When you play a game by Shinji Mikami, the man behind the Resident Evil series and action games such as God Hand and Vanquish, you go into it with certain expectations.  You expect to play a game that’s creepy in all the right ways, and that has impeccable control and tight pacing.  You expect a game that can capture your imagination and draw you into it’s world.  Basically, when you play a Mikami game you expect the best.  Earlier this week at E3 when I played The Evil Within I went in with all of these expectations and I didn’t leave disappointed.  In fact, I left downright impressed.

The Evil Within plays very much like a sprititual successor to Resident Evil 4.  Much more than just the horror theme and similar over the shoulder perspective, The Evil Within  just feels like Mikami’s classic with better controls.  In this particular demo I was trapped in a small village at night with my doctor companion.  We were looking for his assistant who we could hear calling us from all directions and had to explore several houses to find her.  Within the first house, a large, mansion-like building, we found a deranged doctor missing part of his skull who was “operating” on an unfortunate victim.  This served as my first taste of combat as I had to desperately maneuver around the tight confines of the house to stay out of arm’s reach and shoot at him with (extremely limited) ammo.  Upon dying, the game lead me outside where I had to contend with several enemies who appeared to be cultists circled around a giant fire that had engulfed some poor soul.

An interesting mechanic in the combat is that not all enemies will stay down.  Headshots (even if they causes the target’s head to explode) may not be fatal, and sometimes (and without warning) the enemy will get back up to pursue you.  The only way to prevent this from happening is by using a match to burn the body – a mechanic that harkens back to the original Resident Evil.  Although I found more than enough matches to go around, according to a Bethesda rep the final game will have matches be much less common and it will be a tough choice on whether to use one or not.

Continuing on, I eventually found the doctor’s assistant and had to fight off some powerful enemies.  This is where The Evil Within took a more psychological turn to it’s horror.  After being approached by (presumably) the game’s ghostly main villain, I was teleported to a strange world full of endlessly looping hallways and pools of blood.  I unfortunately ran out of time to finish this portion of the demo (or to try the second demo) but I walked away very impressed.  The lighting engine used in The Evil Within is among the best I’ve seen and gives the game a wonderful sense of atmosphere, especially when you see shadows flicker along the walls.  Similarly, the sound design was impeccable, with the sounds of the undead shuffling always off in the distant as the floorboards creaked with each step.  Despite being in the intensely noisy Convention Center I was more than a little unsettled so I can only imagine how much creepier the game will be in the dead silence of my own home.

There are two main things that should be noted: The first is that the AI of the companion could definitely use some work.  He was constantly getting lost or stuck on corners then yelling “Wait for me!” as I travelled on.  Nearly any time I went around a corner I’d have to backtrack a little and help him get unstuck.  I’m willing to give the game the benefit of the doubt at this point and assume that it will be fixed, but if not it will be an annoying enough problem to drag the game down.

The second thing worth mentioning is that The Evil Within absolutely nails the cinematic style it strives for.  The game uses a film-grain effect and is presented in the Cinemascope aspect ratio and it really adds a lot to the experience.  At first it’s easy enough to ignore, but it only took a few minutes of playtime to absolutely absorb me into the effect.  It looks spectacular in motion.

The Evil Within will be available on PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC this October.