I love the smell of B.O. in the morning. Smells like ... PAX East. But amid the tired, huddled masses of gamer geeks there is industry news afoot.
My PAX East began with a brief look at Bethesda Softworks and Tango Gameworks upcoming horror/survival IP The Evil Within. After a 30-minute demo presentation I left the press room feeling like The Evil Within wants to be a horror game but is too afraid to leave action/adventure conventions behind. The Evil Within doesn't look like a bad game, but it definitely does not look like "a game embodying the meaning of pure survival horror" that has "horrifying anxiety" and "an immersive world that will bring players to the height of tension." Helmed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, The Evil Within is billing itself as the next great horror/survival game with trailers like these:
The Evil Within PAX East Gameplay Trailer
Unfortunately, the scary and psychotic vibe of the trailer doesn't translate into the gameplay on display at PAX East. It doesn't play like a game that is scary or full of tension. Instead, The Evil Within looks like a Last of Us clone, an action/adventure title with ugly villains susceptible to sneak attacks and ample shotgun blasts. During the demo we saw the protagonist, Detective Sebastian Castellanos, navigate a twisted urban hellscape full of zombies, bandits and the occasional supernatural boss. There were some nice action sequences, a crossbow with craftable ammo and plenty of QTEs.
What we didn't see was any of the story that is supposed to make this a compelling horror title. And there was nothing in the PAX East demo that conveyed the kind of tense, frightening atmosphere the genre depends on. I didn't feel like I was watching a helpess cop in over his head, but yet another walking ass-kicking machine with all the guns and fire and health he needs to stomp his way from goon to goon. There was nothing scary to behold, no creepy creatures to make your skin crawl.
The demo was split into two parts. The first showed Sebastian walking through a fenced in lot that eventually led to a collapsed highway ramp and lots of flaming wreckage. Low level enemies like zombies and masked bandits dotted the level like well placed targets. The game had a methodical, walk-shoot-walk-shoot-repeat feel to it. Perhaps the demo was meant to show us a late-game scenario when Sebastian is already well-leveled and well-stocked. But when I think horror/survival I think of ammo rationing, enemies popping out of nowhere and limited visibility. Not long, scope-friendly distances and an armed-to-the-teeth hero headshotting everything in sight.
The second part of the demo had a better horror feel, putting Sebastian into a boiler-room style basement being stalked by a boss known as The Keeper. You may have seen him in promo images, he's the guy in the butcher's apron with a barbed-wire-wrapped safe for a head. The Keeper stalked Sebastian as he ran through several rooms and turned various valves to open large, vault-style doors. To my surprise, The Keeper was dispatched fairly easily with a few shotgun blasts. He resurrects himself each time he gets killed, and in one short sequence actually tears off his own head so he can resurrect on the other side of a wall. It's a brief, gruesome manuever that loses it's efficacy when Sebastian just shotgun blasts The Keeper a few more times.
For me, the jury is still out on whether this game will deliver what horror fans are looking for. Action/adventure fans will find plenty to like in The Evil Within's ample inventory and crafting system. I saw The Evil Within at E3 last year, too, and was unimpressed. The demo I saw today looks like a much better game, but not one that is going to change the horror/survival genre it barely represents.
The Evil Within is set for release on August 26 for Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3 and PC.