This article original appeared in Game Informer issue 294.

Famed game creator Shinji Mikami, known as the “father of survival horror” for his work on the Resident Evil series, is not returning to the director’s chair for The Evil Within 2. After successfully launching this new horror series, he stepped back to let his young team at Tango Gameworks take the reins. While Mikami remains a key player in overseeing the progress of this sequel, he handed the bloody directorial baton to John Johanas, who served as a visual effects designer on The Evil Within, but also got his feet wet as the director of the game’s two DLC add-ons, The Assignment and The Consequence.

The shakeup in direction doesn’t mean a new start for the series. Unlike the first few Resident Evil games, which introduced new protagonists and threats, The Evil Within 2 once again inflicts pain and suffering upon Sebastian Castellanos, a detective for the Krimson City Police Department who lost his family, sobriety, and everything but his sanity.

At the beginning of The Evil Within, Castellanos was dispatched to investigate multiple homicides at Krimson City’s Beacon Mental Hospital, but soon found himself the pawn in a sinister game created by a mysterious organization called Mobius, as well as a sick individual named Ruben Victoriano (known more commonly as Ruvik).

After losing his sister in a barn fire, Ruvik created a device called STEM that unites multiple users’ minds into one, allowing them to physically live within one central user’s memories. Ruvik created this machine with the hope of seeing his sister again. He was sloppy in his experimentation, and the technology soon became the desire of Mobius. They killed Ruvik and stole his creation, but soon realized that they needed his brain to operate it. They reanimated his brain to use it as the central operating system of STEM, which was activated again when Castellanos entered the hospital.

Castellanos was trapped in a world of horror where he experienced Ruvik’s torment and anger firsthand. After a hellish journey, he ended Ruvik’s psychological threat by detaching his brain from STEM, but it may not have stopped him completely. The game’s conclusion is left ambiguous, perhaps implying Ruvik returned to the real world and is now controlling the body of a patient named Leslie Winters.

Three years have passed since the incident at Beacon Mental Hospital, and Castellanos has been searching for answers that may link Mobius to the death of his family. As The Evil Within 2 begins, he receives a message from his former partner Juli Kidman, who was secretly working for Mobius the entire time.

“Sebastian, for three years since Beacon happened, you’ve been searching for answers,” she said in a recording. “You didn’t find what you were looking for because they didn’t want you to. Mobius knows you’ve been following us. They’ve been watching you for a long time. You trained and trusted me, and in return I betrayed you. Long before we met, you lost your daughter Lily. She’s still alive. This is your chance to save her; to get back what you lost. Lily needs you. You’re going to need to go back into STEM. Again.”

As reluctant as Castellanos is to return to a world that nearly killed him a hundred times over, he learns that the central brain being used for this new iteration of STEM is his daughter’s. He must enter her mind to locate her, and hopefully save her. He also hopes to destroy Mobius in the process.


An Old Threat Reborn
Our demo begins in the game’s second chapter, called “Something Not Quite Right.” We don’t know what events precede this playthrough, but the dialogue leads us to believe Sebastian just entered STEM again.

Kidman is back as a guiding voice, but an untrusted one now that Castellanos knows her true intentions. She tells him that he should begin by looking for the members of Mobius’ lost Search Party Team, who disappeared in a town called Union. She suggests they may have a lead on Lily. The town, which is created by Lily, is supposed to be quaint and peaceful, showing how STEM should -really -work.

We meet Castellanos in a deteriorating elevator, but he already looks like he’s been through hell. His right hand is bandaged, he looks disheveled, and although he’s wearing a tactical shoulder holster, he appears to have already lost his weapons.

When the elevator doors open, the environment around him is shrouded in darkness. A lone florescent light illuminates a small section of a regal black and white checkered floor. A fenced in area can faintly be seen to the left. Castellanos approaches the light, and ducks down to squeeze through a hole in the fence that appears to have been munched on by something large. Again, we see nothing but an unnerving black. Castellanos activates his flashlight, which provides a little comfort, but not nearly enough. A quick scan of the area reveals nothing of importance – more fencing to the left, torn white drapes to the right, and the makings of machinery and equipment for a factory. Looking dead ahead, Castellanos sees dozens of corpses wearing white robes dangling from ropes. They all appear to have been hanged, but the blood on their bodies shows something sinister happened to them before this.

The only way forward is through the corpses. Castellanos moves slowly, but accidentally runs into a couple of them. They remain dead, swaying gently from his touch. The sea of bodies gives way to a metal wall with a red eye painted on it. He can’t interact with it, but a loud swooshing sound rings out, and he spins to see a camera on a tripod across the room. He examines it, and again hears a swoosh. The dangling bodies have moved, and now are lined in straight rows, revealing a clear path to a metal door. Castellanos cautiously inches forward, and opens it. A well-dressed man stands directly behind the door holding a camera. Before Castellanos can do anything, the camera flashes brightly, and then we see nothing but darkness.

