That The Evil Within shares so much with Resident Evil 4 is a two-sided proposition. Resident Evil 4 was one of the greatest games of its day, but its ground has been retread many times by subsequent survival horror games over the years, and even by Mikami himself in Shadows of the Damned.
Where The Evil Within seems to stake its greatest claim is in its visual and thematic elements. The game stars a detective named Sebastian – Seb to his friends – who is sent to investigate a disturbance at a mental hospital. An unknown event has claimed the lives of several patients and possibly a few police officers. Sebastian and his two partners enter Beacon Mental Hospital, discovering a lobby filled with dead bodies. Beginning his investigation, Seb heads to the security office, where he notices something strange on one of the camera monitors. A ghostly figure is attacking police officers in a different part of the hospital. The figure, manifesting some otherworldly power, suddenly appears behind Seb and assaults him, knocking him out.
Seb awakens, hanging upside down in a grimy meat locker, surrounded by bodies dangling on hooks. He then covertly witnesses a disfigured monster butcher one of these bodies – literally cut it apart, presumably for food. It becomes clear that Seb is in trouble and, without going into every detail, Seb spends the next few minutes running from the butcher monster, alternating between stealth and flat-out panic. Running from the beast, Seb gets slashed in the leg with a chainsaw and barely escapes the clutches of a human-sized meat grinder (that section falls under "panic," if you're curious).
At that point, a different section of the game was loaded and the demonstration shifted to The Evil Within's combat, which is where the Resident Evil 4 influence really came into focus. The combat demo wasn't given any context. All we knew was that Seb was cornered in a two story house and that grotesque, torch-bearing monster-people were slowly converging on his location. The echoes of Resident Evil 4 were palpable as Seb prepared the house for the oncoming invasion. He set up a few traps near the windows and waited for the onslaught.
Once Seb's pursuers arrived, familiar mechanics came with them. Third-person aiming, headshots, clipping monsters in the legs to make them stumble and leave them open for special attacks. Seb wasn't suplexing any zombies though, opting instead to set them on fire with a limited supply of matches. The whole thing seemed pretty rote, at least until Seb ran downstairs to escape the horde.
Visual design like this was the strongest feature of the demo, and the story was intriguing, but the gameplay looked stale. The survival horror genre has evolved considerably over the last few years, especially in the independent scene, and The Evil Within's old-school colors are definitely showing. In fairness, Mikami and developer Tango Gameworks are aiming to return to survival horror's roots, so much of its familiarity may be intentional.
I'm a sucker for asylum horror though, and The Evil Within certainly has a great sense of its environment, and it's already playing some fun tricks with mental stability. I just hope the core mechanics aren't too familiar for their own good.