I made the mistake of playing a long preview of The Evil Within horror video game on a full stomach. I had eaten filet mignon. It wasn’t pretty as one of the first things I had to do in the game was slice open the abdomen of a corpse in order to pull a door key from his guts. The scene seared itself into my mind, and it makes me nauseous even writing about it.
But that’s the intention of Shinji Mikami, the creator of the zombie-killing Resident Evil series, and his team at Tango Gameworks. They want to scare you out of your wits. They want you to feel like you need to have a barf bag handy or to play while you’re wearing diapers. And most of all, they want you to think that it is far more stomach-churning and scary than any Resident Evil game.
Bethesda Softworks is publishing the survival-horror game for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, PS3, and Xbox 360 on Oct. 21. Like the Wolfenstein: The New Order shooter that just debuted, The Evil Within is one of Bethesda’s big hopes for branching out beyond its Elder Scrolls and Fallout role-playing games. Repulsive as it is, this game tries to maintain a measure of creative consistency throughout in an effort to make it one of the best-darn-terrifying horror games you’ve ever played. It has movie-like cinematic scenes and a mysterious narrative that will scare the bejeezus out of you.
“The demo is about long enough so that you can play it as long as you can stand it before you need more blood in your face,” said Pete Hines, the vice president of public relations and marketing at Bethesda, at a press briefing. “It’s very dark in there.”
He put us into dark cubicles with black curtains. We had a “panic button” to press so that we could call for help if we needed it. I played it on a PC, but the game will be playable on the Xbox One and PS4 at the Electronic Entertainment Expo event in June.
As you can see from the images, the undead creatures in this game are a step above the gruesome zombies you’ve seen in other games. Many of them have their throats ripped out or spikes through their heads.
These creatures are naturally more aggressive, but you start out unarmed or with only the weakest of weapons. At the beginning, the police arrive at the scene of a gruesome mass murder at an insane asylum. Detective Sebastian Castellanos and his partners run into a mysterious and powerful force that is sending the undead, known as “the Haunted,” at you wherever you go.
In the introduction, something knocks Sebastian unconscious, and he awakes to a maddening nightmare that mixes horrifying undead attacks with gruesome human experiments. Last year, Bethesda showed off the beginning. This time, I played Chapter 4 and Chapter 8 — all the way through. And as expected, this is survival-horror at its worst, or best, depending on your perspective on relentlessly bloody and violent games, wrapped in a chilling narrative where the tension is even scarier.
In these scenes, you go into rooms knowing that you’re walking into cruel traps, with lots of zombies and not enough ammo. Your main hope is to turn the evil creatures against each other and use your wits to create ambushes for them.
The creatures are very real, but you’re literally moving through a nightmare. A hooded enemy is your constant foe. Whenever you beat a trap, he changes the entire setting and drops you into a new nightmare. Corridors, walls, doors, and entire buildings morph into something else. The dark and misty environment is creepy. When you find a lantern, it’s quite a relief.
In Chapter 4, I found myself playing Castellanos in a village at night with a doctor as my companion. One of the doors to a home was lit, so I moved there first. The movement is plodding and slow, like in a Resident Evil game. Inside, I loaded up on some supplies. Then I moved into a room where a dead-looking doctor was operating on a body on a table. I could only see that doctor from behind at first, and he was making some grunting noises.
When he turned around to face me, the doctor recognized the undead surgeon as his brother. The brother turned around and revealed himself to be quite dead, with all sorts of wounds.
I fired the customary gunshot to the head. His head exploded, and he dropped to the floor. And then I lit the body on fire. Melee attacks will not kill the undead, but they may buy you time so that you can run to a better combat spot or reload a weapon. To really dispose of them, you have to burn the zombies that you’ve disabled. But the problem is there aren’t many incendiary sources. Offhand, you can carry around five matches at any given time. I figured the doctor’s brother was worth a match.