Awakening on the floor of a new room, Castellanos sees a wall-sized mirror holding the photograph that was just taken of him. Frustration begins to sink in. He angrily grabs the photo, and then sees something out of the corner of his eye – a woman dressed in red reflected in the mirror. A quick spin reveals nothing, just more white drapes covering age-old items. Castellanos turns back toward the mirror, which now holds the sinister smile of a demon that looks like Laura, the spider-like demon that stalked him throughout the first game.

The mirror shatters loudly, and this new version of Laura now caled “Guardian” stands in his world. As a manifestation of Lily’s mind, she’s different now, standing somewhat normally on two legs, but is at least 12-feet tall. Her hair is still a hypnotic mess of black, but it’s no longer her defining feature; her right arm is replaced by a gigantic, spinning saw blade. A deeper look at Guardian’s body reveals her flesh is sewn together with black wire, and every once in a while you can see smaller arms reaching out from her limbs. She’s a monstrosity, and once again incredibly violent.

Castellanos spins and runs, turning every which way, but the room is relatively small, offering no escape route. Guardian laughs hysterically, but has trouble keeping tabs on her prey’s location. This allots Castellanos time to sprint past her into the opening where the mirror once sat. Guardian’s wild laughter keeps up with Castellanos’ descent into a lengthy hallway, his stamina draining with each step.

Castellanos looks back to see where Guardian is, only to see her burst through a wall. The pursuit continues, and panic is clearly setting in on our unlucky protagonist. He keeps looking behind him, but should keep his gaze directly ahead to a glowing white door that has silently opened to reveal the man with the camera again. He’s done taking photos, and now wields a sizable hunting knife. The man throws the blade forward and it slides easily into Castellanos’ shoulder, sending him to the ground. The man turns around and vanishes in a puff of smoke. Guardian’s pursuit intensifies. She lunges forward and grabs Castellanos off of the floor with what appears to be three separate hands that make up her left arm. As he’s being strangled to death, Castellanos pulls the knife from his arm and jams it into his attacker. She drops him and screams in pain, creating a window for escape. After entering the doorway of light, Castellanos falls to the ground, and the door behind vanishes in a flash. He’s now in a quaint, abandoned house.

This is how our hero obtains his first weapon: the hunting knife. This dramatic moment also signals a shift away from unrelenting action to Castellanos becoming the hunter through slower-paced exploration.


Fighting Back

Electricity still pumps through the home, and many of the rooms have working lights that show it’s been lived in recently. The windows are broken and trash bags are everywhere, but everything else is pristine, such as the nicely arranged vases on the mantel and modern furniture. The home holds healing items, the first of 40 hidden documents, and a handgun. Castellanos almost misses the firearm when leaving the house through the front door, but grabs it from an end table with one foot out of the household.

Standing outside on the front porch, his surroundings are darkened woods with a tall tree canopy blocking out most of the moonlight, but not the light rain. A concrete path begs him to venture into the woodlands, and he wastes no time finding out where it leads. He assures himself, “Don’t worry. It’s just a small, quiet town,” but takes it back seconds later, “Yeah… Too quiet.”

A good way down the path, he sees a woman sprint into another home. He calls for her, but she doesn’t break stride. He tries to knock on the door, but it slides open when his hand touches it. Again, darkness, but this time with a voice saying “Skin and bones… Eat. Gotta eat…” We then see plastic bags filled with unrecognizable meat, and a woman at a table feeding a boy. He looks near dead, but his gargles say otherwise. She slaps him when he struggles to swallow whatever she spooned him. “Don’t cry. I’m doing what’s best for you,” she says, as she slams his head against the table.

It’s a disturbing moment, and for the sake of spoilers I won’t detail what happens next, but Castellanos learns humans are more than they seem. Their heads are made up of white tentacles that squirm wildly, but almost appear to be made of milk or glue.

So far in this demo, one of the big things jumping out is Castellanos’ animations. He may vocalize his thoughts to a thing he is seeing, but you’ll sometimes seem little animations that go along with his state of thought. When he approaches the boy at the kitchen table, he puts his left hand up to his face to cover his nose, and then his right as he draws in closer. If the player didn’t approach the table, this little sequence wouldn’t be seen. A thorough inspection of the house reveals the crafting component gunpowder.

Castellanos once again enters the wooded area. The rain has ceased and nightfall appears to be setting in. A short run down the stone path leads to a road with abandoned cars obscured in light fog. The sounds of gunshots and yelling ring out. Castellanos tracks the sounds to what appears to be the heart of the city, with several small two-to three-story buildings and a church.

Just when it seems the coast is clear, several rotting zombies sprint across the road in hot pursuit of a Union security detail. Although the detail is decked out in flak jackets and equipped with heavy artillery, there are too many zombies to deal with. A few panicked shots hit their marks, but the zombie hunger wins out. One Union member enters a house and slams the door.

