The Evil Within 2 review-in-progress
While Capcom has taken the Resident Evil franchise in a new direction by shifting to first-person and incorporating stealth in Resident Evil 7, Bethesda has been revisiting the series' heyday in The Evil Within with the help of Shinji Mikami, director of the original Resident Evil and - perhaps more importantly - the action-packed Resident Evil 4.
Now he's back at it (though only as a producer this time) with The Evil Within 2, continuing the story of Detective Sebastian Castellanos 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've played the first few hours of the game, and here's what we think so far - we'll update this to a final review once we've made more progress.
There might be mild spoilers for the first game to follow, but we won't gave away anything significant from the sequel's story.
Order The Evil Within 2
The Evil Within 2 is out in the UK and US now, having come out on 13 October 2017. Which was a Friday. The 13th. Obviously.
In the UK, Amazon is offering the game for £40 on console and £32 on PC, while Game has it at £44.99 on console and £34.99 on PC - though PC players can get a digital copy from Green Man Gaming for £37.99.
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 review
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.
This time around the STEM world is a generic American small town 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. A new enemy visibility meter significantly improves the stealth this time around, making it much more intuitive to catch enemies unawares and plan your movements.
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 this time) 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 - much expanded from the original's crossbow bolt crafting.
It's even more apparent in the new open-ended level design. While the game's first two chapters are linear affairs with a few specific set-pieces, 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 turn off aim assist 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 you'll also encounter human enemies like 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.
The Evil Within 2 is a game that wants to be a few different things: survival horror, mind-bending surrealism, action-adventure, and open-world exploration. It sounds like an unwieldy mix, but against the odds the game seems to hold it all together - though you'll have to wait for our final review to find out if that lasts the duration.