The Evil Within is right around the corner so I thought I would post my E3 2014 hands-on impressions here. It doesn't feel like very many people are talking about the gameplay in this video game so that is what I tried to discuss (briefly?) below. I focused more on how The Evil Within "feels" to me than on what each button on a controller does. With that being said, there are no spoilers here. I talked a little bit about the atmosphere in this video game but I think people should learn about its storyline, characters, puzzles, and enemies when they actually play through it. If you have some questions about my hands-on experience with The Evil Within then feel free to ask them in this thread and I will try to answer them. I will be reluctant to comment on things that I don't have too much experience with but I will do my best. Something drastic would need to happen with The Evil Within in order for my impressions to no longer be relevant but please keep in mind that these are not hands-on impressions of the "final build" and that some super specific things might change. CASUAL OR SURVIVAL
I spent most of my time with The Evil Within exploring the first demo. This is the one that was more focused on combat. Since I didn't have as much time with this demo as I would have liked, I wasn't able to play around with its settings. I know a little bit about them but this will not be included here. I would like to assume that The Evil Within, like many other video games, will allow players to adjust things like the aiming sensitivity and the speed of the camera but we might need to wait until October to see the true extent of what players can and cannot adjust for themselves. I'm personally looking forward to turning off the HUD at some point.
The difficulties that were available to me were the first two (e.g., Casual and Survival). I have years of experience with survival horror, action/adventure, and third-person shooter video games so I selected the highest difficulty that was available. I didn't find myself struggling with the controls or with any of the basic enemies unless I went out of my way to look for trouble and use up resources (e.g., ammunition and matches). I don't believe this video game is easy though. I have simply played some difficult video games over the years. I'm also not thrown off by a good challenge that might require some patience and some careful thought.CONTROLS AND GENERAL STATEMENTS
The controls in The Evil Within were pretty intuitive, incredibly smooth, and very responsive to me. It doesn't feel like they have a steep learning curve at all. I think this video game is difficult for other reasons. It feels like a reasonably flexible third person shooter that has its own unique quirks but can still feel very familiar to anyone who has played a third person shooter in past few years. There were no tank-like controls or fixed camera angles in the demo so I don't think players should walk into this video game expecting it to be an experience that was pulled out of the 1990s. The Evil Within seems to be keeping up with the times and it seems to be giving players as much control over Sebastian's movements as possible. This is a pleasurable experience in that players are given the freedom to correct their mistakes or minimize the damage dealt if they are quick to react.
If Sebastian was killed then I always felt that it was my fault. The Evil Within doesn't feel like the type of video game that will allow for too many mistakes and hold players by the hand on a regular basis. It feels like a video game that will encourage players to carefully assess the situations that they find themselves in and look for ways to escape the dangerous enemies before them. I'm convinced that efforts to wipe out entire rooms of enemies and plow through the experience will end in frustration. With that being said, there was nothing cheap or unreasonable about my experience. This is a survival horror video game so I went into the demo expecting a brutal and unforgiving experience. I was honestly expecting the player to be at a severe disadvantage. I wasn't disappointed but I will be looking to increase the difficulty of this video game at some point.
Everything in the demo felt like it was carefully crafted in a manner that placed the blame for my mistakes on my own actions and decisions rather than on the controls. At no point were the controls an obstacle that I needed to overcome. I was given the impression that the developers wanted me to worry more about resource management, the traps in the environment, and the dangers lurking in the shadows than the controls.DEALING WITH THE BASIC ENEMIES
Sebastian has some tools at his disposal either on his person or in the environment but he will not be able to mow down enemies left and right. Fortunately, there appears to be many different ways to approach similar situations. Sneaking around, luring enemies into traps, stealthily killing them from behind, shooting them in the head, and setting them on fire might increase Sebastian's chances for survival but these options might not be available to players all of the time. Sometimes the best option might be to run and hide.
