October 2014, The Evil Within released with the promise of reviving Resident Evil director Shinji Mikami’s 1996 vision of survival horror. The title, that began by following police detective Sebastian Castellanos through a gruesome murder mystery, quickly became a world of nightmarish creatures and environments far beyond the spectrum of reality. Although lauded for its gameplay and persistently creepy tone, many felt the game fell short in its plot. With the sequel aiming to release on October 13th, Bethesda provided the opportunity to get hands-on with an early chapter of The Evil Within 2 at this past weekend’s PAX West in Seattle, and it seems to be off to a good start.
The demo begins with Chapter 2, where Sebastian has already made his way back into the connected dimension between human minds made possible with the STEM device. In this installment, our hero is in search of his lost daughter Lily. Although he had been led to believe she died years ago, he has now discovered that she was instead taken by the mysterious MOBIUS organization to be the focus of experimentation for a new STEM dimension called “Union.” Once within Union, Sebastian quickly discovers that Lily’s mind has created an unstable world much like the one that led to the events at Beacon Mental Hospital years prior.
I should tell you that Bethesda set the mood right for this demo. Each person who participated was led into a closed room that was completely dark and silent to the sights and sounds on the PAX show floor. The only light present came from the monitors within the room, which were each separated by blinders. Every effort was made to ensure the experience remained personal and focused on the terror that was about to transpire.
The first environment encountered in the demo is jarring. Sebastian finds himself in some dimly lit, dank hallways that breathe unsettling vibes. After walking through a room populated solely with figures hanging from the ceiling by their necks, I found only a wall, a dead end. So, I navigated back through the room in hopes of finding another way that I must have missed in the hallways, but my way back was mysteriously blocked with another wall. It was at that time I turned around and noticed the figures tethered to the ceiling had changed position, and they were leading to a door that was not there before.
It was in these early moments of the demo when I felt the most disoriented and uncomfortable. I felt genuinely scared because The Evil Within 2‘s progression preyed on my most primal gameplay preconceptions. “I came through that hallway. That hallway will be there if I need to backtrack from a dead end or I need an escape.” Not to mention, all of the bodies hanging from the ceiling were a pretty creepy touch.
It’s not long after this experience when the Guardian comes bursting in and things go from creepy to flat-out terrifying. If you haven’t seen her yet, the Guardian is an amalgam of dismembered limbs with the face of a woman and a circular saw for one of its hands. Fans of the original The Evil Within will likely see some similarities between this enemy and Reborn Laura. However, for most of the time that she was present in the demo, I didn’t see her. Trust me, I didn’t need to.
In Sebastian’s chase away from the Guardian, I could hear the destruction she was laying to the path behind me, but I could also hear her crazed laughter. Although The Evil Within 2‘s voice acting has only seen a little improvement, sound and music continue to be put to good use in appropriately establishing the setting. Aside from being chased from an abomination that wished only to mow me down (one death animation showed her sawing Sebastian in half), I must admit it was most demoralizing to hear her cackle.
After narrowly escaping the Guardian, Sebastian finds himself in a small town. It’s here where a few of The Evil Within 2‘s basic mechanics are introduced, such as how to shoot, how to stealth kill enemies, and how to upgrade Sebastian using both workbenches for weapon-handling and Tatiana Gutierrez’s upgrade chair accessible from fractured mirrors, similar to the first title.
At this point, a number of cutscenes also began playing, showcasing The Evil Within 2‘s impressive visuals, especially compared to those of its predecessor. Although The Evil Within 2is overall pleasing to look at both inside and outside of these cutscenes, there were moments that pulled me out of the experience, such as one scene where Sebastian was speaking to another character and their eyes rolled almost like a lifeless doll then locked back onto Sebastian, where they were presumably always meant to be. In a game with psychotic masses of limbs and blades, this might seem like another horror effect on paper, but it was an unintentional flaw on a perfectly healthy human character.
Sebastian begins wandering through the dark town, which is seemingly in a state of anarchy and almost completely populated by the Haunted, a crazed enemy with rotting flesh. He eventually finds a friend (of sorts) in a member of MOBIUS whose squad seems to have been eliminated by the Haunted threat. He informs Sebastian of a radio signal that seems to be playing the terrified voice of a girl. Thinking that it must be Lily, Sebastian sets out to locate the source of the signal.
At this point, the environment seemingly opens up. Although I didn’t have much opportunity to explore due to time constraints, there were a number of houses and open streets between myself and the direction of the radio signal that seemed like they could have held valuable loot for crafting or nothing but a grotesque horror. Nonetheless, the environment felt open and full of possibility for the courageous wanderer.
Before the end, I found myself wandering into an old church with a preacher in the process of turning into a Haunted. He was soon accompanied by two others that clambered in through the windows, properly flanking me on both sides. As all three moved towards me, I began taking shots at the preacher (he was the one directly in front of me!) while trying to back away. I wound up backing myself into a corner where all three began to claw at me. It was a close call, but I eventually blasted my way through them, taking off limbs and making a bloody mess of the scene.
Heart now racing, I left the church, made quick work of a Haunted climbing out from under a car wreck, and finally found the source of the radio signal in the form of a house, lighted from the inside high upon a hill. Between myself and the house stood a spectral horror of some sort. I elected to treat it like a bee: I don’t bother it, and it won’t bother me. After giving the glowing entity its wide berth, I made my way closer to the house, and just when I thought I was safe, she grabbed me. The glowing horror revealed herself to be a mass of flowing hair with long, white arms and the demo abruptly ended.
The Evil Within 2 is a title that has clear knowledge of how to set a scene utilizing all senses at its disposal. In this demo, lighting, sound, and tight quarters combat combine to disorient and misdirect the player. Although other titles may attempt to overwhelm by thrusting large numbers of enemies to create a sense of urgency, my time with The Evil Within 2 demonstrated that only a few well-placed ones are necessary to heighten anxiety and create a true horror experience. Whether creeping through halls or sprinting through the open outdoors, The Evil Within 2 will ensure you never feel safe.
The Evil Within 2 launches on PC, PS4, and Xbox One on October 13, 2017.