Look at this door.
The end of the year is a time for sneaking in all those games you missed when they came out. I've been playing The Evil Within 2, an astonishingly good horror game that occasionally drops players into semi-open world areas packed with enemies, hidden items, and sidequests. Players take the role of Sebastian Castellanos, a former police detective sent into a dream world called Union in order to rescue his daughter.
The game's third chapter allows players to explore a small suburban neighbourhood of zombie-filled roads, thick forest groves, and buildings. Last night, I decided to explore this location to its fullest, and while I encountered memorable ghosts and villains, the thing that really stands out in my mind is this door.
This door might be the most beautiful thing I've seen in a video game all year. As I descend the stairs toward it, the lights slightly flicker. The door has a small window in it, teasing me with a what lies behind it. The light above the door draws my eye and casts more light on the floor to create a makeshift path. The brightness contrasts with the dark to create what is probably a false pocket of safety. I move down an additional set of stairs, cross the distance of the hallway, and open the door.
Pushing closer to the door gives me a better glace through the window, increasing my curiosity and fear. As I get closer to the door, I see shades of blue. In The Evil Within 2, blue is bad. One of the game's villains is a violent photographer named Stefano Valentini. He is a serial killer who uses special powers to freeze someone at the moment he kills them to make a sort of bloody statue. The strange field he captures his victims in is blue. Approaching the door means getting closer and closer to one of Stefano's death traps. Often, these are victims, but sometimes they are traps meant to kill you. You won't know which until you open the door.
My colleague Kirk Hamilton wrote an article about the horror of video game doors in October. Here's what he said:
"Like a nightmare, horror games require participation. You must face the shrieking wight in the attic. You must survive the scary little girl in the mirror. You must endure whatever beast that is sloshing around in the flooded basement. Passing through a door in a horror game means actively choosing to confront what's behind it."
Opening the door reveals another one of Stefano's violent art exhibitions, a soldier forever frozen at the moment he was shot. There's no great reward, no hidden cache of weapons or healing items. There's only the cold, blue light and a corpse.
I cannot stress how much work is being done with a few core elements. It's an experience that highlights one of The Evil Within 2's greatest strengths. The journey down the hallway and through the door doesn't conclude with a boss fight. Instead, there's only a quiet sense of dread and the nagging feeling that a killer could very well be on the other side of the door.