If anyone can restore essence to the genre, Mikami can. The characteristically subdued Resident Evil creator is returning to his old stomping ground with the debut game from his Tokyo-based studio Tango Gameworks, the third-person survival horror The Evil Within. And while the game may not adhere to all the ideals we recognize from the genre’s golden age – which, let’s face it, were shakily defined in the first place – it’s built around Mikami’s own definition of the genre he helped create.
“There are a lot of survival horror games nowadays, but the thing that I want to focus on is having the perfect balance between horror and action.”
That perfect balance, in Mikami’s opinion, is what makes ‘pure’ survival horror.
The Evil Within certainly has the set-up to deliver on Mikami’s promises. Its premise is a cliché, but it would be misleading to suggest the game is; the poster for The Evil Within plastered around the colourful walls of Tango’s office depicts a brain wrapped in barbed wire. It’s in this image that its mental asylum spookhouse setting develops new meaning, one more sinister than the threat of things that go bump in the night.
“Thematically, it’s less about having twists and turns and more about maintaining an air of mystery,” explains Mikami. “So through the story you learn a little bit more, and then a little bit more, but the more you learn, you also realize there’s far more mystery out there to unfold.”
“We’re paying a lot of attention to the theatrical and cinematic aspects of the game,” says Mikami. “We want the game to be scary so we want to support that throughout the game experience, but we don’t want to go so far as to impact on the flow of gameplay. We want the controls and the way players interact with the controls and the game to feel scary and cinematic, but not cumbersome. So once you get on more of the action elements you want players to focus on that. So you’ll see something of a wave, you’re drifting from one end to the other end – from cinematic elements to purely gameplay elements and back and forth.”
It’s clear that the developers are aiming for a careful balance of not only action and horror, but of the old and the new, weaving classic survival horror tropes with new and interesting psychological horror features. And it’s all wrapped up, of course, in a state-of-the-art package (on both current and next-gen technology), resulting in a game that has that Resident Evil-era Mikami vibe, but feels much, much richer overall.
“15 or 20 years ago, characters in video games were walking around like robots, and the games were very linear, but now you’re able to put in a much greater detail into the character and it really adds to the immersion,” says Mikami.
“Horror as a genre has a set number of patterns, and the more time you spend with those patterns the more you get used to them. And the more used to those patterns a person is, the harder it is to scare them and do something above and beyond and original.”
“If players say ‘I haven’t played a game this scary in a while,’ that would make me the happiest.”
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