Of all its accomplishments – and there appear to be many – The Evil Within's health bar left a lasting impression on me. Yes, the health bar. A thin sliver of red running along the top of the lower border (the game shares Resi 4's excellent 2.35:1 aspect ratio) it only flashes up when you're injured: a stylish way to communicate something quite dull.
It's classic Mikami, and testament to the attention to detail that defines one of gaming's greatest directors. From what I've seen, however, the rest of the game isn't quite what newer fans of his might have had in mind. Resident Evil 4 is a strong influence in terms of some of the games' systems, but its old rival Silent Hill – or its own inspirations - also appears to inform The Evil Within: never-ending corridors, dank, rotting otherworlds, and the nameless dread are all present and correct.
The Evil Within sets its stall out early, with Detective Sebastian Castellanos heading to the scene of a particularly grusome murder. He's not the first boy in blue there: a whole fleet of cop cars litter the driveway of the typically grand estate.
The problem is there's no cops, and yet no sign of a struggle. Things go from bad to totally fucked-up within seconds of Sebastian stepping inside: after witnessing a delirious doctor babble some disturbing noise he's transported to the set of Hostel after being backstabbed by a ghostly Cyborg Ninja, being chased by a man with a chainsaw (classic) and evading God of War-style spinning blades. There's real tension in this sequence, the pace varying as you are either hiding in a cupboard or running for your life.
The course of the demonstration saw Sebastian attempting to escape from the asylum, but aside from the shooting, the running, and more shooting and running, the thing I took away from it was how vulnerable you are. There's none of Resident Evil 4's suplexes, no quips. No-one is off to play bingo. Sebastian is on the run for a lot of the demonstration, and he's defending himself rather than saving the world. The difference is nicely highlighted by Mikami riffing on Resi 4's famous cabin scene. There, Leon is backed by both Luis and a boatload of ammo. Here, Sebastian has to lay down traps to stop the waves of enemies, retreating as theyu overwhelm his defences and finally just legging it.
Mikami is a master at directing environments that can feel as threatening as the creatures that inhabit them, and The Evil Within looks set to continue this trend. The environs themselves are flat out dirty: claustrophobic little murder boxes with odd dimensions and changing rules of space (one corridor elongates as you head towards the door, another changes appearance entirely). Producer Jason Bergman stated that there will be times when you have five enemies to face and only two bullets: during the demonstration he was overwhelmed more than once.
So it's not quite Resident Evil 4, Part II. It's pulling from those famous opening few minutes of Resi 4, but I'd be very surprised if it turned into the all-action bombast-fest that game became (remember the gigantic walking Napolean statue? Yeah). At the same time, this presents a challenge to the staff at Tango Gameworks. Resi 4 is one of the best-paced games of all time, and its precisely its devotion to 'faster, more intense' that enables this: there's always another insane moment around the corner.
If The Evil Within is a lower-key affair, then Mikami's going to need some serious tricks up his sleeves to keep players interested and stave off the dreaded mid-game sag. Most of these, presumably, will come from the drama of trying to work out whether Sebastian has lost his mind or not. There's plenty of scope there, and I'm looking forward to seeing what exactly Mikami pulls out of the bag. Killer 7 is a cult favourite in part because it is so imaginative, and I hope that Mikami can repeat the trick here.
One element from a previous hit that won't be repeated is escorting NPCs. Other people will be around you, Bergman stated, but you won't be babysitting. There's also no inventory Tetris, which I have to admit actually makes me quite sad.
Still, The Evil Within has plenty of other things going for it. Especially that health bar.