The Evil Within launched in 2014 to no shortage of foreboding atmosphere and spine-chilling scares, but caught flak for failing to let players make more choices. Directed by Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami, the game had a nasty habit of shuttling players down a linear path. Without allowing for sufficient time to build and release tension, the game's most nightmarish monsters and settings became tedious and frustrating instead of menacing and striking.
Based on the hands-on demo I played of Evil Within 2's early chapters at QuakeCon, Mikami and the team at developer Tango Gameworks have sewed up that problem while intensifying the original's terrifying décor and tone. At first, though, I had good cause to believe that wouldn't be the case.
My demo started in a dimly lit corridor where a demon that appeared at first glance to be an amalgamate of body parts and waving a chainsaw chased me down a hallway. That sort of greeting leaves one with little choice but to run straight ahead toward any point of egress within reach.
Once I escaped into dark and spooky countryside, Evil Within 2 hit me with literal and figurative breaths of fresh air. You'll once again play as Sebastian, but this time he's searching for his missing daughter. Before long he finds himself in a Silent Hill-type town full of the walking dead and worse monsters. With every step I took, I could feel the world expanding. Narrow corridors gave way to roads bordered by woods. In a cabin, I put down one monster before being set free to poke around for bullets, medicinal needles, and crafting items such as gunpowder and, of course, green herbs.
The next challenge was my greatest yet: Navigate a mob of zombies shambling amid a street clogged with derelict vehicles to follow an NPC into a building at the far end of the screen. Mikami and Resident Evil taught me 21 years ago that it's always better to evade enemies and conserve ammo when possible. Not only does Evil Within 2 give you the freedom to make that choice, it ups the tension by tempting you to take bigger risks in exchange for bigger rewards.
Choice is the keystone of good survival-horror experiences. Killing a tough enemy or pack of monsters could clear the way to a better weapon or much-needed healing items, while skirting danger lets you save ammo and health for later. Alone on a country road in Evil Within 2, I snuck up behind an enemy and performed a stealth kill that dispatched him instantly without alerting his buddies. When his body began to ooze and bubble, I looted him and recovered green slime used to upgrade my character's abilities.
That's the rub. I was able to pick out a path around the horde of monsters and into the safety of a nearby building, at the expense of looting more precious slime. I wondered if staying out of danger and missing out on harvesting the ooze would hurt me later in the game, when upgrades to my health and abilities will likely come in handy.
My hope is that Evil Within 2 shapes up to be the sort of game that will let me make that crucial choice: Become adept at killing lots of enemies and stockpiling upgrade materials, or forego confrontation for a slower, more circumspect style of progression. Although it's too early to say for sure, the slice of the game I played indicated that favoring flight over fight could be possible. You need slime to spec out your character's abilities, but other supplies are necessary for crafting ammunition and building parts to augment your weapons. In theory, skimping on slime could be a viable alternative, provided you explore thoroughly and take advantage of every opportunity to upgrade your weapons and craft supplies.
Provided Tango Gameworks makes good on giving players more agency, The Evil Within 2 seems poised to deliver a compelling serving of thrills and chills when it releases on October 13.