I looked at the body on the table, which had a long knife wound from his neck down to his lower belly. I moved around the room at look at an X-ray on the desk. It revealed a key inside the stomach of the body on the table. So I had to take a knife and rip down the belly wound to pull out the key. Of course, I had no choice in this matter. I found myself getting annoyed at being manipulated by the game designer to feel repulsed. In fact, I was so annoyed that I wasn’t as surprised as I might have been because I trained myself to expect the lowest of the low. Even with this kind of guard up, you can’t help but be surprised and frightened.
I then moved outside to another home in the village. The door burst open, and a body came running out. It was on fire, and then it collapsed in front of me. I went into the building and explored further. I moved down the stairs and found a horror show of blood and bodies all over the place.
I moved into a corridor that ended in an operating room. A spider-like monster awoke from the floor and chased me. I had to avoid it, rushing around everywhere until I found a door. I opened it and escaped only to find myself transported to some other mysterious place.
This place was awash in blood. It was some kind of cellar that was like a torture chamber. A bunch of bodies lay piled in the middle, with metal stakes through their skulls. They had apparently fallen through some chute and were ready for incineration. There were booby traps throughout the room. I could press on a controller button for a while to disable a trap, and then I could do the same to rearm it.
I approached a door and tried to open it. That triggered the trap. The hooded figure appeared and animated all of the bodies in the room with his magic fairy dust, or something like that. I walked calmly (because it clearly isn’t easy to run in a straight line in this game) to one side and shot a zombie in the head. Then I went to the other side and did the same. I moved back, and one zombie set off a booby trap grenade, which blew him to bits. I then moved around as fast as I could into the second room, but I was caught and killed. I repeated this about five times until I got it right, making my way to a ladder and some more weaponry.
There, I kept shooting and blowing things up until the undead were pulverized. Every time I fired a shot, I felt myself flinching even though all I was doing was pushing a button on the controller. That’s how much tension you’ll find here. I then moved outside into the next home in the village. This sort of thing repeated until I was able to escape all the traps and finish the level.
Chapter 8 brought me to creepy mansion, once again during the night. I had the presence of mind to go looking for resources like matches, bullets, explosives, and hiding spots before I approached the house. I looked at my weapon wheel so that I could competently switch among weapons like the shotgun, revolver, and crossbow. I found some crossbow darts that I could use to craft better ammo like explosive darts.
Sure enough, as I approached, the Haunted came out in droves. There were some fast and feisty ones that I had to eliminate with grenades. I also had to lure some of them past the explosive propane tanks and other traps that could take out one or more of them at a time. After fighting that firefight multiple times, I finally gained entry into the mansion.
And that’s where it got more gruesome.
Inside the mansion, I found four wings. Two on either side of a central staircase, and two upstairs, with a menacing looking vault door right in the middle. The vault door at the center was locked, and I had to find a way to unlock it.
So I moved to the left wing on the ground floor. I had to clear each room of its zombies, avoid the booby traps, and solve little puzzles in search of important clues. In the meantime, I had to avoid sudden attacks by the hooded figure, who would create a deadly trap that would shred me or behead me if I didn’t escape it.
I finally reached the end of the wing, which turned out to be a scientist’s experimental lab. Yes, that evil brother. He was evidently doing research on live humans to figure out their responses to various stimuli. On the table was a human head with its brain exposed. I had to look at an image on the desk to figure out which part to drill into. Then I moved the drill over that section and turned it on. After buzzing for a while, it filled up and created a liquid that flowed to the vault door, unlocking part of it. Oh, ya, I solved the puzzle by drilling a hole in some guy’s brain. As a reward, I was shown a flashback to the past, when the young brother scientist was growing up and figuring out how to drill into the brains of people in the name of science.
I had to do this a few more times before I was able to unlock the vault door in the middle. When I did so, the hooded villain wasn’t happy. I had to fight him off, but all of that preparation put me in a pretty sour mood.
Like a lot of horror shows, The Evil Within does its best to shock you and frighten you even as its game designers are aware that you’ve been deadened to simple horror. This gives you unrelenting horror, blood, and violence. Ultimately, I think that’s part of why it fails. After all, if you try to shock people all of the time, you’re bound to succeed only a small percentage of the time. And make their stomachs hurt.