Today we are going to have another first look at a game that isn’t out yet. I had several games on the backburner for this, so lets start with something that’s been out a while on the news circuit but isn’t out on GameStop shelves just yet. As you might have guessed, the title of this game is
Made and Directed by Shinji Mikami, the man who first made the Biohazard series (known as Resident Evil in the USA) and credited with inventing survival horror, this game is what Resident Evil 6 should have been.
In case you haven’t been paying attention to the news in gaming lately, a lot of so called “horror” games have been sold in the last year, and not a lot of them truly earned the name “survival horror” game. Between games like Dead Space 3 and Resident Evil 6, it seems like most AAA companies are content to make an action shoot-em-up game using existing horror franchises and call them horror by having you fight monsters. This complaint is quite valid, as these games and others destroy the user’s experience when it comes to experiencing “horror”.
If your not familiar with the survival horror genre of video games, think of it this way; people who buy shooters want to experience something like a shooting gallery. An action packed, thrilling, war-simulating shooting gallery that forces you to strategize, to be more specific. They want to shoot things, blow things up, and hit the dirt before something explodes in their face. They want to feel like action heroes in a war movie. They want an adrenaline rush. When someone buys a game with the “survival horror” genre on its label, they expect something more akin to a haunted house. A real one, populated with things besides ghosts that can actually kill your character. They want to explore desolate and horrifying surroundings all by their lonesome and feel stark terror as they dare to peak around the next dark corner; and scream when something pops out with a chainsaw and a hockey mask! They want to feel their heart pounding and their hair stand on end. Games like Resident Evil 5 and 6 promised the latter…but delivered the former.
This isn’t surprising. Shinji Mikami was the genius who first made Resident Evil (called Biohazard in Japan) and with it single handedly invented survival horror as we know it. Never before have people actually been afraid of something while playing a game. He created the first Resident Evil by himself in the first half of development, and has always been the driving creative force behind every game up to Resident Evil 4. That is why games 5 and 6 feel more like your traditional action game then a real Resident Evil title; Mikami San wasn’t behind it. At all. And it showed.
These days, Mikami is the director of a company called Tango Gameworks, a small development studio that has recently teamed up with Bethesda to re-enter the survival horror genre. The Evil Within is the game they are making, and so far it looks VERY promising.
Check out this gameplay trailer they have on their website.
This is the first extended game play footage that has been shown on the internet, and from what I can tell they are taking all of the thing we love best in a survival horror game, and taking out the things that made most games from that genre suck eggs.
The chase scene with Mr. chainsaw reminds me of an old game called Clocktower. Does anybody remember that game? I heard that the first one was really good, and from what I can tell, all three games of the franchise followed the themes of slasher flicks more then your traditional adventure game. The game I played was Clocktower 3, and it…wasn’t a good experience. While it was neat to play a woman running for her life from one vicious psychopath after another, finding new ways to hide and evade terrifying madmen who tried to bash me with a hammer or boil me with acid (not kidding). Unfortunately, the gameplay were bogged down by cheesy “fear” effects that made it hard if not impossible to control the character. The idea was that the more “panicked” the main character got, the more she lost control. Sound in theory, but in practice I found myself running in the wrong directing and being completely unable to move when I needed to the most. Not a fun way to play a game.
From what I can glean, this game seems to start you off with this type of scenario, with you as an unarmed detective Sebastian playing hide and go seek with a silent but deadly psychopath that has the nickname of “The Butcher”. The situation is as terrifying as it gets, and its clear that our ill-fated hero is no match for the Butcher, especially when he gets his chainsaw out. So you have to duck down, take cover, hide where you can and head for the hills when you have to. To make matters worse, you accidentally trip the alarm as you try to slip out, and the Butcher manages to slice your hamstring while you try to escape. Even after he survives the spiraling death spikes, he still has to escape the madman up to the point where he is literally hobbling for his life. He’s scared, he’s helpless, and the player is still in complete control. Nicely done, Mikami-san.
Fast forward to part 2; perth house. Here we see the good detective making his way through a creepy manor in the dead of night. His only light is a lantern by his belt, but he is better armed this time. He has a six shooter with about 20 bullets, and has to load it by hand. This looks more like Mikami’s earlier work; in particular, the groundbreaking game Resident Evil 4, which drastically improved the camera and movement controls for the franchise as a whole. I see the same over-the-shoulder view, similar weapon selection as Resident Evil 5 & 6, plus multiple weapons of various capabilities. He’s got his handgun, some matches to light up corpses (where did we see that before?) and, surprising enough, mine traps. In other trailers, we even see him with a shotgun in his hand as he faces miss spider demon with long hair.
