I thought I was prepared for The Evil Within 2. “Psychological horror,” I thought, “I can do that.” The moment that the first nightmare broke through a mirror and attempted to chainsaw me to death, I realised just how wrong I was. The playthrough started with series protagonist Sebastian Castellanos making his way through an abandoned building in search of his missing daughter. Of course, being a horror game, each room was dimly lit, featured some delightfully skin-tingling violins, and I had an unsettling feeling that something wasn’t right.Soon after, Sebastian stumbled upon a room full of human bodies, bloodied and dangling on strings. “Ah, so that’s what it is,” I thought, comforted by my discovery, and merrily, I went on my way. Unfortunately, there was far more to come.
Now, the demo that I was taken through lacked a lot of much needed context. I, for one, was blissfully unaware that the scenes were taking place inside STEM, a machine that connects minds together and brings them into a collective dreamscape. This fact, coupled with my relative lack of knowledge about The Evil Within led to much initial confusion, but in many ways, enhanced the experience. Every corner I turned brought with it a sense of fear and no small amount of trepidation. But I was absolutely not prepared for what came next.
Upon entering a later room, Sebastian discovers an old, dusty mirror. Attached to the mirror is a recent photograph of him, from only moments earlier – but before he can ruminate on how the photograph made its way there, he spots something moving in the mirror. And then the mirror smashes into a million, million shards, and a shape stumbles its way through. Is it – Is it a woman? No, it’s several women all glued together in a flailing mass of limbs and horror. Oh, and wait – the nightmare woman is holding buzzsaw… and she’s coming to kill you… and laughing while she does it. What fun, what joy! Quick, get your gun! Wait, you don’t have a gun. Knife? Nope, don’t have that either. Well, you’d better run, Sebastian, and do it quick – she’s coming for you, and fast.
The entire segment was played with sweaty, shaking hands, and was accompanied by a slurry of phrases that probably shouldn’t be elaborated on here. Suffice to say, it was genuinely scary, and I was ready to quit the game then and there. My experience with horror games is thankfully limited, and until now, I’ve deliberately avoided them. For good reason, it seemed. I don’t want to admit this, but I had the sweats. Even sitting uncomfortably on a stool and surrounded by my fellow games journalists, I had the sweats. If you like scaring yourself half to death, I’ve no doubt that The Evil Within 2 is going to be a game to watch out for.
Thankfully, the rest of the preview went relatively smoothly. After escaping from the monstrous she-thing that will haunt my dreams forevermore, Sebastian finds himself on a murky suburban street, which bore all the hallmarks of a classic horror setting, complete with mystery fog. It’s here that more of the story unravelled – this was Union, a town within the STEM machine, and one plagued by a variety of horrors. The first house Sebastian stumbled into was home to one of these delightful horrors in the shape of a veiny, glowing woman force-feeding her mutated son. It was at this point that I wondered whether I’d ever sleep again, and had to pause the game for a moment of quiet reflection. When I finally worked up the guts to go back in, the woman leapt, and after a moment of struggle, and some more cursing, she went down. But of course, it didn’t end there, because just outside the house, a mob of zombie-like apparitions appeared. Thankfully, they were far less scary after what I’d just been through, and I managed to stealth my way through the mob with ease.
Making his way to a nearby safe house, Sebastian encounters O’Neal, a MOBIUS technician (the generic ‘Evil Company’), and is set on the path to find his daughter. Sebastian is given a frequency tracker, an interesting device that allows to track those in need. This also gives the player access to option side quests, such as saving people from zombie hoards. After a pot of (damn good) coffee, Sebastian is restored to full health, and the trek across the zombie wasteland continues. As the world inside STEM begins to break, the environment shifts and changes around him, leading to some spectacular sights – whole towns floating in the sky, rifts forming across the ground and visual glitches leading to whole new areas.
Following the signal leads Sebastian to a hoard of zombies, and some kind of spectral wraith – an obstacle that I confidently and nobly skirted all the way around to preserve both my dignity, and my bullets. Upon reaching the Pit Stop, the frequency kicks into overdrive, revealing the ghostly shadow of a young girl. By following the ghost, Sebastian begins to discover his daughter’s story, and finds the first clues about Stefano Valentini, the psychotic photographer who haunts him throughout the game. As he tracks new signals, more information is revealed, until a final confrontation with Stefano leaves him battling through a surrealist, glitching landscape to survive.
What made The Evil Within 2 so horrifying was the realism and subtlety with which the world of Union is created. While it conforms to relatively straightforward horror tropes, it gives them such an effective and oftentimes different spin that it remains spine tingling and surprising at every turn. The graphics are also spectacular, achieving very close photorealism and never once taking me out of the action. The story also manages to remain fresh and interesting, particularly as the world is populated by intriguing characters who were equal parts fascinating and horrifying. I will say that I don’t think I have the stomach to tackle the full release, but those with even a passing interest in horror would do well to keep it in mind.
The Evil Within 2 releases on Friday the 13th of October. Thanks to the lovely folks at Bethesda and Reboot PR for scaring the pants off me inviting us along!