|System: PS3, PS4, PC, Xbox 360|
|Dev: Tango Gameworks|
|Pub: Bethesda Softworks|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Shelby Reiches|
by Shelby Reiches
Shinji Mikami wants his latest horror game to scare you. That may seem like a pointless platitude, but understand, Mikami is aiming directly for the player this time out.
So often, horror games are structured on the premise that if your character is vulnerable and frightened, you will be as well. You’re supposed to sympathize with them when they scream, blubber, jolt, and drop their flashlight or weapon. As the screen tilts and warps with your avatar’s ebbing sanity, you’re expected to feel uncomfortable and exposed.
Sebastian, the main character of The Evil Within, will not lean on this crutch. He is, according to Mikami, a strong individual capable of handling everything that is thrown at him in the game. It is unlikely that this means he is totally fear free, but the intention seems to be that the character will not serve as a “scream track” for the player, prompting them to feel frightened or confused by their avatar’s reactions.
This fits well with the minimalist approach The Evil Within looks to be taking. There will be little to no visible interface, objects that can be interacted with signaling themselves only when the player moves close to them. Further, Mikami intends to eschew color, for the most part. That sort of desaturation, combined with the letterboxed visuals (a conscious decision to preserve cinematic widescreen proportions on 16:9 televisions) seems geared toward a striking, theatrical horror aesthetic. A focus on lighting, centered on Sebastian’s portable light source, should further enhance and contribute to the atmosphere.
And the atmosphere looks to be oppressive, what with sound design that preys more on our imaginations than on our eardrums. Instead of screaming, running, and panicking to excess (Mikami has promised that there will be no such characters in The Evil Within), there will primarily be silence. There will be little music and few sound effects. Those that are used are intended to heighten the tension, especially since some enemies will not be readily visible, but will force the player to rely on sound cues to detect them.
All of this hinges on the player’s sense of isolation, something that we have, in the past, argued might be the very core of the horror experience. Mikami is well aware of this isolation principle, and though there are sections of the game that will require characters to cooperate toward a common goal, in general it will be you, all alone, against the terrible things that wait in the darkness.
That isn’t to say that you’ll be absolutely helpless. Sebastian will have access to weapons, with which he’ll presumably be able to defend himself. It wouldn’t be survivor horror if the protagonist wasn’t in some way challenged to survive, and so I would expect avoidance to be the preferred method of play. This suspicion is bolstered by Mikami’s reveal that Sebastian will, when in the presence of foes, enter a crouch-like “altered state.” It sounds as though stealth will, at the very least, be an option. Traps, too, will be available for the player to use on Sebastian’s horrors, including a nail bomb that has already been unveiled.
All in all, the dearth of solid information on The Evil Within is somewhat appealing. It echoes the non-reveal that preceded the release of Keiji Inafune’s Soul Sacrifice. A fellow Capcom alum, Inafune built a game that enticed on just the barest promise of its premise. It didn’t entice because it provided so many features that the back of its box was inundated with marketing babble, but because the core value of it—that one should have to make difficult choices with lasting consequences—was itself appealing.
In that same way, The Evil Within seems to be keeping the vast majority of itself under lock and key, only releasing enough information to support its most basic assertion: that this is a game that Mikami wants to make us wet ourselves in terror. He’s approaching the question of how to best do that through interaction rather than empathy. This is a distinctly novel approach in a genre that has grown increasingly movie-like and that has, traditionally, relied on tired horror tropes turned playable and weak paired with ineffectual heroes who are thrust unprepared into the trials and travails with which they are beset.
The Evil Within also looks to be the first horror game on next-generation consoles, bridging the current and next-gen divide for horror fans everywhere. It’s unclear whether this was a decision on Mikami’s part, hoping to avail himself of the enhanced capabilities of the next generation of gaming hardware, or if its publisher, Bethesda, had the final say and made their decision in the hopes of moving additional units by opening it up to the early(ish) adopters of the next set of consoles.
That said, while the game is coming to almost every non-handheld gaming device in either this or the next console generation, the Wii U is conspicuously absent from its list. Could Nintendo be getting overlooked by yet another mature and violent videogame? We’ll likely find out more details related to both platform and content specifics closer to the game’s 2014 release.
Date: May 8, 2013