When the first Evil Within was announced, people were excited. Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami was onboard as director, promising a return to survival horror’s roots. Limited ammo, tight corridors, and punishing enemies – all with a strong psychological hook. Warping environments and confusing geometry underpinned its visual identity.
While parts of the game delivered, The Evil Within was fragmented. Early parts stressed stealthy tactics, which were thrown away in later acts for more traditional run-and-gun gameplay. Bosses were intimidating in their design, but a bevy of one-kill moves proved more frustrating than terrifying. The game was also plagued with technical problems; a suffocating widescreen, and head-scratching performance issues.
That’s why I was interested in getting my hands on The Evil Within 2. I poured a lot of time into the original, and its DLC packs too – even going so far as cranking up the difficulty and going through the game with the default weapons.
The Evil Within 2 has the same attention to detail in its art and environment design. Heavily coloured light paints areas in a sickly glow, building tension and unease. Familiar environments are made unfamiliar with stretched and warped geometry.
That also trickles down to the enemy design. While you have your stock-standard zombified humans, the larger enemies are where that detail shines. Much like the first game, it blends eastern and western horror sensibilities; long-haired ghost ladies bent at strange angles, wielding noisy murderous weapons.
Stealth still plays a part, but developer Tango Gameworks seem to have learnt their lesson. While the previous game surfaced a visibility meter when trying to sneak around, enemies would react to your presence, apropos of nothing. From there, encounters would spiral out of control, not making stealthy a very viable option.
In the build I played there were no meters, but enemies have a much more lenient detection radius. As far as I could tell, the brightness of their eyes is used to communicate their suspicion levels. Slinking up for a quiet kill has also been made more generous, with a single button press that pops up from slightly farther away.
At its heart, the game is still a third-person shooter. Aiming is still handled over the shoulder, but its less swimmy this time. It’s also easier to read your surroundings, as the giant black widescreen bars aren’t there to block your vision. Enemies are more reactive to your shots too, which is good to see. In the first game, it could often feel like you were throwing bullets at your foes. Here they flinch and stumble, making even non-critical shots feel meaningful.
Environments are also open, allowing for different approaches to objectives. The first game tooled around with this idea in areas like the village, but it was later forgotten in favour of linear run-and-gun sections. If that design philosophy is more ubiquitous in The Evil Within 2, I’ll be happy.
Also, green goo is back. Watching Sebastian hurriedly diving to the floor to scoop up the mystery liquid into a jar is still hilarious, if not at odds with the game’s darker tones.
Update [22/09/2017, 11:48AM NZST]: This previous paragraph mentioned the preview build was running at 30 FPS. This was found to be untrue, and it was actually running at 60 FPS. The first game was locked at 30 FPS, but was patched later to support higher frame rates.
By all accounts, Tango Gameworks have learnt from the first game’s glaring mechanical issues. But they’re also doubling down on the franchise’s unique identity, with horrifying monsters and oppressive environments. We’ll know come October 13 if The Evil Within 2 has pulled it off.
Keith travelled to a press event in Sydney, courtesy of Bethesda.