Hands-on Preview: The Evil Within 2 lets you play (and die) your way

The Evil Within 2 shows that developer Tango Gameworks has taken feedback from the last game and used it to make a compelling sequel.

Hands-on Preview: The Evil Within 2 lets you play (and die) your way

“I’ll just wait for a patch.” That’s my brain in October 2014 when The Evil Within launched with an artificial 30fps limit baked in to the PC version of the game. It’s not the first time this has happened. Quantum Break. Batman: Arkham Knight. Dishonored 2. Assassin’s Creed Unity. I used a registry hack to remove the 30fps limit for Arkham Knight (when it was running properly), but I never actually got to properly experience those other games because I waited too long and moved on to other titles.

Recently, I tried to amend that with The Evil Within, cognisant of the fact that its sequel is launching later this year and that I have a relatively new taste for action-horror games. The first half of Resident Evil VII blew me away, even if it was let down by a mostly terrible second half. I dug the first half of Resident Evil VII because it reminded me a lot of the frequent tension and moments of utter terror playing Alien: Isolation.

Because I missed Resident Evil in its heyday, I didn’t get to experience the action-horror franchise at its best (Resident Evil 4, I’m told). The fact that my first game in the series was Resident Evil V, which I had big issues with, should be telling that I didn’t equate the franchise with quality gaming experiences until the first half of Resident Evil VII. Jumping back into The Evil Within, after previously only playing mere minutes, I couldn’t get into it.

I wasn’t a fan of the artificial horror: the insistence that I move everywhere at a snail’s pace, the frustrating trial-and-error approach to boss encounters, and the lack of options to fight back early on. Because of this, I went to a recent Bethesda hands-on session really looking forward to playing Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus again (particularly after my bad-code experiences the last time), but ambivalent about my hands-on time with The Evil Within 2. Stay tuned for new thoughts on Wolfenstein II next week when the embargo lifts.

That ambivalence quickly disappeared, and the 50-odd minutes I had with the second and third chapters of the game had me wanting a whole lot more. Alas, there wasn’t keyboard/mouse support for this build of the game, so I was forced to play on a controller. Normally this would bother me, but I still chose to disable auto-aim and play it on the second-highest difficulty to get a feel for what to expect.

What I played of The Evil Within 2 never outright terrified me, at least not in what I played, but the mostly open-approach town I played in was always unnerving and regularly creepy. Instead of feeling like I had to crouch-walk everywhere and never use a weapon, it was clear from early on that I could play my way, to a certain extent. You can sneak up on enemies and shank them in the brain, as long as you get the drop on them.

That is, of course, assuming you’re dealing with a regular enemy type, and not this particular one that shrugs off this attack and turns on you. That particular moment was the closest I came to being legitimately terrified, standing a breath away from a pissed undead creature that was within lunging distance. If you want to shoot enemies, or if you’re the kind of player who wants to be able to react when the shit hits the fan (it’ll happen), you’ll want to upgrade your guns.

During my demo, I mainly had access to a pistol and eventually found a shotgun. There’s a safe zone where you can perform weapon upgrades or create supplies (ammo and health being the most paramount), and there’s a cool coffee-pot mechanic that lets you heal up, but takes time for it to refill the pot (so you can’t abuse it). Out in the field, you can create ammo on the fly, but you’re encouraged to not do this because it uses up more supplies. It’s a nice touch that embraces the risk/reward balancing for which Tango Gameworks is gunning.

I didn’t have to sneak everywhere, but I did most of the time (this time because I chose to, not because I was forced to). With limited ammunition, controller aiming, and the reality that enemies flinch pretty dramatically when hit (especially in the head), getting into firefights was ill-advised. You can snap to cover to keep an eye on patrolling threats, or sneak into some bushes to get the drop on them. There’s also the option to use bottles to throw as a distraction, and a text prompt informed me there’s an upgrade that lets you use bottles as a way to break out of situations where you’re grabbed.

This particular upgrade and the on-the-fly crafting system reminded me a lot of The Last of Us, and in no way is that a bad thing, given how incredible that game is. Towards the end of my demo, I found the best tactic was to sneak around with the shotgun in hand, ready to blast enemies if I screwed up my timing, or if their erratic behaviours meant they snapped their heads back towards me when I was close enough to need brown undies but not close enough to one-shot them. This unpredictable movement patterns of patrolling enemies is particularly effective at making you doubt the timing of moving past or towards them.

The pistol fires particularly slow in its default state, and with only six rounds in the magazine by default, it’s something you definitely want to upgrade. I chose to upgrade the capacity over the firepower, but after one particularly freaky fight, I really felt the absence of a faster fire rate. This is exactly the right kind of tension in this kind of game, and I was disappointed when I was told I had to stop playing.

After 50 minutes with The Evil Within 2, I went from feeling it was a game I could skip, to a sequel that I have to play. This also means I feel compelled to finish the original game, if only to experience more of the story (which was pretty great in The Evil Within 2, from what I experienced). I don’t have a whole lot of time to do that, considering The Evil Within 2 very appropriately releases on Friday the 13th of October.

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