Castellanos uses stealth to navigate the swarm, sliding along the side of cars and emerging at the right times to silently take down lone zombies with a knife through the top of their skulls. Enemies have three stages of alertness: a sound wave indicating they hear you, a partially open eye for thinking they saw something, and an open eye for full awareness. Although timing is everything, and Castellanos won’t want to remain exposed for too long, he wants to recover the Green Gel enemies drop, which can be used later to upgrade his abilities.

Most of the zombies are feeding on their new meals, and Castellanos has no problem making short work of them. A close look at one of their corpses again reveals the milky substance on specific body parts. After entering the same home that the Union person fled to, Castellanos moves a bookcase in front of the door to block it, just like Leon could in Resident Evil 4.

The frightened Union worker has barricaded himself in the basement. He reveals himself as Liam O’Neal, and appears wary of a non-Union member talking to him. Castellanos says he’s here to “restore the Core,” which likely means he’s trying to remove his daughter from it.

The game then indicates that the player has located O’Neal’s Safe House, a location that can be revisited. The first Evil Within game was linear in design, but the sequel now features areas you can return to. Union is somewhat of an open space that can be freely explored. O’Neal won’t venture out of the house with Castellanos, but does have information on the Core, and tells him Castellanos’ “communicator” can be tuned to detect its activity. The goal now is to track the girl’s voice to its origin.

Before leaving the safe house, Castellanos drinks a cup of coffee, which restores him to full health. He must brew another pot if he wants to use it again, but this action will take some time to complete. He also grabs ammo, weapon parts, and more gun powder, which he combines at the workbench to craft more handgun bullets. He also uses this station to upgrade his handgun’s ammo capacity. The other upgrade options are firepower, fire rate, and reload time. All options feed from the same weapon parts pool, and each field can be upgraded numerous times, leading to the weapon gaining levels. Castellanos can also craft items in the field, but at the expense of more resources.


Resonances

The hallway in the safe house produces a familiar sight: a specter of a nurse walking into a mirror. Castellanos shouldn’t be confused by this vision, as they were one of the few beacons of safety in Ruvik’s mind, but he immediately questions it. “What the…who was that?”

He peers into the mirror and is teleported to what appears to be a police station. At the end of a hallway sits a wheelchair under a spotlight. When Castellanos approaches it, static appears on screen and he’s teleported to another reality, one that cannot be made out for a split second, before returning to the chair. Reality shifts to a darker place again, and we see the chair consume 
Castellanos, fastening his arms and placing a device over his head.

The nurse approaches him, and he finally recognizes her as Tatiana. From this chair, the player can once again exchange Green Gel for upgrades in health, combat, athleticism, stealth, and recovery.

These fields should allow players to sculpt skills to their preferred play style. Upgrading stealth can lead to small bonuses like increased movement speed, and bigger perks down the skill tree like the ability to perform a stealth kill from around a corner. The combat tree increases damage of melee attacks, and can decrease the kickback of a shotgun. Athleticism can be upgraded to enable an auto-avoid for specific attacks, and recovery has a perk that makes Castellanos automatically use a medical syringe when taking a fatal blow.

The police station is a haven for Castellanos. Here, he finds the first of a new collectible, one of 11 photographic slides that can be viewed through a projector on his desk. This particular slide shows us a moment from Castellanos’ family life. He comments on it.

After returning to Union via another mirror, Castellanos ventures to the city square to track down a girl’s voice using his communicator. By holding it in front of him, he can scan for resonance, indicated by a frequency fuzz that intensifies when he points the communicator in the right direction. Once a strong signal is found, he can lock onto it.

Heading onto the street again triggers an event. Part of the world sudden collapses, creating what appears to be a bottomless canyon. Another part of it jets upward to create a mountain-like structure with a portion of the city still perched precariously atop it. The search for the girl requires just as much stealth as before, but now with the added effort of bringing up the communicator to keep going in the right direction. At one point, Castellanos picks up chatter from a fallen Mobius operative and uses the frequency to find his location, leading to the bounty five handgun bullets.

The world is open for him to freely explore, should he chose to do so. He can also track “unknown resonance” to perhaps find other people in need. In this playthrough, he scavenges the exterior of homes for a bit, but continues following the girl’s voice.

His journey leads to a beautiful white home, where he finds a journal on the kitchen table. When he touches it, the room temperature drops, and a chair shakes violently. Lights flicker as he retreats to the living room. Before he can get there, a ghost-like apparition of a woman appears behind him. She hums a melody, as she slowly floats forward.

I’ll again refrain from spoiling what happens next. This sequence shows just how terrifying The Evil Within 2 can be for encounter design, pacing, and keeping players off kilter. The gameplay hasn’t changed much since the original entry, but this second stage shows the player has more freedom in exploration.

It’ll be interesting to see just how far Tango takes this element when The Evil Within 2 launches on October 13 (Friday the 13th). Our first taste of this dark adventure was filled with jump scares, gore, and monsters galore, but the big hook is once again Castellanos’ journey for answers, which is far more personal this time with his daughter being dangled in front of him.