The standout part of my one-hour demo with The Evil Within 2 was its reach. That’s not to say that the original’s hallmark atmosphere of overwhelming dread isn’t present (because it SUPER IS), but this is a game that at the same time wants to be that game again while being something new. Only its full release will tell if that is a worthwhile endeavour, but for now, it is at least an interesting one.
That notion can seemingly be attributed to the The Evil Within director Shinji Mikami stepping down to a producer role with John Johanas moving in. Mikami’s push on the Sebastian Castellanos story led to something that felt like a blend of two of his previous directorial showings in the horror and controls of Resident Evil 4 and the combat design awareness of Vanquish.
With Johanas, this sequel feels like an expansion of the ideas he brought to the table with the first game’s DLC The Assignment and The Consequence. There’s more stealth and less bombastic encounters, developed over a surprising new framework that fits completely within what appears to be Johanas’ ethos on horror. To wit, the majority of the demo took place in an open world environment.
To be sure, though, there is still a large bulk that is similar to the first game. It opens with Sebastian in a dark warehouse, crawling around until you encounter a room full of hanging bodies in white sheets. It’s unsettling enough seeing them there, but walking into them and indulging in that classic video game shenanigan of pushing them around embedded an immediate and frightening psychological schism of unease and satisfaction.
As the room starts to rearrange and morph with each turn, it feels like classic TEW, thriving on a question of reality. And then it goes full bore horror when a blade-adorned, uh, fleshy conglomerate bursts through a wall and chases you down a series of hallways. That is until a mysterious figure shows up and throws a knife in your chest and you fall through a door of light, but hey—free knife!
You end up in a cabin in a new city called Union, which, as the demo unfolds, Sebastian can’t help but comment on it being as completely fucked as Beacon. Stumbling down a dark and rainy forested road, you eventually come across a classic Mikami introduction sequence. A woman, mumbling to herself, runs into a house. Sebastian, like a fool, has to follow. Inside is something utterly macabre that I won’t ruin because it is delectably grim, but needless to say, you are treated to your first closeup of these non-zombie zombies and the christening of your pistol.
As you walk further into the quaint town square, you’ll see two people running from some creepers. One of them makes it into a building, but not before Sebastian recognizes his patches as Mobius, a corporation whose presence he’s been seeking in Union as he searches for his daughter. Between you and the door, however, are a pile of wandering foes, so best to sneak around them.
Most of the game, in fact, is focused on stealth because the gun-oriented combat does not feel all that rewarding. The reticle has a tendency to linger and the way enemies finally fall dead is such a muted experience, you are likely to continue to fire for no particular reason at all. But the problem is also that sneaking up on these snarling beasts is fairly tricky, even on Casual. If your prey doesn’t prematurely turn around, some sort of hyper awareness is likely to give you away to a faraway stalker.
Once you enter the safe house, you’ll get a communicator device, which really cranks on the Open World dial. With it, you’ll be able to track your main objective, but you’ll also come across rogue signals that will usually net you some sort of reward. Maybe it’s an upgraded pistol ammo capacity or a multi step side quest to get and repair a sniper rifle. But either way, it’ll take you all over this infested town, forcing you to sneak through back alleys and abandoned buildings.
The game does, however, simultaneously encourage taking down as many bad guys as you can. You’ll collect Green Goo, the upgrade currency for Sebastian’s abilities. And sometimes enemies will be standing right over some healing herb or gun components that you’ll want to collect for crafting. The crafting is incredibly reminiscent of RE4 or, I guess, basically any modern open world game but with the important wrinkle of costing more resources when you craft in the field as opposed to at a workbench. It’s a neat way to encourage self-imposed resource scarcity.
Impressively, the demo also manages to embed some mystery that you’ll want to solve in the full game. Every once in a while in Union, you’ll notice the world sort of distort in a digital haze, begging the question of the nature of this reality. We know there’s some sort of shared consciousness through the Mobius STEM device, but the exact way in which it manifests is unclear. (And there’s the Persona-like return of the upgrade nurse, which is just *chef kiss* the best.)
This otherwise action-oriented horror series dipping its toes into emergent stealth is a fascinating turn, if not unexpected. It seems to have some struggles filling in those gaps left in its growth spurt, but it also has an obviously deft touch in constructing new terrors and a similarly engrossing (and hopefully less convoluted) story. We’ll see how it all shakes out when it comes out for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on October 13, 2017.