The Evil Within had a lot of expectations thrust upon it. It was the first survival horror game by famed director Shinji Mikami and his new studio Tango Gameworks since Resident Evil 4. In 2012 he stated that he had found his focus and was striving for a “pure survival horror” experience. Unfortunately, that newfound focus led to a game that was ultimately received with mixed reactions by both critics and gamers alike. Personally, I adored the game, and while I acknowledge its flaws, I still had a blast with it, so much so that it’s one of the few games I completed more than once. I always felt that The Evil Within had a ton of potential, and Tango is back to give it another shot and hopefully find redemption in its sequel. If it’s one thing I can say right off the bat, it’s that this is one hell of a comeback.
The Evil Within 2 takes place sometime after the original and puts you back in the shoes of the lovable and way too stiff, Sebastian Castellanos. After the events at Beacon hospital, Sebastian found himself in an even bigger rut than before, but is soon met by his former partner, Kidman, who tells him that his daughter is actually still alive, but presumed missing, and was being used by an organization known as Mobius, as a sort of stabilizer for the STEM system. The game then follows your descent back into the hellish abyss of STEM as you try and find your daughter.
The story is much more concise and straightforward this time around, and it’s much better because of that too. You have a clear goal from the start and you get an immediate feel for the forces at work behind the curtains, leading to a much more focused and engaging narrative. Throughout the game you’ll encounter NPCs and find various collectibles which flesh out the world even more. A rich world is especially important here as you’re thrown into a huge town called Union, which was created by the STEM system. See, Union is a character in the story and it’s not just a world you inhabit. It’s a living, breathing world, much in the same way Arkham Asylum or Silent Hill is, and by making this character interesting and deep, you’re giving the gameplay and story a platform to really shine, and man, did they absolutely nail that aspect. As it stands, Union is on the same level as the Silent Hill towns and even Resident Evil 1’s Spencer Mansion, for me personally. Even more impressive is the fact they actually managed to fix Sebastian’s character.
I made a joke about Sebastian being too stiff, and that was kind of how his character came across in the first game, but here, he’s seen a drastic transformation. They have somehow managed to retain his hard-boiled and rough exterior while giving him enough personality to be an actual, relatable protagonist. It seems as though Tango heard the complaints loud and clear and gave us a character that felt human and believable. He still has some cheesy dialogue but it’s balanced out by genuine and engaging acting. Not only that but he reacts more to the environment around him; gagging at the smell of something putrid or breathing a sigh of relief when narrowly escaping an enemy. It’s great to see that the cast, in general, has been greatly improved upon and I’m really impressed by how well they were handled.
The core design of the game is also vastly different than before. No longer a straightforward linear experience, it has now gone semi open-world. While the term ‘open-world’ usually has some nasty stigmas attached to it, such as maps being filled with mindless busy work, or the story losing its focus, The Evil Within 2 however, manages to not only expand its world without detriment but also become a better experience because of that. As soon as you reach chapter 3, you’re able to explore Union at your own pace. You’ll be equipped with a communicator which can be used to pick up signals, or Resonances as it’s called here, which acts as waypoints to either the main mission or other side quests and points of interests. The depth of the side quests is quite incredible, with some completely optional sections that could easily have been part of the main game. The other points on your map are usually locations where you can grab some extra items and resources.
Side quests and extra collectables might sound like needless fluff but it only serves to enhance both the survival and horror aspects of the games. So why would it work here, whereas in other games it would be nothing more a minor distraction? That’s because you’re going to need every bit of extra resources you can find. I played the game on Nightmare difficulty and ammo is really scarce. Even with the brief time I spent playing it on Normal difficulty, I always found myself keeping an eye on my remaining ammo as you could easily waste your stock on a throwaway encounter. You will find materials throughout the world which you can use to craft more ammo, so exploring every nook and cranny is in your best interest. This leads to an interesting dynamic in both the gameplay and upgrade system.
Green Gel makes a return, and the gooey substance you get from fallen enemy’s brains are once again used to upgrade Sebastian’s capabilities, only this times, there are a lot more options to choose from. There are five categories, each with their own skill tree. For instance, upgrading skills in the stealth section will grant you special benefits such as decreased foot noise, moving faster while crouched and even a really useful crouching dash move for efficient stealth kills, whereas the combat section offers you aiming stability and even the ability to slow down time. It’s really up to the player how they want to approach combat as well as how they upgrade Sebastian. When it comes to the duality of stealth and action it’s very easy for either approach to overpower the other, but I found the game to strike a good balance between the two, providing ample freedom for the player to cultivate their own playstyle, while also being thrust into tense, scripted action sequences that never feel too out of place. At the end of the day, the gameplay coupled with the level of freedom and exploration made for one the most enjoyable experiences I had this year.
The Evil Within 2 dials down the gore this time around, and instead opts for the more subtle, and psychological kind of horror experience. Now, scare-factor is always a contentious subject, and what might be terrifying for one individual, will be laughable for the next, but in terms of my personal experience with the game, it definitely freaked me the hell out on more than one occasion. There were times when I was genuinely afraid to move forward. One moment stands out in my mind where I had just moved past an area where I fought a few enemies, only to come across a quiet, dark street that felt way too ominous from the get-go. Pushing on I see lone women standing in the middle of the road with a single streetlight shining on her. My immediate, albeit hesitant reaction, was to approach her slowly and go in for the stealth kill, so I ducked behind a nearby car and made my move. I manage to pull it off, only to find that it’s a special type of enemy who cannot be killed with one stealth attack. I proceed to take my blood pressure, while she proceeds to kill me, and I end up taking another route the second time around because I’m young and I’m not ready to give up on life. The game will definitely up your heart rate, frequently, so be prepared, but it’s a good kind of fear and as a lover of the horror genre, I truly appreciate the effort they took in creating these moments.
For those of you who played the original and are worried about the performance, here, it manages to run smoothly for most of the game. It’s an all-round improved experience and while it still suffers from the same ugly pop-in textures, The Evil Within 2 manages to deliver an impressive presentation on both the visual and audio front. Unfortunately, I did run into a few bugs along the way, which were not game-breaking but it did hamper the immersion sometimes.
There are so many more things I would love to share, but the game holds many surprises that are best left to experience first-hand, and I think, that’s what I like the most about this game; it’s surprising. It manages to expand not only its gameplay, but the world as well, providing a large and fun horror sandbox without ever losing focus. It does a lot with what it has, and it’s never content with a singular approach. As much as I love the original game, it holds no candle to the sequel. The Evil Within 2 has honestly become one of my all-time favourite horror games.
Last Updated: October 25, 2017
The Evil Within 2 is a shining example of how to expand your game world while still having it remain a focused experience. Minor bugs cannot hinder what is ultimately a bloody (pun intended) good time.