The Devil Inside
Now here's an odd one. The Devil Inside plopped out of the mind of Hubert Chabrot, creator of the infamous horror 'em up Alone In The Dark, one of the creepiest games this reviewer has ever played. Sadly, the AITD sequels suffered from an increased reliance on vaguely sinister whimsy as opposed to the raw, there-goes-my-underwear unpleasantness of the original, which went straight for the jugular by keeping the premise simple (you wander into a haunted house and very, very bad things start to happen almost immediately).
Apart from causing grown men to relieve themselves in front of their monitors, AITD also 'inspired' the original Resident Evil, in much the same way Star Wars inspired Battlestar Galactica.
Anyway, The Devil Inside revisits some of Chabrot's favourite territory - the increasingly sinister haunted mansion - and does it in a most intriguing way. The unlikely premise sees you controlling a future-world cable TV reporter called Dave, whose haircut makes him faintly reminiscent of whatsername out of the Swedish band Aqua. He is also blessed with the ability to transform himself into an occult dominatrix named Deva, for reasons beyond the realm of normal human understanding. Lest we forget, the original AITD allowed you to play as a man or a woman; this time round you're both.
Anyhow, Dave's the star turn on a show called Devil Inside, a kind of televisual cross between The Cook Report and The Blair Witch Project The idea is that Dave leaps headfirst into ultra-violent paranormal crime scenes, with the resultant frights and fights introduced and MCed live on air by a cheesy host (named, unhilariously, Jack T Ripper).
The game itself is a bizarre blend of Tomb Raider, MDK, and Resident Evil with one very peculiar addition - the team of cameramen that constantly shadow your every move. The programmers have cleverly included little touches that make it all leel' just like a real live TV show - bursts of static, clumsy zooms, moments where the character breaks out of the frame.
It's hard to convey why in words, but it adds to the chill-factor considerably (particularly when, say, you're creeping up a narrow staircase with a gun in your hand hearing the sound of a groaning zombie coming ever closer, and the picture starts breaking up). We've already mentioned The Blair Witch Project, but it's worth mentioning again, because it shares something of the same kind of spookiness. Which is a very good thing.
Still, there are glaring problems. For starters, beneath the postmodern glitz, it's essentially a simple arcade-style game, albeit one with puzzles and inventories to worry about. Worse still, it takes quite a while to become scary; the opening level, set outside the mansion itself, is quite weak and unfocused. But the biggest problem are the controls: they're a bit more rubbish than is necessary. A combination of mouse and keyboard, a la MDK, is the order of the day, and it leads to a strangely detached feel (Dave/Deva's curious reluctance to strafe from side-to-side while moving forward doesn't help either). Aiming weapons can prove infuriatingly problematic, despite the default laser-sighting: killing even close-up, is often stupidly hard.
Ohh, That's Not Fair
It's a shame really, because these errors (which could have been ironed out) seriously detract from what is otherwise a bizarre and compelling blend of horror, tongue-in-cheek comedy, and arcade gameplay.
If you can get hold of a copy cheaply, then for God's sake give it a spin, because it is worth a look, merely as a rare example of raw originality in action.
We Are Going To Eat You
The Devil Inside features hundreds - yes hundreds - of undead flesh-eating zombies. And they're proper zombies, ones that shuffle about groaning, not silly ones that hide behind trees or ride motorbikes. To celebrate, we're printing the hallowed Four Laws Of Proper Zombies.
1) Zombies Are Stupid
Proper zombies are basically motorised eating machines, incapable of making rational decisions. They never hide or duck when you start shooting at them, and will continue to shuffle towards you even if you've just shot their leg off. Still, what do you expect? Their brains are decomposing. H they had the intelligence to, say, do sums, they'd go and get a job in a bank instead of shambling around wearing tatty clothes, going "gnnnnuuuuhhh" and getting shot at all the time.
