‘The Evil Within': ‘Resident Evil’s’ Shinji Mikami returns

May 28, 2013 | 4:49 p.m.

For fans of survival horror, “The Evil Within” might rank as one of the most anticipated games of 2014.  Set for release for PC, Xbox 360, PS3 and as-yet-undetermined next-gen consoles, the title marks the return of “Resident Evil” creator Shinji Mikami, the godfather of the genre.

Judging from an early look at the game ahead of its Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) debut in Los Angeles next month, “The Evil Within” aims to marry supernatural thrills with hard-core horror violence — with an eye toward crafting a truly unsettling experience for players.

“Mikami is the guy who has defined survival horror, the genre,” said producer Masato Kimura, who spoke to Hero Complex via a translator. “It is a very difficult genre to create for because you have to create scariness and fear. Then you have to create a sense of achievement to defeat that fear, to overcome the fear. The balance of those two is very important for survival horror.”

“The Evil Within,” from developer Tango Gameworks and publisher Bethesda Softworks, opens with detective Sebastian Castellanos arriving at a mental institution where the patients have been slaughtered, their bodies arranged in a disturbing, unnatural fashion.

Early look at "The Evil Within." (Tango Gameworks / Bethesda Softworks)

Early look at “The Evil Within.” (Tango Gameworks / Bethesda Softworks)

As Sebastian attempts to get his bearings, he spies a shootout with police on hospital security cameras. Their target appears to be something ghost-like — definitely not human — and the creature makes eye contact with Sebastian via the cameras. Then it is behind him. Then the screen goes black, and Sebastian is tied upside down.

“What we’re really trying to do is capture Sebastian’s emotional movement and how he feels,” said Kimura. “How Sebastian feels in the game is something we would like to synchronize with the player. We want to make it as close as possible.”

Cameras in the early going shift from first to third person. When Sebastian is suspended from the ceiling, he must free himself from the first-person perspective. (He’s not the only one strapped to the ceiling, but he appears to be the only one alive.)

Players watch as a masked man wielding a chain saw drags a torso across the floor.

The imagery and atmospherics easily recall earlier installments in the “Resident Evil” series, as well as that other survival horror tentpole “Silent Hill” — the abandoned hospital location, the dismembered bodies, the blood-spattered walls hidden in shadow. Here, too, classical music emanates from a gramophone, while the sound of bug zappers and water dripping up the sense of timeless dislocation and foreboding mood.

Eventually, Sebastian is revealed to be trapped in the basement of the institution. The supernatural, demon-like creature glimpsed in the game’s opening moments is gone, but Sebastian must run and dodge a series of booby-traps set up by the chain-saw killer. Upon Sebastian’s eventual escape, the entire universe is more or less turned on its head, as Sebastian opens the door to a world ripped apart by an earthquake.

Mikami, who oversaw the acclaimed “Resident Evil 4,” wasn’t on-hand at Bethesda’s preview event earlier this month, but producer Kimura cited the “collapsed city” as an example of how the game deviates from the typical locales and trappings of the survival horror genre.

Early look at "The Evil Within." (Tango Gameworks / Bethesda Softworks)

Early look at “The Evil Within.” (Tango Gameworks / Bethesda Softworks)

To that point, shooting enemies might not prove especially effective during gameplay. In another scene staged in a brick house above catacombs, Sebastian confronts zombie-like creatures by painstakingly creating traps of his own (when he did engage the enemies one-on-one, it took up to three bullets each to defeat them). When the character, who seemed to be carrying old-fashioned kerosene lamps, was struck, a health bar spanned the width of the screen.

As Sebastian continued to make his way through the catacombs, “The Evil Within” truly took a turn for the weird. A door appeared, then a medical facility, then streams of blood and then a creature that may or may not have been a giant spiderwoman rose from the ground and put the demo, and Sebastian, to an end.

Mikami, borrowing from the best in Asian horror cinema, was a pioneer when it came to employing nightmarish imagery to amp up scares (it’s easy to spot certain visual references to such moves even in the game’s trailer). With “The Evil Within,” Kimura said Mikami wanted to portray fear from multiple perspectives.

He said many of the game’s level designs were born out of full-staff brainstorming sessions with Mikami, who wanted to get a sense of what frightened the professionals working on the game.

“If you try,” said Kimura, “to design fear objectively, it becomes too objective. If you try to design it from the perspective of a protagonist, then it becomes a very narrow scary design. Mikami talks to staff members a lot and picks up their ideas a lot. It’s not just what Mikami feels is scary, but what others think is scary as well.”

– Todd Martens

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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