While this year saw Capcom take the Resident Evil franchise in a new direction by shifting to first-person and incorporating stealth in Resident Evil 7, Bethesda has been busy recapturing the series’ roots in The Evil Within with the help of original Resi director Shinji Mikami.
Now he’s back at it with The Evil Within 2, continuing the story of Detective Sebastian Castellanos, this time as he delves into the town of Union on the hunt for his daughter and, surprise surprise, finds all manner of nasty stuff along the way. We spent an hour playing through two of the game’s chapters at Gamescom, and here’s what we think.
There might be mild spoilers for the first game to follow, but we won’t gave away anything significant from the sequel’s story.
Pre-order The Evil Within 2
The Evil Within 2 is out in the UK and US from 13 October 2017. Which is a Friday. The 13th. Obviously.
Pre-orders have opened for The Evil Within 2, so you can reserve a copy of the game from most major game retailers. In the UK, Amazon and Game are both offering the game at £49.99 on console and £39.99 on PC, though PC players can get a cheaper digital copy from Green Man Gaming for just £37.99.
If you pre-order, you’ll get a leg up in-game in the form of the Last Chance Pack, which includes the Burst Handgun, Crafting Supplies, and Medical Supplies.
Oh, and if you missed out on the original, you can pick up a copy relatively cheaply now to make sure you’re ready for the sequel.
The Evil Within 2 preview
The Evil Within 2 picks up a few years after the first game, with returning protagonist Sebastian Castellanos trying to come to terms with the startling barrage of weird and horrible stuff he had to endure at the Beacon Mental Hospital, that game’s primary setting.
At the same time, he’s grappling with the breakdown of his marriage and the apparent death of his daughter, so it’s all going swimmingly really. That is, until he’s told that his daughter isn’t so dead after all – she’s been kidnapped and used to power a virtual world using the STEM system. Naturally it falls to Sebastian to head in, track her down, and bring her back home.
We played through the game’s second and third chapters, which pick up shortly after Sebastian enters the STEM world – in this case, a elaborately constructed take on small-town USA named Union.
It’s overrun by zombie-esque versions of the town’s populace, and it’s here that the Resident Evil comparisons shine brightest thanks to the third-person controls, slow-moving enemies, and emphasis on headshots to get quick kills.
Dig a little deeper and you find more similarities. There are the herbs you need to craft healing kits, the limited ammo littered around the game world, the use of idiosyncratic objects for in-game functions (here it’s a coffee pot as a healing station).
Dig deeper still and the differences begin to emerge though – not to mention the clear influence of publisher Bethesda, best known for its sprawling open-world games like Skyrim and Fallout 4.
For one, there’s the inclusion of stealth mechanics (returning from the original). Not just stealth as a means to hide from enemies, mind, through crouching or throwing bottles to create distractions, but also stealth executions if you can sneak up behind an enemy, to take them out in (hopefully) one hit.
Adding in stealth as an option is the sort of ‘play your way’ mechanic that dominates most Bethesda titles, and you can see it play out in other aspects of The Evil Within 2, like the branching upgrade trees (separate for both your weapons and Sebastian himself) which allow you spend resources to strengthen specific areas of your playstyle, or the emphasis on crafting your ammo and healing kits from the raw materials that you find around the game.
It’s even more apparent in the new open-ended level design. While the game’s second chapter is a mostly linear affair with a few specific setpieces, the third chapter opens up substantially as you reach the proper town, leaving you free to explore as you please.
The game sets up an end goal for you – following a signal on your communicator – but lets you take whatever route around (or through) the houses you’d like to get there, and even includes optional sidequests that might play out little stories, let you fight new types of enemies, or reward you with collectibles, items, or resources.
The use of multiple resources reflects another subtle distinction from Resident Evil. There, the only real benefit to killing enemies was to remove them as a threat – you were usually better running and avoiding them if you were able to. Here, felled enemies drop the resource you need to upgrade Sebastian’s enemies, giving you a reason to take the time to kill them all – and a tradeoff against your limited stock of ammo.
If all of this has got you worried that The Evil Within 2 has strayed too far from its survival horror roots, fear not – or rather, do fear, because the game is still properly scary. Sure, you can turn down the difficulty and get a safer, more action-y experience, but stick to Nightmare mode and the devs promise an experience comparable to the original, with scarce resources, tough enemies, and your survival frequently in doubt.
The game does a great job of establishing a sinister tone throughout thanks to its dark, dank setting, frequently punctuated by unsettling noises off in the distance. The suburban environment only adds to the horror, each individual house representing a fresh threat, with who knows what lurking behind its doors, and cramped confines for almost every encounter.
Not every threat is simply supernatural though, and our playtest also featured an early encounter with Stefano, a twisted photographer using Union to explore his darker artistic impulses. Evading him and his creations was a more linear affair, but it gave the devs the chance to play with a different type of horror, breaking down Sebastian’s reality in a way reminiscent of titles like Eternal Darkness, leaving the player constantly in doubt as to exactly what’s meant to be real.