The Evil Within II

Shinji Mikami passes the torch in this chill­ing hor­ror se­quel

EDGE - - SECTIONS - De­vel­oper Bethesda Soft­works Pub­lisher Tango Game­works For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Ori­gin Ja­pan Re­lease Oc­to­ber 13

PC, PS4, Xbox One

Shinji Mikami still has a soft spot for his opus, it seems. The di­rec­tor’s spir­i­tual fol­low-up to the sem­i­nal Res­i­dent Evil 4, sur­vival hor­ror shooter The Evil Within, was rid­dled with Resi ref­er­ence points, what with its mur­der­ous vil­lagers, puz­zle man­sions and chainsaw-tot­ing hor­ror­shows. It did just enough to stand on its own, how­ever. And con­sid­er­ing a Mikami-less Cap­com was strug­gling to make Resi mat­ter in his ab­sence, all was well. In a post- Resi VII world, how­ever,

The Evil Within II must work even harder to step out from the shad­ows of its creator’s finest work.

Our time with its se­quel shows that it’s not afraid to keep invit­ing com­par­i­son, if a grisly force-feed­ing scene at a din­ner ta­ble early on is any­thing to go by. It’s when we step into the quasi-open world that we re­alise Tango Game­works has lost none of its pen­chant for bold choices. Sure, it’s no longer en­forc­ing the cin­e­matic black bars of the 2.35:1 as­pect ra­tio that proved so di­vi­sive in the orig­i­nal game, and has made stan­dard­ised shooter con­trols de­fault – but non-lin­ear pro­gres­sion is quite the change for a hor­ror ti­tle. De­tec­tive Se­bas­tian Castel­lanos’ quest to res­cue daugh­ter Lily from the depths of the Stem (a vir­tual ‘mind palace’) isn’t just a sprint through sce­nar­ios of in­creas­ing nas­ti­ness. Chart­ing a path through Union is left up to the player. It’s a bold move, even a strange one: hor­ror games, af­ter all, are typ­i­cally strictly di­rected, since pac­ing – break­ing up the scares with down­time – is of vi­tal im­por­tance.

“Some peo­ple see that as a neg­a­tive; we see it as a pos­i­tive be­cause the orig­i­nal game didn’t have it,” game di­rec­tor John Jo­hanas ex­plains. “Even though it’s down­time, it’s not that you’re com­pletely risk free – it just al­lows the pac­ing to change in what we feel is a good way. There’s an ebb and flow, of go­ing to th­ese lin­ear ar­eas and hav­ing th­ese crafted hor­ror ex­pe­ri­ences, and then sort of freeform ex­plo­ration, with that lit­tle bit of risk at­tached. The way peo­ple play, they’re go­ing to get a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence each time.”

Jo­hanas’ rise to the di­rec­tor’s chair – Mikami is now pro­ducer on the project – may have some­thing to do with this stark shift in struc­ture. Jo­hanas headed up two of the first game’s DLC pack­ages, which were notable for their heavy stealth fo­cus. Mov­ing be­tween safe houses here is a tense crawl through a thick fog of dread, Castel­lanos clutch­ing a pis­tol with ter­ri­fied cer­tainty that it’s about to fly away. The idea, it tran­spires, is not to en­force stealth like the first game’s DLC, but to em­power it in ar­eas the base game didn’t.

“[The DLC] wasn’t sur­vival hor­ror; it was just hor­ror. You had no weapons and no way to de­fend your­self,” Jo­hanas says. “In the first game there were ar­eas where stealth wasn’t vi­able, and we wanted to make it as vi­able as pos­si­ble in the se­quel. There are al­most no forced stealth el­e­ments; it’s op­tional.”