2) Zombies Aren't Very Agile
Proper zombies can't break into a run or manipulate complex objects. Blame rigor mortis. In case you think this doesn't make them very scary, think again: the whole point of zombies is that, what they lack in physical aptitude they make up for in sheer numbers.
3) Zombies Can Only Be Killed By A Head-Shot
The Devil Inside zombies occasionally break this rule, which is a pity, but more often than not they adhere to the basic principle: the brain is the engine that drives the zombie bus. Since the zombie's body is already dead, hacking it in two with a chainsaw won't dampen its bloodlust-itcan still drag itself along with its arms. Only by destroying the grey matter can you destroy the monster Itself. For a vivid demonstration of this rule, see George A Romero's Day Of The Dead, In which a zombie has the top half of its head sliced off by a man wielding a spade. As our hero makes his escape, the zombie's eyes continue darting around in what's left of the skull - brain's still intact, y'see.
4) Zombies Are Pathetic, Amusing And Scary At The Same Time
We're glad to report that the Devil Inside zombies follow this, the strictest of all zombie laws. Zombies look pitiful with their grubby clothes and clumsy mannerisms. Then, when you blow half their limbs off, they look hilarious as they dutifully keep on moving. But no matter how hard you laugh, there's always an uneasy tension - deep down, you know, sooner or later, your going to ran out of ammo, or you'll find yourself surrounded, and bingo - funny Mister Groany-guts is suddenly noshing the contents of your forehead. Now that's frightening.
Download The Devil Inside
Anyone out there still bemoaning the lack of originality in modem games - shut up and listen to this. The Devil Inside has one of the most bizarre and promising premises we've clapped brains on recently, and it should be worth paying attention to because it comes from Gamesquad, a French software house headed by Hubert 'Alone In The Dark' Chardot.
All of which is rather a bold opening paragraph, because to be brutally honest, we're not entirely sure what kind of game this is -largely because the information arriving from the publishers Cryo suffers from what you could generously call 'quirk/French-to-English translation. Take a look at the evidence and see what you make of it.
In The Devil Inside, you take control of two different characters - one called Dave, and one called Deva (do you see what they've done there?). Dave is a reporter/presenter for a no-holds-barred cable TV channel "dedicated to the strange, the paranormal, and the horror", and he's currently on the trail of a serial killer known as "The Night Howler". Deva is a minion of Satan, sent to Earth to gather the souls of all the bad guys Dave bumps off and return them to Hell, from whence they came.
Now, having initially seen static screenshots and noted the developer's link with Alone In The Dark, we were expecting a 3D third-person adventure game - so imagine our surprise when some early code arrived which appeared to contain an incredibly gory first-person shoot 'em up instead. However, a quick shuffle through a French-language README file turned up a set of keyboard controls, and blow us down if it isn't a far more appealing prospect altogether. You can play it first-person like Quake, third-person like Tomb Raider, from the cinematic perspective, which is familiar to Resident Evil, or from loads of other viewpoints - including that of the roving cameraman, who actually runs along beside you during the game (you can even turn round and shoot him in the thigh if you want). Up to three other viewpoints can be placed on-screen in the comer of the main view, all at the same time, like the picture-in-picture mode on some swish televisions. In fact, it is a bit like directing your own TV show.
The more we fiddled with the early code (which is unstable, and clearly far from finished), the more intrigued we became. There's some kind of bizarre slow-motion mode, an option to trigger earthquakes and a button that makes gravity itself suddenly rotate by 90 degrees (which hints at some realistic physics at work somewhere in the game). The graphics are impressive, with all the fancy lighting and 3D jiggery-pokery you could wish for, and it's downright grisly in places too. There were a number of groaning zombies to shoot at (complete with destroyable limbs).
Just quite how the final product is going to hang together really is anyone's guess, but it's not often we find ourselves so pleasantly captivated by original, unfinished work-in-progress code like this. The Devil Inside is clearly something to watch out for. The developers also seem confident - they claim to have planned a sequel already. We want more, and we'll let you know when we have it.