Tango Gameworks wants to reacquaint the errant survival horror genre with its core values. If anyone can do it, it’s Tango: The Evil Within will be directed by Resident Evil creator and Tango founder Shinji Mikami – his first horror game since 2005’s Resident Evil 4.
Lead producer Masato Kimura is reluctant to make comparisons between that hallowed title and The Evil Within, although he does say that the latter will have slightly more of a horror emphasis. Survival horror games are about the balance between scares and action, he adds, and the widening of the genre has caused Tango and other modern horror developers to have “a difference in opinion”.
The first 25 minutes of The Evil Within appear to substantiate Kimura's claims. The game opens outside Beacon Mental Hospital on a rainy evening, with the protagonist – a brown-haired detective with chiselled features and light stubble named Sebastian – stepping out of his car to survey the scene. Beacon is more Gothic cathedral than brightly-lit psychiatry hospice, surrounded by a 15-foot high wrought iron fence beyond which five police cars sit empty and silent, their lights still flashing.
Sebastian and two other detectives open the hospital’s main door to reveal a grisly scene. Patients and medical staff lie in pools of blood, which is also liberally smeared on the otherwise white walls. An older, white-bearded survivor is near-catatonic, staring blankly, and managing only to mumble “It wasn’t him, it couldn’t be…” The scene illustrates another balance Kimura later mentions: that between physical and psychological horror. “We have some gross scenes but it’s emotionally scary,” he says.
Sebastian moves to a security office and looks up at a camera feed just in time to witness three policemen be brutally killed by a black, wraith-like ghost that moves between them almost instantaneously. It then looks into the camera and is suddenly behind Sebastian. Everything goes black.
Sebastian awakes hanging upside-down from a rope around his ankles, his blood pooling on the concrete floor a couple of feet below. About eight others are hanging nearby in similar fashion, although none appear to be conscious. A hulking six-and-a-half foot tall man wearing a mask and a butcher’s apron cuts one of the bodies down and carves it in two offscreen, before dragging its still-spurting torso out of the room. Kimura says that nothing has been held back graphic-content-wise. “We try to put everything we want to put in. At the end of the production for reasons outside we may have to take something out, but right now we put everything in,” he says.
Sebastian manages to cut himself down using a knife stuck in the back of a nearby corpse, and then stealthily steals a key from under the butcher’s nose. Soon after, he triggers an alarm while trying to sneak out of the grimy surrounds of the meat locker, and this brings the butcher howling to his location, a deafeningly-loud chainsaw revving in his hands. What follows next is what Kimura calls “maximum horror” – a section where all Sebastian can do is run. However, there will be respite for the player he adds: “You can’t keep scaring people all the way through the game.”
In the chase that follows, Sebastian is cut on the leg, which reduces his walking speed to a painfully slow hobble. “Sebastian’s emotional feeling and what the player feels – we were trying to synchronise that," says Kimura. "So whatever the character is feeling, we want the player to feel. The limp – it’s stressful to Sebastian, but also for the player." Wounded, Sebastian takes refuge in a locker as the butcher stalks him, carving through doors and bellowing as the piercing rattle of the chainsaw bounces brightly off the tiled walls.
This pause in player movement gives us a chance to appreciate the smaller touches of the heavily modified id Tech 5 engine, like the dust hanging in the air. Although using id Tech 5 is one significant benefit that comes from with Bethesda, getting the engine – usually used for FPS titles – to where it needed to be for a third-person survival horror game was “a long and difficult process”, says Kimura. “But whenever we had difficulty we could ask id and they responded quite quickly to resolve those issues,” he added.
The butcher evaded, Sebastian takes a lift up several floors. It opens into a darkened room with a black and white chequered floor. Suddenly, the silence is shattered by a rumbling that quickly becomes a roar, and we are back in the blood-soaked lobby of the hospital. However, upon venturing outside, the camera pans to reveal that a massive section of the surrounding city has sunk into a massive hole.
Fade to black again.
The second part of our preview shows a more combat-heavy section of the game. Here Sebastian is in medieval-style village in a forest. As before, there is no music, which serves to amplify the sound of a creaking door and his footsteps across the wooden floor. Sebastian heads downstairs into a dimly-lit passage under the house, where he picks up a health kit, what looks like a .38 Magnum pistol, and a box of matches. Two zombies emerge from an adjacent room, one of which has what look like pipes or stakes clear through its head and body. A headshot takes care of the other one, and the pipe-riddled zombie is dropped by a few rounds then set alight with the matches to finish it off.
“Even without any ammunition there is still a way to get around things,” says Kimura. These include using traps, or more “strategic” means, he adds, emphasising that the game will feature limited ammunition. With 28 bullets, 18 matches, and some newly-acquired mines and grenades, Sebastian doesn’t currently seem to be having much trouble in that regard. But then a distant howling begins, and as it draws closer we see out a window that it is a horde of zombies slowly closing in on the house. A pulsating industrial beat kicks in, and Sebastian plants mines by the windows and brings his gun up to his eye line.
Watching the ensuing battle is like watching something wriggle from a vice before it is too tight. Unless shot in the head, the zombies take a lot of bullets, and there isn’t much time to aim as they are pouring through the now-broken windows. But then, just as things look hopeless, a whoosh and Sebastian been teleported into a similar-sized, similarly-dark room. Disorientated, he turns to look for an exit when a flood of blood crashes down upon him, and suddenly he's back in the familiar white of the mental hospital. “Some of the situations are very personal to Sebastian, some are totally external,” says Kimura.
A buzzing florescent light illuminates bodies in front of him and we almost have our breath when suddenly one of the corpses bursts open and a serpentine, centipede-like creature with human appendages and long black hair covering its face scuttles rapidly towards us. For the last time, the screen goes black.
“Creating games is output,” says Kimura later. “To be able to output, you have to input – playing other games, sports. A lot of different kinds of experiences as input to do better output. Even when I am off or relaxing, somewhere in my mind there is part of it thinking about the game.” After that demo, so is ours.
The Evil Within is due out on Windows PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One in 2014.