It is possible to upgrade things like Sebastian's attributes and weapons using the green gel that can be collected. This probably makes encounters with enemies easier. One thing to keep in mind is that melee combat wasn't terribly effective in the demo so players shouldn't be expecting a knife to solve their problems if they find themselves in a tough situation. Sebastian isn't completely defenseless most of the time but it really depends on the enemies that he needs to face. Some are much easier to kill or escape from than others. I have yet to see an enemy in this video game that isn't capable of either giving Sebastian a hard time or overpowering him in some fashion. It is possible to shake some of the basic enemies off if they are choking or biting him but things get complicated if he is too weak to sustain any more injuries or if the enemies have weapons and other ways to attack him. There seem to be some pretty gruesome death scenes in this video game as well.
Sebastian can use some of the objects in the environment to his advantage. For example, bottles can be used to distract enemies and traps can be used against them. Melee combat should definitely be a last resort though. I spent some time up close and personal with some of the basic enemies in this video game (i.e., The Haunted). In a nutshell, some painful blows were exchanged and Sebastian was brutally murdered. He simply cannot take as much punishment as these enemies and he will stagger back just as much as them after sustaining each blow.MOVEMENT, CAMERA, AND AIMING
I didn't find clunky movements, stubborn aiming, or an uncooperative camera in The Evil Within. Out of all of the demos that I played at E3 2014, this one had the tightest and most intuitive controls. Players are free to move Sebastian in almost any direction they want with the left analog stick and freely rotate the camera around him with the right analog stick. He will turn, face, and move in the direction the player wants him to go and this will be almost completely independent of the camera unless the player is aiming a firearm or in a location, situation, or predicament where this simply isn't possible. Movements are reasonably quick in that Sebastian will not take forever and a day to turn around, run away, or pull out a weapon. He can take his sweet time opening doors but this is more of a precaution. Doors can be kicked open and enemies can be alerted.
How the camera positions itself behind Sebastian and how much it zooms in can depend a little bit on the surrounding environment. It can also depend on whether or not the player is sneaking around. For example, the camera might not keep the same distance behind Sebastian in a wide and open outdoor setting as in a tight and narrow corridor. The speed with which the camera can be rotated wasn't as fast as I would have liked it to be but this wasn't a big deal and these were likely the default settings. Changes in direction were quick and easy when Sebastian was standing or crouching and the camera didn't have a negative impact on any of this.
Aiming doesn't restrict movement very much. It simply focuses the camera over Sebastian's shoulder and makes it possible for players to move him backward (and to the side) while keeping an eye on what is directly in front of him. With that being said, I found the aiming in this video game to be very tight and incredibly sensitive. Sebastian has a relatively steady shooting arm but it is up to the player to aim and pull the trigger. This video game isn't too forgiving if players cannot line up their shots or if they waste precious ammunition in a state of panic. Accuracy, precision, and timing are all important since it looks like the reticle bobs up and down a little bit. I didn't notice this very much though. Aiming felt steady and, apart from the reticle, unassisted. WALKING, JOGGING, AND RUNNING
Sebastian can be quick on his feet if he isn't walking around or sneaking up behind enemies. I was surprised at how much distance I could put between him and the enemies that were pursuing him just by jogging for a few moments. How much the left analog stick is pushed in a direction will determine how quickly Sebastian moves in that direction. Players also have the option of running at full speed but this it tied to a stamina gauge. After a while, Sebastian will get tired of running at full speed and stop to catch his breath.
Something else I noticed was that serious injuries made it more difficult for Sebastian to run away or defend himself from the enemies and the traps in this video game. Perhaps this is common sense but it was apparent to me during the demo. It is almost as if this video game tries its best to keep the player weak and at a disadvantage. There are quite a few different ways that Sebastian can lose his health or even his life. Some enemies will relentlessly pursue him and some traps will punish players who might like to rush through things.ATMOSPHERE AND PRESENTATION
Most of this write-up is about how the demo felt, which is why I chose to focus on its gameplay, but I can leave a few comments here about its atmosphere and presentation. After all, it wouldn't feel right to talk about The Evil Within and not say a word about its atmosphere. It is everything that I could have hoped for in a survival horror (or psychological horror) video game. The environments generally give off an eerie vibe and the sound design is paramount to the overall experience. I was thoroughly impressed with the attention to detail here.
