The Evil Within 2
My eyes caught something shimmering in knee-high grass. At first it looked like a dog, maybe a wolf. The only thing I could fully comprehend was its hunger; I was being hunted. When it slithered out of the field, I was even more confused by what I saw. Like a beast born of H. P. Lovecraft's mind, I couldn't quite make out what I was looking at. I counted at least four legs, something that appeared to be a tail, but could have just been a giant piece of flesh flopping around, and three heads. Yes, I was convinced it had three heads, and six glowing, red eyes.
The beast lunged at me, and slashed my chest. I toppled to the ground, but quickly got to my feet, only to foolishly sprint into the field. The beast noisily gave chase, and it was only a matter of time before I felt those claws again. Before I knew what hit me, I was on the ground; the open maw of the beast consumed my head and ripped it clean off of my body.
This was one of the three deaths that befell protagonist Sebastian Castellanos during my hour-long play session of The Evil Within 2. I never got a good look at that beast, and I sure as hell wasn't going to take another look. I wasn't prepared for that encounter, both mentally or in firepower. I just had a pistol with 10 precious bullets.
My demo with The Evil Within 2 began predictably for the series, with Castellanos moving along a linear path filled with horrors and sights that would seemingly change in the blink of an eye. The jump scares were quite good, and the design of the beasts were as wildly imaginative as they were grotesque, but this introduction could have easily been a sequence in the first game. Like most horror movie series that replicate a successful formula until audiences can't stomach another sequel, it seemed like developer Tango Gameworks was walking along the same path with The Evil Within 2. Same gameplay approach. Same protagonist. Even one of the creatures looked awfully similar to the long-haired nightmare named "Laura" from the first game.
Just as I was beginning to gain an appreciation of how Tango was subjecting Castellanos to familiar, yet slightly different horrors, the script of the game changed completely. Castellanos was thrown (almost quite literally) into a city called Union, which is a fabrication of his daughter Lily. If you played the first game and are confused as to why Lily is alive, so is Castellanos. Three years after he survived STEM and ended Ruvik's threat, he received a message from former partner Kidman informing him that his daughter may still be alive. If this isn't shocking enough as is, he also learns her brain is powering a new version of STEM.
Castellanos enters Union, hoping to find a way to communicate with Lily. Union is a sprawling open area that Castellanos can freely explore. I didn't get the chance to explore the area fully to see just how large it is, but it does appear the player can head in any direction they want to. Described as a "quiet, small town," Union appears to have one main street that runs through it, leading people to a gas station, various shops, and a church with a white steeple. While it screams "small town USA" in aesthetic, the screams bleed of horror. Zombies are everywhere, and few of them appear to be of the same type.
I veer off of the street to explore the church. The doors are locked tight, and I should have taken that as a sign not to snoop around in this area. I venture into the darkness behind the church, and come across a lone woman, horribly dead, but standing idly, and making a horrible gurgling sound. I duck and try to sneak around her, but she is fully aware I am nearby.
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.
The woman sprints at me, and I fire a few shots her way, but they wiz by her head, and before I know what hit me, she is tearing at my flesh with hands and teeth. I run and get into more trouble. I have four zombies in pursuit, and not nearly enough bullets to down them. I try to hide behind a parked car, but one of them clearly saw me take shelter. It grabs me from my seated position and feasts. I die horribly, and respawn in the street.
This time around I enter a house that I saw a Mobius team member flee into. The frightened soldier 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. O’Neal won’t venture out of the house with Castellanos, but does have information on the Core, and does tell him Castellanos’ “Communicator” can be tuned to detect its activity. The goal now is to track the girl’s voice on the device to its origin.
Before leaving the safe house, I drink a cup of coffee, which restores all of my health. I can drink another pot, but will have to wait for it to brew – this action will take some time to complete. I also grab ammo, weapon parts, and more gun powder, which I combine at the workbench to craft more handgun bullets. I also use this station to upgrade the handgun’s ammo capacity. The other upgrade options are firepower, fire rate, and reload time. All options feed from the same pool of weapon parts, 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.
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 I approach 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 the damage of melee attacks, and can decrease the kickback of a shotgun. Athleticism can be upgraded to enable auto-avoid for specific attacks, and recovery has a perk that makes Castellanos automatically use a medical syringe when taking a fatal blow.
I return to Union and use the Communicator to track Lily's voice. I work my way past several houses and use their backyards to sneak past a variety of zombie types, including one that appears to be glowing or emitting some kind of scent cloud. When I reach the origin of Lily's voice, a silhouette of her appears, showing me exactly what happened to her. She isn't actually here, however. I am just seeing a playback of sorts that will lead me closer to her. She apparently barricaded herself in the backroom of a gas station before fleeing through one of its windows. After following her path, I am once again asked to use the Communicator to find where she went next.
This leads me to the long grass I mentioned earlier. After that ghastly death, I find a safer way to navigate Union, which leads me to a fenced-in warehouse. Castellanos says Lily must be inside, and calls her smart for heading to this location. While she managed to get inside, I am not so lucky. The parking lot is a hotbed of zombie activity. I do a terrible job of evading them, but do manage to lose them for a second, as I find shelter inside a cargo container. In most stealth games, the enemies would have forgotten about me by now, but these zombies continue hunting. One of them eventually finds me hiding behind a crate. In this confined space, I have little room to dodge or fire. I manage to take out one of them with my pistol, but another zombie is waiting in the wings, and I don't have the ammo to take it out.
That's how my Evil Within 2 demo concluded. It was an intense hour that flew by, and left me wanting more. This is a more personal journey both for Castellanos, who is hunting for his daughter, and the player, who has more freedom in exploring the world, and customizing their skills and arsenal.
The Evil Within 2 launches on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on October 13 (Friday the 13th), and should be on your radar. Just make sure you play through the first game before then. Castellanos is a character who has been through hell and back, and has plenty of baggage he carries around with him. The Evil Within 2 is his second chapter, and I doubt it will hit as hard if you go into it without knowing what happened to him in the first game.