The mine traps alone sound a bit over-powered, and he seems to have plenty for the zombie-like monsters that crash through the windows by the dozen. I half-expected them to blow up almost instantly, like the claymore or bouncy mine in Call of Duty. But apparently they are not perfect; Sebastian actually has to pump a few rounds in the monsters to hold them back, as the mine takes a few seconds to blow up after its been triggered. If that mine is what I think it is, this is actually a brilliant design decision. The Evil Within wiki hints at the possibility of using traps like the tripwire alarm and anything else against your enemies. If that trip mine is one of them, that means two things. One, the mine as a trap is easy to avoid if your paying attention and running in the right direction. That’s a relief, since it’s not something that will frustrate you while playing. But on the flip side, if you manage to disarm it and use it against guys like the pitchfork brigade or the Butcher, you might need to strategize a bit, since they take a while to detonate. I imagine it will be fun sneaking through tight corners to avoid being seen, trying as quickly as possible to place traps on both sides of a dangerous enemy. Or maybe two in a row, and let him chase me to his doom…
Also, the scripted events in between gameplay suggest that not all things are as they seem. Between the seemingly post apocalyptic scenery in one level, the typhoon of blood that magically changes the background in another, plus the sick looking logo of a human brain being wrapped in bloody barb wire, I’m beginning to wonder if the game world is even real to the protagonist. Or if that protagonist is sane to begin with. Such sanity bending plot twists and world altering horrors falls in line with the antics of that other genre defining game franchise that rose and fell in the land of the rising sun.
Yes. That game.
Silent Hill games have literally wrote the book on putting tension and psychological horror in a video back before we had half the processing power in our games. Simple tricks like obscuring the background with fog and painting the town blood red after nightfall boosted the creep factor up to 11 in the days when games couldn’t even animate faces. I expect to see more tricks like this coming from a seasoned vet who is used to working with half the technology at his disposal. Go minimalism!
Unfortunately, the weird psychobabble isn’t the only thing this franchise is taking from the Silent Hill cannon. Remember Pyramid head? For those of you unfamiliar with Silent Hill, this is arguably the most iconic character from the game. Basically just a man with a toga skirt, a steel pyramid over his head (hence the name, a body part in one hand and a REALLY big sword in the other, covered in fresh blood. This thing pioneered the concept of a big guy who could kill you with one hit. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it Mr. Butcher?
But hold up, it gets even better. No only do they reuse the “One hit wonder” mechanic, but they got their own iconic psychopath that plagues their public image. He’s already on their Facebook account, and once I describe him, you might start to notice similar trends.
Ready? He’s a big, beefy guy in a butcher’s apron.
He has a bag of body parts in one hand.
He has a huge hammer in the other.
And over his head? A steel…vault box with a dial lock and barbed wire.
Every time him and Sebastian are in the same room, Sebastian’s hiding and he’s not. Seems like our detective friend might get killed if he’s caught.
Hang on; we just got to the best part; his name.
Wait for it…
Boxhead! Pure genius, amirite?
As original as their official unofficial mascot might be, that is not the main thing that concerns me.
My main concern is the simple fact that it is an open-ended mystery horror game being directed by a man who hasn’t changed his design habits since the 90s. Why is this a concern?
Well, lets think about this for a second; What other director is famous for making scary, horrifying, open-ended mystery trailers that don’t reveal what is really going on?
Anyone? If you answered the movie director M. Night Shama-lama-ding-dong, director of Sixth Sense and other plot-twisted-movie-tales, you win the grand prize!
The grand prize is…possible disappointment!
You should know just as well as I do that after making smash hits like the after mentioned Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, M. Night Shyamalan’s movie career took somewhat of a downward turn. He clinged to his trademark “plot twist” formula so hard that many of his movies were made of cheap suspense that lead nowhere until the very end, which revealed the answer in a disappointing way. Remember “The Happening”? If you haven’t seen it, don’t bother; lamest ending ever. All that mysterious suicidal circumstance was rationed away as some “mystrious spore”. What a twist!
The problem with mystery stories is that you can’t just tell one good story; you need to tell two. The mystery tells two stories; one of what actually happened and the other of the character’s investigating what’s going on. Biggest problem with M. Night and other mystery stories that blow is that they get one story down pat (the investigation) while completely ignoring or slapping together the other (usually the thing being investigated). The Evil Within seems to have a similar setup; mysterious circumstances, a weird plot to unravel, and a possible twist at the end. The investigation is pretty interesting so far, but will it lead to something worthwhile?
This does not bode well, unfortunately. Remember; big budget video games do NOT have a good track records when it comes to good acting or good endings. Mass Effect started out with an amazing concept that fizzled out at the ending of 3. Halo 2 started with some amazing twists that ended with a 2-year cliffhanger. Even indie games, like Amnesia:Machine for Pigs left a lot to be desired with the ending of their tale. It’s official; we game devs usually suck when it comes to the big finale.
True, there are plenty of games that do not fall into this trap; Bioshock:Infinite, The Last of Us, Uncharted 2 and 3. Problem is, they are manned by studios that invest heavily in the filming,scripting, and acting within their game. Naughty Dog and 2K Games are both good at that, and neither of them are working on The Evil Within. Only reputable person on this game made Resident Evil; a game notorious for bad scripting and worse acting and repetitive endings. It’s a new age and market, Makami-san, and you got your work cut out for you. God Speed.
I hope my doubts and despair are nought but hot air in the wind of an unmarked grave, and that The Evil Within brings to the survival-horror genre what it’s needed for a long time; Horror, wonder, and a need for survival.
I’ll be keeping you all posted as the news comes up, and you can expect a full review come its release in 2014. See ya!