I survived E3! I descended into the pulsating mass of people that converge on the LA Convention Center for the annual gaming event and have returned with a hands-on look at a couple of upcoming games. Thankfully, I took some notes, because my brain has been jellified after being pounded with rhythmic beats blasted at an intense decibel.
My first appointment led me to Bethesda’s booth in the South Hall of the LACC where I found a giant brain wrapped in barbed wire and spiked into the ground. Not going to lie, I wanted to rub that cerebral cortex, but I don’t like being forcibly ejected by burly security men.
I was then ushered into a theater where we received a brief video that prepared us for our hands-on demo. The video went over a few key points about how the game functioned. Difficulty is divided into four levels and I thought it was amusing that the first level was “casual” and then the second one went immediately into “survival.” The different levels change certain aspects of gameplay, so for example, the jump from casual to survival takes away auto-aiming.
I’ll admit, I started my demo on casual because I wanted to get a sense of how the auto-aiming worked and I didn’t want to constantly be dying in front of the developers. That plan didn’t work out so well as I discovered there were plenty of opportunities for instant death.
Hidden throughout “Evil Within” are booby traps that’ll wreck your day. And they’re hidden rather well, so if you’re not paying attention you can walk in front of a bomb hidden off to the side. However, the bombs I dealt with gave you a chance to get out of trouble. As soon as you walk within the kill radius of one, it’ll start beeping like crazy. If you duck down into “stealth” mode, you’ll drop out of the bomb’s sight and it’ll disarm. Stand back up, though, and it’ll start to detonate again.
Another way of dealing with a booby trap is to try and deactivate it. You can do this by stealth walking up to the trap and engaging in a mini-game. For the bomb it was a simple game where you’re given a red-colored wheel with one blue spot. An arrow spins around the wheel and you have to stop it on the blue spot to deactivate the bomb. I botched it and wound up dead with a face full of spikes.
So why would you even bother with disarming a trap? Because you can use them to your advantage. Traps that you have disarmed can be placed in more advantageous spots where an enemy might walk into it. It’s an incredibly useful tool in the game because your ammo is sparse and melee combat can be risky.
And you’ll want to take every edge you can when it comes to combat, because the enemies in this game are surprisingly tough. Even on casual difficulty, I found my health quickly draining away when being attacked by creatures. Engaging in one-on-one melee combat with your knife is practically suicide as it takes quite a few hits to knock a creature down. However, if you manage to sneak up on a creature, you can stealth kill them with a brutal stab to the head.
Gunplay, on the other hand, is a safer form of combat that allows you to stay out of arms reach of your pursuers. However, ammo is limited and guns can have diverse effects on different creatures. Sometimes a headshot will knock a guy down and other times it won’t phase them. Typically I found three shots to center mass was enough to drop most of the baddies. But even a gun isn’t enough to deal with the creatures you’ll find in “Evil Within.”
Complicating matters even further is the fact that enemies can only be put down for good by using a limited resource. Every time an enemy gets knocked to the ground you can use a match to burn up their body. However, matches are limited and you’ll have to find them throughout the world. Thankfully, if you manage to knock down a bunch of enemies in one spot, a singular match will burn them all up.
If you don’t dispose of a monster, though, you run the risk of them getting back up and pursuing you again. Eventually they’ll stop following you, but it can be risky to let them pursue you for any length of time. You never know when you’ll run into a dead end or another group of enemies. The other thing you can do is exit to another room. This will temporarily stop your enemies, but they’ll be beating down the door to get to you. When all else fails, you can slip under a bed and hope they give up.
While I’m still on the subject of combat, I should note that changing your weapon doesn’t pause the game. Switching between your knife and gun takes a bit of risk as the game continues to play, but in slow motion. So you’ll want to ensure that you’re safely out of a creature’s reach before looking at your inventory. Or else they’ll interrupt what you’re doing and start attacking you.
In my playthrough I also ran into the mysterious figure cloaked in white that has been showcased in some of the trailers. He acts as a “Nemesis” type character that you can’t fight, you can only run away from him. If he catches you it isn’t instant death, but he’ll knock your health down by a significant amount and then dissapear. His appearance also seems random as he popped up in different areas in each playthrough. The most intense encounter was when I entered a room that was essentially the size of a bathroom and he burst through the only exist and trapped me. One of the few moments that really made me jump.
And while I wouldn’t say that I was terrified during my playthrough of “Evil Within”, I have to say that they succeeded in creating an oppressively creepy atmosphere. Aesthetically, t’s very reminiscent of the older “Resident Evil” games. My playthrough took place in a mansion full of creepy art, creaking doors, and ominous lighting. The sound is also well done, in a goofy haunted house kind of way. I was examining an item in an empty room when I suddenly heard someone giggle right behind me. Ultimately, it was nothing, but it was enough to spook me and make me spin around like crazy.
The final thing I got to experience in my playthrough was a puzzle. I was presented with a human brain, a drill, and an audio recording of a doctor explaining what he did to the brain. Using the drill, I had to puncture the brain based on the audio clues that the doctor was giving me. If I did it incorrectly, I lost a bit of health. So there are consequences for screwing up on a puzzle. I encountered three versions of this puzzle and they increased in difficulty each time. I honestly could not figure out the last one I had to deal with and actually died because I kept drilling into the wrong part of the brain. In the comfort of my home it’d probably be easier to solve, but I just couldn’t figure it out while I was there.
The only things that I didn’t encounter, that were mentioned in the briefing, were save points and the upgrade system. Save points weren’t implemented in the game yet, but in the final game they will take the form of doors with red blood lighthouses painted on them in blood. They didn’t really go into further detail than that, so I can’t say if you can save as often as you want. I’m also not sure about this, but it doesn’t seem like the game will have automatic checkpoints either, which adds a lot of stress to the instant death scenarios.
I also didn’t make it to an upgrade room, but I did encounter the juice you use to upgrade with. Throughout the game you’ll find bottles of green goo that’ll give you points. You then take these points and spend them on certain upgrades, like improving your weapon handling.
The thing that really stood out to me, though, were the insanely long load times. I hope it was just the build I was playing, but the load times seemed excruciatingly long for a game like this where death waits around every corner. Hopefully this won’t be an issue in the final game, because it really hurt my enjoyment of the demo. By my third death I seriously thought about walking away rather than sitting through another loading screen. Once the game was loaded, though, I didn’t hit any loading screens. I was running from room to room without any hiccups.
Otherwise, I had a fairly enjoyable experience with “Evil Within.” The many ways you can die really tested my patience, but it also made me insanely nervous. I entered each room with the feeling that I was about to encounter a devious death trap. If you’re a fan of the PS one Resident Evil games, I think this game is on track to satisfy those old-school horror cravings you might be having. I just hope that the final product is a much smoother experience and doesn’t require such lengthy loads.