The Evil Within was an overlooked survival horror gem. It may have been rough around the edges with some performance and gameplay issues, but it was a much-appreciated return to old survival-horror design philosophies. Scarce ammo, unforgiving difficulty, intentionally limiting controls – elements like these filled the void that Resident Evil had failed to capture until earlier this year with Resident Evil 7. Now, The Evil Within 2 challenges Capcom’s spot for best survival-horror game of 2017. It’s nearly identical to its predecessor with mechanics and controls, but will its big changes scare you away or pull you in?

If there’s one thing that players were divided about with The Evil Within, it would be its convoluted story and pacing. Things are set in a steady motion with Sebastian Castellanos’ investigation of a crime scene at a hospital, but after he’s knocked unconscious, everything goes off the rails once he finds himself being transported to random locations without rhyme or reason. The story also drip feeds parts of his past and how he ends up here, so everything was hard to follow and care about. We thought the pacing was great from a gameplay standpoint to keep the player on edge, but this came at the cost of little personal investment in what you were doing and why beyond surviving. The sequel directly addresses these issues from the start.

Latching onto Sebastian’s hatred of MOBIUS after the first game’s events, he’s told by its double agent, Juli Kidman, that his daughter is still alive in the hands of the megacorporation. Its leaders staged her death and used her mind to create a world similar to the one Sebastian was trapped in. Caught between a rock and a hard place, the hardened detective finds that saving his daughter aligns with MOBIUS’ interests. In addition to investing in someone outside of yourself, you’ll notice that the game is more earnest about establishing characters through optional conversations. We're yet to see the story though, but so far the premise itself is more focused, which thankfully doesn’t come at the expense of the original game’s environmental unpredictability.

In fact, this varied is amplified with a focus on semi-open world levels. Whereas the previous game had some sections with multiple pathways to get to an objective, we’ve been able to ignore much of the main story for much of this version's first couple of hours. Once you reach your first safe house after the guided introduction, you can choose to follow “signals” with your communicator. While we were supposed to be following a trail left by Sebastian’s daughter, we decided to put it off as a respectable father and explore, just like in Fallout 4. Besides, surviving truly hinges on going off the beaten path.

There are plenty of small, spooky houses that offer a diversity of scares and layouts, and you’ll even discover tiered missions that send you across town to find useful upgrades. Of course, you might just stumble across them on your own since you can practically go anywhere, and because of that, the level design feels like the most significant departure for the series. Enemies will come and go, unexpectedly popping up in areas you’ve already been to, and the open areas give you more scope to progress exactly how you want to. While we have yet to see how this level design will carry forward beyond Union, it’s a welcome change that makes it feel a lot like a modern, more successful Silent Hill: Downpour.

The action itself remains largely unchanged. Besides more options for climbing and vaulting over objects, the slow, deliberate gameplay is as tension-inducing as ever with grunts that will tear you apart if you’re not careful on the Nightmare difficulty. You have to look under the hood for big changes to resource management and supplies. Instead of finding boxes of ammo and syringes around you, half of your resources will come from crafting now. It’s similar to how Trap Parts could be crafted into different arrows in the original game, but the sequel is more picky. Shock Arrows, syringes, and bullets require new unique ingredients to craft like fuses, herbs (sound familiar?), and gunpowder, which reminded us of Resident Evil 3: Nemesis’ incredible resource management.

Instead of Green Gel being used to upgrade weapons and Sebastian’s abilities, it’s now reserved for the latter alone, which has bigger branches for categories like recovery and stealth. These include enticing passive abilities like using stored glass bottles to break out of enemy grabs and an automatic yet inconsistent dodge, but since some of these are locked behind certain branches that require Red Gel to unlock, you’ll be pulled in even more directions as you agonize over which paths to pursue. It gives you more reasons to explore because, if you don’t, you’ll be ill-prepared for the road ahead.

Five hours in, we haven’t even encountered a significant boss yet and have a feeling we’ve only seen a glimpse of what this perfectly grotesque world has to throw at us. There are some nasty frame rate drops and wonky camera issues, but we know that The Evil Within 2's new focus on open-ended level design and resource management seem to work in its favour. We can’t wait to see how these things carry forward throughout the experience, so stay tuned for our full review in the next few days.

Are you pumped to get back on the trail as Detective Sebastian Castellanos? What are your hopes for the sequel? How much did you enjoy the original game? Let us know in the comments section below.