The Evil Within 2 was one of Bethesda's big surprises at E3 2017. But despite this, the publisher has been rather tight-lipped about its next foray into survival-horror, which is already coming out on October 13. Thankfully during GamesCom and QuakeCon 2017, Bethesda gave people the chance to dive into the early chapters of the game, which looks to broaden its approach to depicting the horrifying and grotesque dream worlds conjured up and dismantled on the fly--and how it'll continue to torment its troubled main character.
Three years since the events of the first game, Sebastian Castellanos has fallen on hard times. Dismissed from the police force due to his erratic account of what occurred with Ruvik and the asylum, he relapses back into alcoholism and finds himself at rock bottom. When Kidman, one of the few survivors from first game, reaches out to him and reveals that his daughter Lily is still alive--whom Sebastian believed had died in a fire--he allows himself to reconnect to the mind-bending STEM machine to find answers. With his daughter in the custody of the ominous Mobius corporation, the creators of the mind-bending STEM machine, he enters the dreamscape known as Union to find her--but this time, there's far more at stake than his own mental well-being, and his continued presence in the real world.
The first game traversed some incredibly dark and grotesque storylines, and the sequel certainly continues that direction, while also telling a more personal story about Sebastian and his past. Though the lead is familiar with the trials and tribulations of the dreamscape, there's a strong sense of deja-vu when going through the early chapters of the game, creating a weird state of confusion. Starting off in Chapter 2, Something Not Quite Right, the former detective finds himself trapped in an abandoned building with hanging bodies from the ceiling and an old camera facing his direction. After some visual trickery with doorways and walls disappearing, he must escape from a massive buzzsaw wielding creature, all the while learning of the presence that's orchestrating the events in Union.
By and large, The Evil Within 2 is very similar to the original. Sebastian will have to manage his resources, including health items, ammo, and other crafting components, while also fighting and evading various nightmares in the dreamscape. The former detective will even have opportunities to retreat to the sanctum of his inner-mind from the first game, including the return of Nurse Tatiana and the creepy upgrade chair fueled on the green gel scooped up from dead creatures in the field. Added to this is the appearance of Sebastian's former police station, which gives him the space to review case files and photo slides that shed additional light on his past, and that of Kidman's--who is his companion via radio in the waking world.
While the original was regarded as a survival horror game, it featured many fast-paced sequences and set-piece moments that felt more in line with action games, often going away from the survival aspect of the sub-genre. In The Evil Within 2, there's more of a survival focus in the core gameplay, requiring you to be more mindful of when to open fire, and what resources you use. Along with his arsenal of weapons and supplies, the former detective can collect crafting components that allow him to create ammo from gunpowder and health syringes from herbs, and weapon parts to upgrade his firearms.
One refreshing change I felt was the initial pace Evil Within 2 goes about things, which is not quite at the breakneck speed as Sebastian's last time spent in STEM--feeling more akin to being pushed along on a carnival ride. Upon arriving in a small town conjured up by Union, he finds Mobius operatives overwhelmed by more aggressive variations of the Haunted, The Evil Within's take on the traditional zombie. Truth be told, I actually died in my first encounter with these creatures. They're far more aggressive and tough to deal with in this outing, which goes back to one of the core principles of the survival horror subgenre, where you have to learn to pick your battles.
To add to this more measured approach to traversing through the environment, Sebastian will be able to explore more open-ended areas that have optional events to uncover. Working from a central safe house, which have workbenches for more efficient upgrading and crafting--and a coffee maker that restores his health--the detective is armed with a voice communicator that can hone-in on signals emanating throughout the environment. Essentially, this allows you to pick points of interest found on the way to your main objective. While you can tune out the other signals, you'd miss out on new gear and supplies, but also some rather surprising and unnerving sequences.
On the way to Lily's location, Sebastian discovers a signal coming from one of the houses on the block, located on a fairly quaint looking area on Cedar Avenue in Union's projection of the small town. Inside, the detective finds a ladder that takes him into an underground bunker with a lone computer sitting against the wall. After examining the device, the walls of the room melt away, bringing him to a black void, and then--in an instant--to a new location in an abandoned facility, inhabited with a weeping, knife-wielding enemy that can shake off stealth strikes. Going in deeper, Sebastian finds a hidden Mobius armory yielding a new shotgun and ammunition. Given that this is a survival horror title, choosing to explore these space can be somewhat of a gamble, costing you resources or your life, but it was exciting to explore such spaces that could've been avoided entirely nonetheless.
In another nearby house, Sebastian explores several rooms and learns that something is in fact not quite right--with many of the furniture upending themselves and being tossed against the walls. Suddenly, he finds himself cornered by a wailing siren that desperately wants to get a hold of him. In order to make it out alive, you'll have to sneak past this creature and find an escape from the building, which has now shifted into a derelict office. Managing to make it out alive, and netting some valuable gear, the Siren teleports in front of Sebastian in the middle of the street. After getting a hold of him, she sucks the lifeforce out of him--and of course, the demo ends there. The siren also represents the demo's timed finish, cutting to black with a title splash and release date.
While there was a lot to admire in the first game, the sequel seems to be addressing many of the concerns with pacing and pulling back a bit more on the action-focused sequences. Though this was just opening, there was an almost oppressive feeling of familiarity with The Evil Within 2, in that some sequences and events felt too much like retreads for my liking--with Sebastian surprised by an enemy having to make an escape being a common occurrence. With that said, the expanded scope of it all feels far more in-line with an adventure game, even if there's a large risk to going off the beaten path of the dreamscape. And given how diverse many of the locations were in the original game, it'll be interesting see where you can go and how deep you'll be able to explore the new places. Which will no doubt lead to some terrifying moments.