The Evil Within 2 hands-on preview: An artistic approach to horror, and vice versa

The Evil Within 2

I never finished The Evil Within. I’d say it’s on my Pile of Shame, but to be honest I’m not very ashamed—I hated it. I hated its clunky player movement. I hated the boss battles, which were often about as buggy as they were annoying. I hated how long it took your character to open a damn door. Most of all I hated the save system, which spaced out checkpoints an infuriating amount sometimes. After banging my head against it for five hours, I quit and never looked back.

Until last week. Last week I reinstalled The Evil Within.

Why? Because for all that I hated the original, I find myself intrigued by The Evil Within 2. Intrigued enough to give Detective Sebastian Castellanos another shot, at least.

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Take two

Evil Within 2 ($60 preorder on Amazon) hasn’t solved every problem. Castellanos still opens a door like it weighs 800 pounds and he has arthritic wrists. But the situation’s improved enough in other ways to stoke my interest again.

The Evil Within 2

The Evil Within 2

Movement, for one. I played about 40 minutes of Evil Within 2, and while it’s subtle I would say it plays more like an action game this time around.

Wait, wait, wait! I don’t mean that in a “dumbed down” way, nor do I mean they’ve stripped away the survival horror aspects! This is no Wolfenstein II. You’re not dual-wielding shotguns and storming through entire mobs of zombies—far from it. If anything, the original Evil Within’s aesthetic is not only intact but amplified. There are long stretches of Evil Within 2 focused on exploration, there’s blood and guts aplenty, and even a few disorienting architectural tricks a la Layers of Fear.

But The Evil Within often felt torn between survival horror and action. One second you’d be painstakingly rationing ammo and creeping around, the next you’d be forced into a room and the doors barred until you’d killed a dozen enemies, or blowing through ammo by the box trying to take down a particularly tenacious boss, all while trying to manage Castellanos and his asthmatic lungs.

The Evil Within 2

The Evil Within 2

It was a good survival horror game but a bad action game, and the problem was that it kicked you into Action Game Mode too often. Some survival horror games manage to balance both sides of this game design see-saw— Resident Evil 4, for instance, which The Evil Within played spiritual successor to. But I just never felt like The Evil Within was comfortable in this hybrid state. The big combat moments were too numerous and too often unavoidable, and the result was just an artificially clumsy action game.

The Evil Within 2 keeps some elements—you’re still rationing ammo, still aiming for those headshots. On the other hand, Castellanos handles a hundred times better, the guns feel more powerful and more precise, and the game takes advantage by dumping you into more demanding scenarios. My demo was book-ended by a pair of boss battles, and while I wouldn’t say either will land on my “all-time favorite game moments” list I at least didn’t find them as aggravating as even the early-game bosses in The Evil Within.

I’ve no doubt these changes will aggravate a certain number of fans from the first game, and I get it—true survival horror series are few and far between, and growing fewer by the year. (See also: Outlast 2.) But for my part I feel like it brings the “vision” for The Evil Within more in line with the reality, and results not necessarily in a streamlined experience so much as just a competent, well-playing game. It’s something I enjoyed my 40 minutes with, while still bearing the survival horror look.

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