Gordon Lockhart hopes The Evil Within will scare his pants off.
Times have been hard for fans of survival-horror. We each recall the glory years of the PS1 and PS2 period, where we revelled in a golden era of nightmares. Inspiring both fear and excitement in equal measure, titles such as ‘Silent Hill’, ‘Clock Tower’ and ‘Fatal Frame’ showed developers unleashing new and terrifying worlds that haunted us for years. The genre’s beauty was that instead of being an exclusive form of gaming, it was actually one of the most inclusive. It inspired many to share stories of their favourite scares or that time they witnessed their friends freak out while playing through a particularly twisted section of a game. Yet with each new generation of consoles it seemed that publishers didn’t share our love of the genre. They cited surveys and statistics, and said that the gaming audience no longer wanted the solo horror experience. Yet while the independent sector valiantly kept the spirit of true horror alive with games like ‘Amnesia’, ‘Outlast’ and (I’d argue) ‘The Room’, it seems that it falls on the father of all survival-horror to save and terrify us all over again.
Shinji Mikami never expected to be a leading figure in the games industry. In fact, he never expected to be in the games industry at all. By his own admission he didn’t even play games until he was 20 and was fully expecting to enter the world of banking after leaving college. After cutting his teeth on a number of smaller projects he started to make a name for himself on such titles as ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Goof Troop’. It was when the General Manager of Capcom, Tokuro Fujiwara, handed him his chance to direct that he would stun the industry by creating a phenomenon. Instantly becoming famous around the world, although not always known by the same name, it would cement his standing within the industry and single-handedly create the ‘survival horror’ brand. Known simply as ‘Biohazard’ in his home country, it was renamed for western audiences as, of course, ‘Resident Evil’.
To go into just how revolutionary this title was would take up a whole other article, and seeing as it’s already taken up (arguably) too much of this article I’d rather just emphasise just how colossal a figure Shinji Mikami is to horror. Be it as producer or director, Mikami has been responsible for countless seminal titles including ‘Resident Evil 4’ and ‘Dino Crises’. Maintaining that tightrope act of combining terrifying atmosphere with the thrill of combat and shooting monsters in the face, he created a style of horror that could only exist as a game. Forcing players to endure sustained periods of heightened tension before allowing them the cathartic release of blowing a monster’s face off with a shotgun – it was an intoxicating combination. Mikami has been known to lament the state of horror in the industry and now, with ‘The Evil Within’, what he claims to be his final game as director, looks ready to make one last indelible mark on horror.
I should probably state that I haven’t played a single second of ‘The Evil Within’, the only experiences I’ve had with the game are from watching gameplay snippets and interviews from the game. Yet it’s the promise of what it has to deliver that has me so excited. A return to a riotously entertaining story-driven adventure, it sees its protagonist investigating a disturbing murder at a mental asylum where, after witnessing the brutal killing of his fellow officers, is himself attacked and left unconscious. Upon waking he finds himself facing a world filled with terrifying demons and a reality that is just as dangerous as any monster. From its opening moments you feel the distinctive style of Mikami; rich atmosphere, humorously ham-fisted dialogue and lead characters with names that would belong in any B-movie classic – Detective Sebastian Castellanos sounds like a direct descendant of Zorro rather than an American detective. It also shows someone having fun with their own history, as evidenced in one shot that is essentially a direct copy of the iconic ‘zombie reveal’ moment from ‘Resident Evil’.
That’s not to say ‘The Evil Within’ will be a pale imitation of past work – an attempt to relive past glories. One major new aspect of ‘The Evil Within’ will be its dangerously twisted reality. Based on reports it seems buildings and rooms will twist and rearrange themselves, thus heightening the level of panic within the player. The idea of a horror game version of the famous hallway fight from ‘Inception’ is certainly a captivating one. Free from working on an established universe and franchise, Mikami is finally free to let his own imagination run riot. If this is the man who conjured up the spectacular Chief Mendez boss fight in ‘Resident Evil 4’ or the breathless, jet-pack powered combat of ‘Vanquish’, then just what is he capable of imagining when he can ignore having to adhere to making a believable reality?
To be honest, it feels like I’m only really scratching the surface on why this is potentially such an exciting title. When you’re dealing with someone who is responsible for so many iconic gaming moments from your youth it’s hard to keep your rational thinking-cap on. From the moment that dog crashed through that window and into my life, Shinji Mikami became one of the reasons why I love games. Whether it’s through his mastery of satisfying combat; terrifying yet brilliantly destined monsters; or his strangely, endearingly odd characters, when it comes to truly spectacular, crowd-pleasing horror there is no one like him. We might all have a different ‘Mikami moment’ but one thing is for sure: come October, we’re all going to have a whole lot more to choose from.
Oh, and his headshots are the best in the business…