In my honest opinion, there is no shortage of reasons why The Evil Within might be a tense and unsettling experience judging from the demo. The themes are dark, the enemies are disturbing, the traps keep players on their toes, and the fear of the unknown (and the unexpected) serves to amplify all of this. There wasn't any "comic relief" here from what I could tell and this demo had a really nice way of drawing me into the experience with its visuals and sound. It threw a great deal of blood and gore onto the table too but this didn't have a negative impact on its relatively mature presentation. Survival horror video games don't necessarily need to have intense violence in order to play on our fears but The Evil Within seems to have this in spades. All of the violence in the demo felt appropriate and went hand in hand with the themes and concepts in this video game.
I think The Evil Within has really come a long way in the past year. If the E3 2014 demos are anything to go by then the Tokyo Game Show 2013 trailer and the PAX East 2014 trailer are no longer accurate representations of this video game in terms of its visuals. I was able to play a little bit of The Evil Within on a PlayStation 4 at E3 2014 and it looked considerably more polished (in more ways than one) than it did in its PAX East 2014 trailer.BRIEF COMPARISONS
I don't like to draw comparisons between video games because this can give people the wrong idea about what to expect but there is no denying that some individuals might find this useful. Right off the bat though, I will say that The Evil Within doesn't remind me of any one video game in particular (survival horror or otherwise). I think approaching this video game with an open mind is one of the best things that anyone can do at this point.The Last of Us
It looks like stealth plays an important role in The Evil Within. Players can choose to sneak past enemies or sneak up behind them. Sebastian can stab enemies in the head with a knife if he can approach them without being seen. Bottles in the environment can also be used to distract enemies. This reminds me of some of the things that Joel can do with Clickers, shivs, and bottles in The Last of Us. Character movement and aiming in The Last of Us is much slower and more clunky than it was in this demo though. Watching the reticle bob up and down in The Evil Within isn't nearly as bad as watching it sway from side to side in The Last of Us.Resident Evil 4
The Evil Within doesn't remind me of Resident Evil 4 as much as I thought it would. There are some similar enemies and environments but I don't expect more of the same here with everything else that is going on in terms of gameplay, storyline, and atmosphere. The demo was a far more psychological experience than any Resident Evil video game that I have played and I found elements here that might seem out of place in a Resident Evil video game. I'm sure people will be reminded of Resident Evil 4 (and even the Resident Evil Remake) as they play through The Evil Within but everything from its gameplay to its atmosphere feels completely different to me personally. Leon was able to instill confidence into the player through his abilities (and sarcasm). I don't know if I will be able to say the same thing about Sebastian in October. The Evil Within seems to have a much darker presentation than Resident Evil 4 and it feels, at least to me, very different.Silent Hill Series
The Evil Within gives me a strong psychological horror vibe. Some of the reasons for this are tied to its storyline, characters, and puzzles while some of them are not. This video game seems to have interesting ways of messing with your head and making you question what is real and what isn't. For example, environments will sometimes completely shift around Sebastian. When environments change in some of the Silent Hill video games they usually aren't changes in location. The situation can be very different in The Evil Within. I don't want to spoil anything about any of the shifts that I experienced in the demo but it is safe to say that things like this might keep players on their toes. In addition to this, most of the Silent Hill video games have some pretty unique and unsettling enemy designs. I saw that same spirit in The Evil Within. One could argue that the basic enemies aren't terribly unique but there is more to this video game than what we see with The Haunted.Watch Dogs
I know this seems like a random comparison out in left field but I would say that basic character movement, gameplay, and controls in The Evil Within have more in common with third person shooters like Watch Dogs than with third person shooters like Resident Evil 4, Dead Space, or even The Last of Us. FINAL THOUGHTS
The demo for The Evil Within seemed to take the best from some of my favorite survival horror video games and make it its own. It did this while keeping its own identity and it moved forward with newer and darker themes and concepts. I think the final product will have something to offer people who enjoyed the older Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and Dead Space video games. There probably isn't anything wrong with seeing The Evil Within as a spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 but that isn't how I will see it in October. I will see it as a new survival horror experience taking some good inspirations from the past while moving in a new direction.