When The Evil Within was announced back in 2013 with a live action trailer, I knew it was something special. A spiritual successor to Resident Evil 4 from Shinji Mikami – the series’ creator himself? I was instantly sold. While the game we got wasn’t genre-defining, I thought it was a pretty great survival horror game that did more than enough to stand out from Resident Evil. Needless to say, when The Evil Within 2 was announced during Bethesda’s E3 press conference this year, I was excited. After months of waiting, I got a chance to play the game last week, and I’m happy to report that what I got to play was a great follow-up to one of 2014’s best horror experiences.
The demo I got to play featured most of the game’s fifth chapter. Most of the psychological story had been set up and Sebastian Castellanos had already met the game’s Joker-esque antagonist, Stephano. The important thing to note is that while this game will feature more open-ended environments, the chapter I was playing is meant to highlight the improvements made on the first game’s tight corridors and overall combat.
I was dropped into Sebastian’s office, the sort of mental waypoint where you can take a breath, save your game and give Sebastian some much-needed upgrades. My Sebastian was a clean slate, and I was given a modest amount of upgrade materials to beef him up how I saw fit. After applying some weapon, speed and health upgrades, I traveled through the infamous cracked mirror into the game’s twisted world.
Immediately I was struck with strong Resident Evil 2 vibes. The level was set in a small town – just outside its town hall in fact – and it was gorgeously haunting. The entire set piece was full of deep shadows and washed in cool blues, with chunks of reality floating around in the sky above me. I took my first steps forward and stumbled straight into the demo’s first boss fight.
It shouldn’t come at any surprise, but the boss design in this game is stellar. The first one I fought was called The Guardian, and it was a hulking being made up of human corpses. It had a table saw for one hand, and it used a collection of heads that looked eerily like Samara from The Ring to see. The creepiest part was that the dominant head was constantly smiling.
The guy helping with the demo explained before I started that boxes held valuable crafting materials and ammo (sound familiar?) and that The Guardian just so happened to hate boxes. I laughed at the time, but once I started playing the first thing I did was lure The Guardian into an area of the tight combat arena full of wooden crates. Lo and behold, the boss stopped chasing me just to beat the boxes to pieces giving me some precious time to reload all my guns and circle behind it to get some cheap shots in.
That encounter highlighted a major theme of The Evil Within 2, the idea of giving you more options to survive during the game’s toughest fights. It’s hard to keep your cool when you’re being chased by a giant monster, but if you can manage to lure it into a gas puddle you can light it on fire. Or if you lead it through the trip wires scattered around, it’ll get stopped in a time warp for a generous thirty seconds. Basically what I’m saying is that these moments brought some innovation to a genre that’s been driven into the ground, and I loved it.
Fortunately, The Guardian wasn’t too tough to kill on Survival difficulty (the next notch up is Nightmare and the one below it is Casual), and I moved into the town hall where I was given the task of finding an emitter and activating it to stop the town of Union from collapsing. This was a crucial moment for me because even though I was jumping in at the fifth chapter, I knew exactly what was going on in the story which leads me to believe that hiring Deadgirl writer Trent Haaga to pen the game’s story paid off. The incapacitated character who gave me the task tossed me a walkie-talkie and sent me on my way.
The following ten-minute section was one that reminded me a lot of the first game despite some major improvements. The town hall was dark creepy and full of long corridors. These sections employed scare tactics that reminded me a lot of Layers of Fear. I would walk to the end of a hallway only to find the door locked and once I turned back around the world around me had shifted, sometimes slightly, making me wonder whether or not I was crazy. Other times the changes would be drastic. The hallways would stretch on for an eternity, blood would drip form paintings that would them slam to the ground. It was pretty cool and kept these sections interesting. Also, I really liked that when I went off the beaten path and creeped down the scarier hallways, I was usually rewarded with some good materials if it wasn’t part of the critical path.
After some exploring, I came across Stephano. He froze time just as I found the emitter and in an extremely tense moment used a giant blade to ever so slightly cut Sebastian’s face while he sat there unable to move. Texture-wise the face held up really well and the cut looked realistic enough to make me queasy. A little of the tension was lost thanks to shoddy lip syncing, but this moment really got to me so I was willing to forgive the animations’ shortcomings.
After the cutscene ended, I was introduced to the game’s second and final boss – Obscura. Imagine a lanky, creepy man with an extremely old camera for a head. Despite already being impressed by my fight with The Guardian, this fight showed the innovation that game director John Johanas’ two DLC chapters for the first game made a name for himself with. See, the emitter needed 90 seconds to activate but Obscura’s power was to stop time with its camera head. I figured out pretty quickly that this was a boss I wasn’t going to kill and that I was just trying to distract it long enough to activate the emitter. I wasn’t exactly out of ammo from my previous fight, but I wasn’t rich with it either so I equipped the crossbow and flung as many shock arrows as I could at the monster. It took a couple tries, but once I was able to beat it I let out my breath and got ready to move on. Unfortunately, the guy showing me the game tapped me on the shoulder and let me know I was done.
Even though I was already excited for The Evil Within 2, I wasn’t sure whether or not I would wait to play it since so many games are coming out around that time. This demo completely sold me on it, and I hope that the refinements on the first game’s problems on display in my demo are as apparent throughout the entire game. If you want to play The Evil Within 2 for yourself, you won’t have to wait long since it’s out this Friday the 13th of October on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Here’s hoping it makes its way to the Nintendo Switch sometime next year.