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The Evil Within's PAX East presentation wasn't good, but is that the game's fault?

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Enter The Evil Within. The title is being developed by Tango Gameworks and the project is led by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, whose last RE game was the amazing Resident Evil 4. At PAX East I had a chance to see what seems to be Mikami's continuation of that franchise, albeit with the serial numbers filed off.

After a short pre-recorded video featuring Mikami, the demo employee jumped right into the game. No context was given for what I was seeing and the main character was never even named. (Det. Sebastian Castellanos, if you're wondering) If you'd never heard of The Evil Within before seeing the demo, you'd be lost. I've been following the game and I was still lost.

The demo begins with the main character, who reminds me of Edward Carnby from 2008's Alone in the Dark, sauntering through a ruined modern city that morphs around him. Buildings rise and fall, streets crack and twist, abandoned buses and cars burn. In the beginning it's actually unclear if the city is just falling apart due to some natural disaster or if there's a malevolent intelligence at work. And in the middle of it all is our protagonist. A city is rearranging itself to bar Castellanos' path, the landscape shifting under his very feet, and he's not reacting to anything that's happening. Is this normal for him? I certainly don't know.

As the demo progresses, we meet our first enemies. They come in two types: a mostly naked zombie-like creature and mutated humans in biohazard suits. The RE4 DNA begins to become apparent, with Castellanos running around an area dispatching enemies until he can proceed to the next area. If you squint, you can almost see Leon Kennedy's heroic outline popping bullets into the knees of the infected. Castellanos has a host of weapons to deal out damage, including a revolver, a shotgun, a sniper rifle, and a crossbow with exploding bolts. The demo is obviously set up to show off every weapon: a sniper bullet silences a feeding zombie, while an exploding bolt turns a group into a pile of gibs.

Towards the end of the first demo, Castellanos falls into the lower part of the city, which is filled with water from broken mains. From within a concrete pipe, he sees a zombie fall into the water, only to be eaten by something in the dark murk below. Castellanos is obviously not alone, and a thrown bottle temporarily sends the lurking foe moving in the wrong direction. The demo ends when he wades into the water to proceed, only to be eaten by the mutated freak.

The second demo is far closer to the Resident Evil series, with Castellanos in the depths of the Beacon Mental Hospital. After another context-less scene with the detective banging on a rusted metal door screaming "Julie!" (the name of one of his partners, according to a quick Google search) the room he occupies is flooded with gas. Then begins a game of cat-and-mouse, with large Pyramid Head-esque creature called the Keeper (again, had to look it up). Like Pyramid Head and Resident Evil's Tyrant/Nemesis, The Keeper is a persistent foe whose head looks like a safe wrapped in barbed wire. The Keeper chases Castellanos from room to room while he attempts to deal with the gas. Even when you dispatch the creature, it can respawn at another safe, building its hideous flesh and bone out of nothing. This is cool in theory, but it led to a repetitive demo. Run from the Keeper, kill the Keeper, shut off the gas, move to the next room, repeat. All without any context.

The Keeper, in a shot that looks like it was from the same scene described above.

It was a barren, lifeless demo and I'm unsure if that was the game's fault. If you've never attended one of these events and witnessed a hands-off demo, usually one developer plays the game while another explains what the audience is seeing onscreen. Why? Because adding context and explaining the mechanics is important. There's a torch mechanic in The Evil Within for lighting up the bodies of fallen enemies, but it wasn't used on every corpse. Does it need to be? Why is it there are all? The vocal presenter guides the audience through the experience, adding knowledge and sometimes humor, which helps make the game look better. Sure, there are certain scenes in games that are spectacular enough to get by without any detailed explanation, but the scenes shown in Evil Within's PAX East demo were not great examples of that.

I went in wanting to enjoy the Evil Within. While I like horror movies of all shapes and sizes, I only play a certain types of horror games. The idea of being trapped in a fictional horrific situation without ample firepower doesn't work for me, so I tend to avoid horror titles that leave you near powerless. Games like Amnesia, Slender, Outlast, and Silent Hill just aren't my thing. I know that they're true to the core of real horror - that sense of powerlessness and the fear of the unknown - but that's not why I play video games.

Resident Evil 4 is one of my favorite games because it still has that tension - usually in the form of a larger number of enemies or one unstoppable foe - but it keeps you well-stocked with firepower. There's a balance between the unknown foe and the weapons at your disposal. Sadly, I feel like Resident Evil lost that balance after RE4.

So, "more Resident Evil 4" isn't a hard sale here. That's what I want. I don't necessarily need great innovation, just a solid survival horror experience like RE4 or Dead Space 2.

I had an appointment to see this demo, so I didn't have to wait in line. The attendees did. They had to wait in line for 30 minutes to an hour for a presentation that turned off someone who didn't wait and went into the whole thing with an open mind. Repeated across an entire PAX East weekend, that could lead to poor word-of-mouth for the game. So if there's some confusion about The Evil Within's poor PAX East reception after seeing the sweet promo videos above, now you know why.

As I said before, I don't feel comfortable laying the blame completely at the game's feet. I think the gameplay shown could have been made more coherent and informative with an additional presenter. I think better sections of the game could've been shown. And the videos within this article present a game I'm looking forward to. Unfortunately, Bethesda went the other way at PAX East. Shame.

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