There's a special place in my heart for survival horror games that offer more than your run-of-the-mill jump scares and moaning zombies. (See: Fatal Frame, Silent Hill 2, Outlast.) Rarely does the genre offer up a story that aims to both scare the crap out of you and tug at your heartstrings, but that's exactly what The Evil Within 2 is gunning for. Based on my time with the game, it just might succeed.
In an hour-long preview with EW2, I was treated to an atmospheric experience, a heartfelt story and mind-bending monsters that look like they leapt straight out of a Lovecraft novel. The franchise picks up the story of Sebastian Castellanos, who believed his daughter Lily to be dead in the first Evil Within. It looks like that isn't quite the case, and he'll need to head into a supernatural world full of macabre machinations to find her.
This particular demo showcased more of the game's mechanics and puzzle-solving than its emotional beats; still, the mournful cellos pouring out a melancholy symphony added unseen emotional weight to my journey, as I wandered around a broken, floating city with a massive camera lens looming over me like a surrealist moon in the sky.
There's a bit of a hybrid horror game happening here, with developer Tango Gameworks looking to serve you tight, linear horror sequences meticulously aimed at drawing out as much tension as possible. Then more open-world options allow you to choose where to go and how much fighting you want to do to get there.
I fought two very different bosses and explored a decrepit City Hall full of interesting little puzzles. The first boss, a flesh golem with a pile of gnashing, giggling heads, pretty much required me to use everything within reach to help finish her off. I made the mistake of going in guns blazing for my first two attempts -- which didn't go very well, considering I was working with limited ammo. The third time, I kicked over some oil barrels and lit my freaky foe on fire, taking her down much more efficiently. Fun, but still a pretty standard boss fight overall, if you have experience with other survival horror games.
Once I made it inside City Hall, a more linear aspect of Evil Within 2 kicks in, and that's where the game's decidedly classic horror elements shine: turning towards and away from hallways, only to discover new doorways to step through the second time you look; rounding a corner and coming face to face with an enemy that turns out to be a lifeless mannequin; a horrifying art exhibit designed just for Sebastian. It's all effective, and ratchets up the tension in just the right ways.
Finally, I faced a much more different boss than before: Obscura, a positively grotesque monster with three legs and an old-timey camera for a face. Usually, fights like these consist of the same type of stuff I saw earlier in the demo, but not this time. Obscura's flashbulb blinds you and stops time, and Sebastian has to distract her for 90 seconds so an emitter can start up. I ran around the room, baiting her and shooting out her flashbulb to keep her from stopping the clock, and once the timer ran out, the fight was over. I'm sure I'll run into Obscura again at some point in Evil Within 2, but it was really neat to overcome this battle with almost no traditional combat at all.
It feels like the development team is making a real effort to diversify the kinds of experiences you'll have in EW2, especially after encountering three different kinds of horror gameplay in such a short demo. We've already seen one great horror game this year in, and if Tango Gameworks can make good on the promise I saw in this preview, we may have another on our hands.
The Evil Within 2 hits Xbox One, PC and PS4 on -- when else? -- Friday the 13th of October.