While it's unfair to attribute an entire game to one person, the influence of Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami on The Evil Within is obvious. It's no coincidence that the names of both games essentially mean the same thing. This is the last time Mikami will ever direct, and he's returning to where he began, at the roots of survival horror.
Our demo begins with some scene-setting. Hero Sebastian, a trench coat-wearing detective, walks towards a sinister gothic mental asylum, responding to a distress call. Abandoned police cars litter the courtyard, lights still flashing, and a storm shows off id Tech 5's impressive lighting and reflections.
Inside, the main hall is littered with bodies. Sebastian checks security camera footage and sees a ghostly figure effortlessly killing a squad of heavily armed police officers. He turns away from the screen, only to see the very same ghoul staring at him. It screams, and we cut suddenly to black.
The next thing we hear is Bach's Air on the G String playing softly in the background. Sebastian's eyes blink open and we find ourselves strung up in a blood-caked room, surrounded by rotting corpses. A monstrous, faceless butcher wanders into the room and hacks at one of the bodies with a knife, then carries the meat over to a table.
A corpse near Sebastian has one of the butcher's knives still stuck in it. We swing towards it, grab it, then use the blade to cut ourselves down. We land with a thud, but the creature doesn't notice - it has its back turned, busy carving up its meat. We crouch and sneak past. Combat isn't always the answer in The Evil Within.
As we creep towards the only exit, a fresh body tumbles down a chute into a pile buzzing with flies. It makes us jump. The door is locked, and our only choice is to grab the key from the butcher's table. We get so close we can almost smell the monster's filthy, gore-covered smock - but we snatch the key, then slink back to the door and unlock it.
But just when we think we're safe, we hear a chainsaw revving up. We feel the same dread as we did when Dr. Salvador first appeared in Resident Evil 4. The butcher has heard us, and he appears suddenly in the doorway, swinging at us. The chainsaw carves a gash in Sebastian's leg, and we have to limp to a door ahead to escape.
The butcher chases us between rooms, and we find ourselves playing a deadly game of hide-and-seek. We'd die instantly if he caught us, and we can't run, so we have to sneak between cover, occasionally hide in lockers, and throw bottles as a distraction. It's an incredibly tense scene, but it does feel slightly scripted.
The next part of our demo - set at a different point in the game - is very different. We're in an abandoned house, and Sebastian lays blinking mines at the base of the windows. A horde of zombie-like creatures is approaching the house, and we can't help but think of Leon and the siege in the ganado village.
As the creatures crawl through the windows, the traps explode and blow them apart. We shoot a few of them, but we only have a handful bullets. With the traps gone, and our ammo low, we have no way of stopping the relentless enemy. Our only choice is to run, a tactic you'll use a lot in the game.
"It mixes Resident Evil 4 combat with Silent Hill psychological horror"
We're told by the developers that this scene can play out a number of different ways, depending on what supplies and weapons you have, the dynamic AI, and your health level. But in this instance, we were overwhelmed, and had to escape. Sebastian flees down a nearby staircase as the zombies claw at his heels.
We've escaped with our life, but something isn't right down here. We're in a dark corridor, and as we approach a door it vanishes, then appears further head. This keeps happening as we run forward, and the tunnel seems endless. It isn't all jump scares in The Evil Within; it likes to mess with your head as well, Silent Hill-style.
Finally, we reach a door we can open. Inside, an eerie, shadowy figure rises from the floor, then suddenly begins to sprout spider-like legs. Sebastian raises his pistol and... the demo ends. Tango and Mikami are trying to keep as much of the game secret as possible, and wouldn't elaborate on anything outside of this demonstration.
With Resident Evil slowly transforming into the world's dumbest action movie, The Evil Within is a welcome return to survival horror. It mixes the over-the-shoulder combat (and chainsaw-wielding nutters) of Resident Evil 4 with the grim, psychological horror of Silent Hill, and the id Tech-powered visuals are beautifully atmospheric.