memorable foe in this area was the Keeper, an enormous figure whose head had been replaced by a metal safe wrapped in barbed wire.  We watched as the player took down Keepers in a variety of ways and each time one is slain, they collapse to the floor as blood gushing out of the door from the safe on their shoulders.

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Apparently, these creatures can resurrect themselves at nearby safes as evident in one scene where the monster finds Castellano to be just out of reach, separated from it by steel bars.  The Keeper willfully kills itself, causing its blood to flow through the bars, into the next room, finding another safe.  The creature reforms a new body as barbed wire springs forth from it, securing that safe as a new head.  In addition to lurking monsters, players also need to take care not to step on barbed wire trap that spring from the floor, taking players by surprise and temporarily immobilizing them.

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The only thing that pulled me out of the immersion of the twisted world Tango Gameworks created was the silence and general sense of apathy from Detective Castellano himself.  Hopefully this was simply because the levels shown were from late in the game, but there was no sense of fear or desperation from the protagonist, who remained stone-faced and silent through the duration of the presentation.  I any case, what I saw was enough to raise my excitement level regarding The Evil Within and it will be a title that I look forward to playing through in its completed form later this year.  The game is currently scheduled for an August 26th release on PC, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3.

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