The above video preview potentially contains minor spoilers for The Evil Within. Watch at your own risk.
In the underbelly of a rotting asylum, a generally unremarkable corridor shifts through the fabric of reality. Unfortunately, I'm in that corridor. So I look back for companions that were there a second ago but now are gone without trace. I realize I've no choice except to forge on, but when I do reality changes again, and I'm the other side of a door I didn't open.
Mere seconds later, I'm wading through a basement that's literally overflowing with blood and guts. A minute after that a hooded spirit appears, opens his arms wide, and melts into a thousand little red spheres that slither into the crimson lake and awaken a small undead army. As the zombies advance on me in this swimming pool from hell, I try to reflect on how I got here. Wasn't it only a few minutes ago that I was leisurely exploring the grounds, gunning down the odd zombie here and there? How had that light stroll transformed into the river Styx so quickly?
In fairness, the light stroll was only relatively light. I did find a wolf-like creature staked to a tree and after that a doctor with half his skull missing cutting up a corpse. There was also the zombie who killed me by sticking the stake lodged in his neck into my throat. But once that corridor shifted it became a disconnected series of hallucinations and nightmares, like a slightly weird night out devolving suddenly into a hazy mess. I haven't even got to the bit where I'm running from a cross between a human spider and the girl from The Ring
On a basic level this section of The Evil Within plays to Shinji Mikami's trademarks. Doors creak open, the camera rests reassuringly over the shoulder, and zombies lay siege at a familiar rhythm. I take them out with shotguns, pistols, and crossbows as I back away and try to use what little ammo and space I have efficiently. That isn't easy, by the way, when you're walking at snail's pace through an actual blood bath and there are proximity mines on the walls. Like with the Resident Evil games, I feel overwhelmed by the onslaught, but it's more the onslaught of events than zombies. The game is trying to unsettle me, and it's doing a pretty good job of it. Just as I catch my breath, Spider-Girl bursts out of what was a harmless looking corpse, and now I have to run.
Running is a big part of the second section I play, although it doesn't seem so at first. As the doors open - oh-so-slowly - to a decadent mansion, my surroundings look empty. Even when zombies do eventually appear, they're sparse in number and I deal with them. There are multiple paths leading off the front hall, and the game seems to want me to explore at my own pace. This, like much of The Evil Within, is an illusion.
Like with Spider-Girl, I quickly learn the only way out with this guy is to run away. It's a different situation, though. With my multi-armed, long-haired friend it was more of a set piece as she chased me through corridors. I weaved to avoid spikes, mines and zombies, and it only ended when I catapulted myself beneath a closing gate, Indiana Jones-style.
Whereas my new BFF just likes to show up from time to time. It's almost like he was just wandering around, and so help me if I happen to bump into him. Not because he's tough to dodge in the open rooms, but because when I run from him, I don't know where I'm going. Sure enough, deep within the mansion's halls, there are drooling things and sharp traps waiting for me to stumble into them.
Again, the game is successfully unsettling me, and here that helps the exposition. As I explore my rich surroundings, I see visions of a young boy growing up there. Under the guidance of a caring doctor, the boy becomes a youth, and the youth a man. If it sounds heartwarming, you should know the doctor has an affinity for deranged experiments that seems to rub off on his protege.
I reflect on that as I make Sebastian stick syringes into the exposed brains of detached heads. Detached heads that are somehow still living, by the way. It wouldn't hurt Sebastian if I stuck the needle in the right part of the brain, but it turns out I'm not used to puzzles that involve brain maps. This is a weird game, I think as I successfully find the brainstem, only for Ruvik to appear and I'm off running again.
The Evil Within is coming to Xbox One, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360 and PC in October.