Though the map is small, cross­ing it feels like a Her­culean task. It’s par­tially due to the fact that we’re play­ing on Night­mare dif­fi­culty, mean­ing hy­per-alert mon­sters soak up our lim­ited ammo and kill us in two hits. But it’s also be­cause we spend so much time ag­o­nis­ing be­tween rocks and hard places. Tun­ing the ra­dio to di­rec­tional static with a face but­ton re­veals var­i­ous op­por­tu­ni­ties: there’s the trail of the main nar­ra­tive to fol­low, of course, but also downed Mo­bius op­er­a­tors to seek out in ex­change for in­tel or new weapons. Head­ing up to a roof, for ex­am­ple, yields a bro­ken sniper ri­fle and men­tion of a re­place­ment bar­rel in the north­west. Mon­sters stag­ger and swarm around th­ese spots, pre­dictably, and de­ci­sions must be made: go af­ter Lily fu­elled by crafted med­i­cal sy­ringes, or burn pre­cious re­sources to nab the War­den Cross­bow first?

In the­ory, there are mul­ti­ple ap­proaches to the jeep it sits in. In re­al­ity, there’s a care­fully con­structed line of cover lead­ing to it, and other paths lead to fail­ure: we’re chased out of bushes when the in­dis­tinct range of cam­ou­flage mode sab­o­tages us, and an at­tempt to lob bot­tles at en­e­mies from atop a truck is thwarted when the mon­sters climb up to join us. It’s dis­ap­point­ing, but we’re un­der­equipped this early on – had we gone to fix the sniper ri­fle first, life might have been sim­pler. Once we grab our prize, a shock bolt into a pud­dle makes swift work of en­e­mies:

The Evil Within II will, clearly, be a game of man­ag­ing ef­fi­ciency and cre­ativ­ity in the ab­sence of a gen­er­ous ar­se­nal.

Head­shots still splat­ter with aplomb – when a con­cern­ing amount of fram­er­ate stut­ter isn’t throw­ing off our aim, that is – and re­an­i­mated night­mares still scram­ble out of dark holes to slash at us, test­ing a kinder au­tosave. The demo opens with Se­bas­tian be­ing chased by a ghoul­ish lady bran­dish­ing a buz­z­saw. There are plenty of Resi- es­que parts still rat­tling around, but from what we’ve seen they’re used to punc­tu­ate a more flex­i­ble, un­scripted take on hor­ror, in which plenty of the worst things that hap­pen to you are prob­a­bly your own damn fault. Jo­hanas may be di­rec­tor, and it may have re­sulted in a dif­fer­ent take on Mikami’s brand of ac­tion hor­ror, but The Evil Within II still bears its creator’s sig­na­ture – to the point that we can’t help but won­der how in­volved he still is.

“Well, we al­ways talk,” Mikami says. “I give him spe­cific propo­si­tions, or ad­vice on things I think could be done this way or that. He doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily fol­low my ad­vice, though.”

Jo­hanas adds: “In the first game, you’d make some­thing, show it to him, then ad­just it based on feed­back. For the DLCs we were given the free­dom to play, to take it in our own di­rec­tion, and this is sort of an adapted ver­sion of that. It de­pends on the is­sue: some­times it’s some­thing I re­ally want to do, and other times [Mikami] is, like, ‘John, you’ve got to do this’. This col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach is chal­leng­ing, but it isn’t as ex­haust­ing as you’d think. It’s fun. When you have dif­fer­ing opinions, you can cre­ate some­thing that’s even bet­ter.”

“The way peo­ple play, they’re go­ing to get a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence each time”

Se­bas­tian was by turns wooden and campy in the first game: this time, his in­ner strug­gles and re­al­is­tic re­ac­tions make him more re­lat­able

Night­mare AI foes can take five or six pre­cious bul­lets to put down. Some sit­u­a­tions call for a tac­ti­cal re­treat

The the­o­ret­i­cal Stem world jus­ti­fies some very sur­real set-dress­ing.

Oc­ca­sional scenes echo the tense, lin­ear cor­ri­dor chases of the first game

In case Se­bas­tian wasn’t in enough trou­ble, he’s also be­ing stalked by in­sane pho­tog­ra­pher Ste­fano and his tri­pod mon­ster, Ob­scura

De­spite the ap­pear­ance of th­ese fiery things, matches are no longer needed to de­stroy mon­sters: a swift curb stomp suf­fices in­stead

John Jo­hanas, game di­rec­tor, and Shinji Mikami, pro­ducer

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