Resident Evil: Revelations 2 and The Evil Within: a return to old school horror

By Brenna Hillier, Monday, 22 September 2014 08:58 GMT

Resident Evil: Revelations 2 and The Evil Within were both showcased prominently at Tokyo Game Show 2014. Brenna reports on the return of old school horror.

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“Revelations 2 and the Evil Within have something in common: both are reactions against ‘mainstream horror’ – or, not to put to fine a point on it, recent releases in the core Resident Evil series.”

The Evil Within is called Psycho Break in Japan. If you didn’t know this you might have been mystified by the advertising plastering the Makuhari Messe in Chiba during this year’s Tokyo Game Show: Bethesda – or perhaps local distributor Square Enix – elected to purchase every external banner space for Tango Gameworks’ debut title. It was an impressive sight, although the game’s rust, blood and mud colour scheme doesn’t make for the most eye-catching of displays.

Inside the Messe, on the TGS showfloor, The Evil Within occupied an interesting position: one whole corner of Square Enix’s extensive booth, next to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (Square Enix really has some profitable foreign partnerships) and directly opposite Resident Evil: Revelations 2.

The two competing horror franchises could not have been any closer, geographically, unless they’d been part of the same booth. If you held hands with a friend, you could probably stretch your arms across and span the gap between the two queues when they were at their busiest.

It was an interesting bit of positioning and I do wonder if it was deliberate; since the two games aren’t in direct competition – The Evil Within hits Japan in October, while Revelations 2 isn’t due till next year – having them right next to each other made it easy for horror fans to check out both.

During the business days, when press and industry types have access to the show floor ahead of the pressing crush of the public days, both booths were extremely popular. The Revelations 2 queue never had fewer than two dozen people in it whenever I passed, and was often so full staff were turning others away. The Evil Within hid most of its queue inside the booth, but advertised wait times often exceeded two hours, and at one point were greater than three.

This was heartening. Resident Evil is ridiculously popular, so Revelations 2 was always going to get a look in – even a Resident Evil shooting gallery set up nearby, attached to no particular title and offering nothing related to games, was consistently popular. The Evil Within is a whole new franchise, which is always a risky prospect, but attendees seemed excited to check it out.

(It was a good show for horror fans, actually; Konami showed off a terrifying new Silent Hills concept trailer, and a spiritual successor to Clock Tower was announced. The horror genre really is going through a renaissance.)

What interests me is how much the two projects have in common: both are reactions against “mainstream horror” – or, not to put to fine a point on it, recent releases in the core Resident Evil series.

Resident Evil Revelations was positioned as an old school survival horror title. While Capcom threw millions at Resident Evil 6 on HD consoles, reinventing the genre for modern audiences beyond the hardcore horror niche, it tossed both fans and its own development teams a bone in the form of a 3DS spin-off which could cater to that same niche.

That spin-off went on to critical acclaim and fan devotion, and eventually spawned an equally well-received HD console re-release. Meanwhile, Resident Evil 6 sold reasonably well but was absolutely slammed by fans and critics alike.

Since then, there’s been absolutely no talk of Resident Evil 7, beyond a comment that the next one won’t make the same mistakes. Instead we have two things gamers have genuinely clamoured for: the original game being remade – again! – with optional better controls, and a sequel to Revelations. In other words, a new focus on the core, old school heart of the Resident Evil series, which people actually like.

If you are one of the people who pointed at Revelations and said “more of this please, Capcom”, then your wishes have been granted: the Revelations 2 demo available at TGS 2014, not even a month after it was announced with a concept trailer, is very definitely more of the same. It looks like Revelations, albeit with the gleam of the next-gen consoles on it. It plays like Revelations. It sure is Resident Evil: Revelations, and the optional co-op bells and whistles cannot distract from the fact that Capcom has doubled down on the formula that works for it.

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“Recent Resident Evil sequels failed to capture the magic of the earlier releases, and when The Evil Within was announced Mikami and Bethesda made a great deal of fuss over the game’s return to true survival horror roots.”

Just as Revelations 2 is a reaction against what Capcom did with the core Resident Evil series, so is The Evil Within. Tango Gameworks was founded by Shinji Mikami, who created the series and then left it in the publisher’s hands to go do his own thing.

Mikami’s relationship with Resident Evil hasn’t been entirely straight forward. After Resident Evil 3, he took a break from directorial duties, during which no less than three games were developed by other staff as the next entry in the series (one of them became Devil May Cry). All of them were scrapped, and Mikami returned to the helm to make sweeping changes to the formula. The highly influential Resident Evil 4 is often considered the peak of the franchise, but Mikami exited Capcom shortly thereafter.

The next two Resident Evil sequels have failed to capture the magic of the earlier releases, and when The Evil Within was announced Mikami and Bethesda made a great deal of fuss over the game’s return to true survival horror roots – not like the vanilla action snooze-fests going on over at Capcom, amirite.

As with Revelations 2, this is certainly something fans have been asking for, and the first Revelations game has proved its financial viability – when attached to an existing IP, at least.

The demo for The Evil Within available at TGS 2014 was, as far as I could tell, pretty much identical to the one both Stace and I played before E3, and according to other press I spoke to, also very similar to the E3 and gamescom build. (I don’t know what that means, by the way; I’m not drawing any conclusions. The demo was pretty polished the first time I saw it. It looked like a finished game, if very much a cross-gen one.)

Just as Resident Evil Revelations 2 sure is old school horror ala Resident Evil Revelations, The Evil Within sure is old school horror ala Resident Evil Revelations. Oh, the setting, lore and story are quite different, taking cues from more psychologically-angled games like classic Silent Hill rather than the monster-fest Resident Evil has become, but the gameplay itself is extremely familiar.

Apart from the obvious content differences – on the one side Claire, on the other side Sebastian; on the one side zombies, on the other side a deeply spooky chap in a white hoodie – you could have wandered into the two triple-A horror booths at TGS unknowingly and believed you were playing the same game. I had no such confusion, because I played both demos in the PlayStation Lounge while waiting for Bloodborne. While I was sitting there waiting my turn, I overheard a couple of other press chatting:

“All the Bloodborne stations are busy. What else is there? What’s that? Resident Evil?” said one.

“Yeah,” said his mate.

“And what’s that one? Is that another Resident Evil?”

“Yeah,” said his mate.

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I felt indignant on Bethesda’s behalf, because The Evil Within with its asylums and ghosts seems far more interesting to me personally than another zombie and monster game. Indeed, the two chappies took a closer look and realised their mistake almost immediately.

Still. It’s a comparison that’s going to be made, over and over again, and I don’t think either game offers enough to differentiate itself from the glory days of Resident Evil.

We live in a world where a beloved series can suffer such backlash to change that a conservative iteration, “more of the same”, is the preferable strategy, and I don’t know how to feel about it any more. One the one hand, ugh – and on the other, Resident Evil 6.

The Evil Within will be released in October. Resident Evil: Revelations 2 is due in early 2015. Both are coming to PC, PlayStation 3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

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