Previews

Genre refining: The Evil Within 2 preview

The Evil Within 2 team used Bethesda’s fall preview to show off a second, and somewhat different demo than the one we saw at Gamescom.  “The last demo we had showed off the new open ended environments, but today we’re showing something a bit more linear and typical of classic survival horror,” our presenter explained.  The series, being based on a mashing of minds, has a lot of compelling material to offer in these linear story focused segments.  However, the demo started in a familiar safe room with plenty of the games resources to spend on upgrading my loadout, reminding us of the game’s deep roots in the survival horror mechanics.

The first game in the series reached “surprise hit status,” and quickly gained the attention of horror fans.  In hindsight, it’s relatively easy to understand how this happened.  In recent years, the horror genre has largely been driven by new IPs with wildly different gameplay paradigms.  A new generation of “let’s play” friendly games work by stripping the player of power and dropping you in an environment with an all powerful enemy.  The ludonarrative focus of these games made them easy and exciting to talk about.  While some of the more imposing enemies and earlier sections of The Evil Within seem to play off the same dynamics, the game quickly began to rely on classic genre tropes.  With Shinji Mikami’s name attached, many critics were set up to expect more of a genre redefining experience than they got.  Meanwhile, fans of these conventions who were largely starved for new games ate it up.

I am a longtime consumer of survival horror myself, and as I moved out of the starting area of the demo my genre sense tingled.  It was clear that I was being set up for a boss encounter.  A large eye peering through a camera lense looked down on me as I approached what looked to be a city hall.  After opening a gate and making my way behind a chainlink fence, the saw-handed, many headed enemy from the opening segment of the last demo assembled itself. Locked in the courtyard with it, my suspicions were confirmed and I began taking stock of the environment.

There is a recurring camera motif in the demo Bethesda showed for the game

The boss arena was broken up by overturned vehicles, impassable hedges, breakable crates, and smaller sections fences off by chain link.  While pursued, I spotted an apparent trap in the form of a trip line.  I avoided it and planted myself on the other side and took a few shots trying to lure the monster into it.  As it crossed the line with no effect, I scrambled away looking for another place to get an advantage.  I turned several times in an attempt to take shots at the creatures many heads, and clumsily found myself tripping over the line I had avoided before.  The sound of a camera flash popped and suddenly time had stopped around me.  I turned and planted myself and emptied my gun.  Time resumed and I was once again the prey.

I made my way to the other side of the arena and repeated the trick.  Before I knew it, I was virtually out of ammunition, and not exactly feeling up to scouring the arena on a hope and a prayer.  I had used the workbench in the safe area to stock up, but I hadn’t planned adequately.  I opened the new field crafting menu and debated how many of my resources I should consume to try and carry me to victory.  Resource management is a real source of dread, and the worry that I would burn too many resources on the more expensive field crafting gave me a glimpse of where I would find the fear in the full game.

As I left the menu and blasted the creature again my fears were realized.  I was only a few hits away from victory and I had just blown way too many resources getting myself back in the fight.  Adding insult to injury, while exploring the cleared arena I found all the ammo I would have needed was hidden away in small caches around the map.

Defeated, I entered the building and was greeted by what was left of MOBIUS agent.  After a brief cutscene explaining my next objective, a device called the “stable field emitter” which needed to be powered up, I was let loose to explore and find the objective.  What followed was a trippy stretch of exploration as the environment seemed to warp each time I turned around.  Doors appeared where none were before, I left a room only to find myself back where I had come from.

Fans of horror as a genre will be familiar with this shtick.  While I’ve long lost the ability to be scared by segments like this, I couldn’t help but feel a smile come across my face.  Horror fans often become scrutinizers of theme and imagery.  Finding a clever thread that passes through the fiction can be fun in and of itself.  I played with the idea of the game’s camera being used against me in a game where the antagonist I was up against was photographer.  The limited point of view of my over the shoulder camera hid what was really going on as I walked through a gallery of photographs, adorned by numerous antique cameras.  The environment ultimately opened up into a darkroom with my the stable field emitter sitting at the center.

As I powered it on, the display on the device lit up from it with a 90s countdown timer and an array of antennae emerged from the top.  As the machine warmed up, the sound of a flashbulb popped and I was frozen in place.  The game camera cut to an actual camera with Stefano, the villain teased in the game’s trailers.  Stefano walks around and basks in a moment of exposition, monologuing at you and teasing another unknown villain.

The Obscura showcases tango Gameworks’ commitment to the game’s themes

Once Stefano left, time resumed.  As the timer on the device began ticking down, a grotesque creature with an antique camera for a head crawled out of the shadows on the ceiling.  It approached the stable field emitter and it’s flash went off, halting the timer.  The cameras bellows stretch and turn as it began hunting me.  Check out our gameplay video to see this encounter in action.

The Evil Within 2 will be released Friday, October 13th for Playstation 4, XBOX One, and PC.  For more information check out the game’s official site, or the Steam page.  For more coverage of The Evil Within 2, check out our interview with the series creator and the game’s director.

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