Nobody does “Survival Horror” like Shinji Mikami. The Evil Within 2, the upcoming sequel to Mikami’s bloody, brutal post-Resident Evil horror franchise, continues in the tradition he founded. It’s a third-person shooter that seeks to terrify by putting players in situations with petrifying monsters and limited resources. While many horror games, including Resident Evil itself, have abandoned this tension in favor of pure horror experiences fueled by invincible enemies and quick jump scares, Evil Within 2 will be one of the few scary games left that offers fight and fright in more or less equal measure.
That doesn’t mean Evil Within 2 offers the same experience as the original Evil Within, though. While it still seems to have its share of gut-wrenching scares, in our time with the game at QuakeCon 2017, the most unsettling moment made our skin crawl through sheer disorientation, caused by the game’s knack for rapidly changing the game’s setting and pace. Rooms change as you look around, and the consequences for exploring often include nasty creatures that want to hunt you. There’s still gore, but it isn’t omnipresent.
Most importantly, the gameplay will be more balanced, with a greater emphasis on exploration, crafting, and player choice. I’m not sure if The Evil Within 2 will make horror vets shriek, but its dread-inducing vibes make it stand out compared to other modern third-person shooters, with which it shares more of its DNA.
MORE THAN A FEELING
The Evil Within 2 once again puts players in control of detective Sebastian Castellanos who, following the events of the first game, has agreed to enter a new world created by STEM, a device that creates a large-scale “shared consciousness” — sort of like a giant lucid dream — and seems to have knack for drawing out people’s worst nightmares.
Why? Sebastian believes that returning to STEM reality will allow him to find and save his dead daughter, Lily. Sebastian is told that the new STEM world, a small town called “Union,” is based on Lily’s mind — so he’s diving in to find her, and bring her home.
The early swath we played, consisting of the game’s second and third chapters, didn’t make all this fully clear. We knew were looking for Lily, and that we had “re-entered” STEM, but a lot of the context was missing. Though we didn’t play the game’s first chapter, and may have missed a potentially great explanation, the game’s lore does seem like a tough nut to crack.
Nobody does “Survival Horror” like Shinji Mikami.
Though it may be hard to follow at times, the premise does allow for the game’s jumpy pacing and surrealist horror mechanics, which are as creepy as ever. The first part of our demo began with us appearing in an abandoned warehouse, seemingly out of nowhere.
As we explored, finding bodies wrapped in sheets strung up from the ceiling, we attempted to get our bearings only to find that parts of the building would change seemingly every time we turned around. Doors would appear in walls, and the bodies would change formation. This eventually led to a confrontation with buzzsaw-wielding monster, a chase sequence, and a near-death experience. And then we woke up. Sebastian rises, still injured from the chase, in a dirty, abandoned house. No one, neither Sebastian or the player, have any idea what’s happening.
This ability to jump from the dream world to reality and back at any time gives the developer carte blanche to mess with your head at any time. It seems you only are transported to a new locale at specific moments in quests and side missions. The transitions could feel jarring in a way that wasn’t entirely intended, but it’s certainly stressful and scary to find yourself in a new place, with little understanding of your surroundings or goals.
SMALL TOWN LIFE
In the second part of the demo, which brought us to Union, Evil Within II opened into a large explorable, open-world area. Sebastian, creeping around town, can use his “communicator” — a giant satellite phone/walkie-talkie — to search nearby radio frequencies for anomalies, which create points of interest on the world map. These points range from dead bodies with supplies, to long-winded quests starring raven-haired poltergeists.
Sneaking around, the town structure had all the hallmarks of a textbook open-world game. A small number of enemies roam the town, and you can either shoot them, sneak by them, or take them out with a stealth kill.
Stealth works well in the game. We never had enemies see us through walls or follow us without just cause. That said, the act of stalking an unsuspecting zombie creature, then hitting a prompt to knife it while its back was turned, felt very similar to other open-world games.
Also familiar were the game’s new crafting mechanics. Sebastian collects components through scrounging the environments — “herbs,” “weapons parts,” and so on — which he can turn into weapon upgrades, ammo, and healing items at designated workbenches. You can even craft some items on the fly, though doing so uses more materials. Sebastian can also get new abilities and personal upgrades, such as more health or stamina, using “green goo” collected from dead monsters.
These hooks encourage you to explore new areas and attack enemies when possible. Here, the game’s action roots are most evident. Rather than letting you sneak from point A to B alive, the game is incentivizing engagement. There are side quests, and the game wants you to feel need to try them, even as it makes you uncomfortable moment to moment. The whole thing is kind of sadistic, when you really think about it.
In adding these more accessible mechanics, Evil Within 2 has also exposed itself to a new set of open-world clichés. The question is, will the game’s tension be enough to make you forget about the fact that much of the game is derived from other games you may have played before?
At first glance, the answer seems to be yes. The Evil Within 2 is not an approximation of a horror game, just a different, more aggressive breed. One that lapsed survival horror fans may want to pay attention to.