With a few design choices impacting the overall experience, The Evil Within fell just short of been a classic in the horror genre. It did plenty of things right, as the game’s director, Shinji Mikami, also known as the person who defined survival horror with Resident evil on the PlayStation, brought his expertise of action horror, along with his team at Tango Gameworks, to craft a fascinating world and story filled with some of the weirdest monster designs going. It wasn’t without its faults, with strange stealth and pacing issues interrupting the flow of the game. I never thought I’d see a sequel to The Evil Within, but three years later, I’m glad we got it, because the new director, John Johanas, has taken what was good about the first title and then done what sequels are suppose to do; make a better game that improves on the weaker elements of their predecessors, which I can say after finishing The Evil Within 2 – the game as a whole makes the right improvements to be a better sequel.
Three years have passed since the events of the last game, and the protagonist, Sebastian Castellanos, is once again taking centre stage in the story. Sebastian is no longer a detective working for Krimson City Police, rather, he decided to take things into his own hands and investigate a shadow organisation known as Mobius. People who played the first game will know them as the group behind the Beacon Mental Hospital incident, causing all hell for Sebastian in The Evil Within with the use of STEM, a device that sends the minds of humans to a fake reality inside a machine. With the death of his young daughter, Lily – seen in a gruesome introduction scene in the game – and his wife leaving him, Sebastian is at rock bottom, resorting to alcohol for a sense of escapism, that is until one evening, a familiar face appears and sits down with Sebastian and mentions that his daughter is alive, but Mobius have her, using her as the core for the new STEM system. Things haven’t gone to plan with STEM, their idea for a perfect happy American town has gone to shit, and Lily is in danger inside. Without thinking, Sebastian agrees to help Mobius with their issue, just so he can be with Lily again.
Story is more understandable and straightforward in this sequel, dropping the complications for something more approachable and personal to the main character. It’s easier to understand how far one man will go to see his once thought dead daughter, even if it means going through some bizarre monstrosities again to get there. The game is clearly split into two main story arcs, with the first acting as a reintroduction to STEM, as Sebastian jacks himself back into the weird world, seeing first hand what is happening to the supposedly peaceful town of Union. The first big threat is when Sebastian bumps into the serial killer on the loose, who has a fantastic way of killing people, using a camera that forces people to relive their last moments of death inside a time loop, all in the name of art. The other half is where the story goes full steam, throwing in more linear sections, rather than using more of the open nature of the earlier chapters, and while the closing section is a little drawn out, over the course of about 11-12 hours, the story as a whole is entertaining and continues with the weird and wonderful enemy and level design that the first game was known for, while packing that sort of b-movie vibe that helps rather than handicaps the overall experience for its twisted silliness.
One of the biggest changes in The Evil Within 2 comes in the form of its level design. The town of Union is used as an open section to connect the various areas for the game’s chapters. It’s similar to roaming the streets of Silent Hill, but less restricting here. I’ve been hearing people throw the word open-world to describe it, but it really isn’t. Union is just a larger than normal area that enables Sebastian to travel in a more open environment, while random enemies litter the streets to threaten players who go near them as they travel to the next destination. It offers the game a sense of interconnection, as much as one can before all the mind bending stuff is thrown at you, but there is a continuation set across the whole game where Union acts as this central hub that is connecting the world in a structured sense. It’s an enjoyable place to explore, but more importantly is that running around this section is met with rewards. It’s a nice throwback to the late 90s horror design.
Union enables the game to include side quest content, unique enemies that appear in various sections and abandoned buildings, and offer the chance to find weapons – which can be utterly missed as I never found a sniper rifle – left behind from members of Mobius who were killed inside STEM. Side quests are normally handed out by characters or discovering chatter on the radio – also used for main quests and tagging the map of Union to make it easier to know where to go – and travelling to its point of origin. It’s a good way to introduce side content, because you can gain the benefits of extra supplies, additional ammo pouches to increase max ammo and discover secrets for exploring the town, but it is all done without feeling intrusive for the player, enabling them to just get on with the game if they want to see more of the streamlined sections of The Evil Within 2.
One of the criticisms with the first game was the force stealth sections, which is no longer the case in the sequel. Stealth is an optional mechanic that gets most use when moving around Union, as this is where a lot of enemies wonder, looking for their next munch. Stealth is more easier to handle this time, as pressing a button during crouching will stick Sebastian to a wall, enabling him to glide across it and turn around corners without any frustrating commands causing issues. Stealth does open up the ability to instant kill monsters from behind, but if you are a person who cannot be bothered being stealthy, then your options are to fight or run away, with the former costing a depletion of ammo, something that is a little scarce in the beginning, as players build up their crafting materials.
These materials are vital for keeping up ammo supply, while the returning green gels (experience dropped from killing enemies) and weapon materials are used to improve Sebastian’s stats, skills and improve weapon classes. I focused a lot on shotguns on my playthrough, giving me one hell of a weapon that pushed back most enemies due to the sheer force of it. For Sebastian, I spent time focused on improving stamina and health, since stamina is vital for longer sprints, and health, which is self-explanatory, but having that extra bit of health or an auto syringe/health pack use does wonders keeping Sebastian alive when he is close to death’s door. It does feel that the game has balanced the importance of survival here than the first game, because it’s more easier to see it in action with the influx of enemies in the small town.
The earlier parts of the game can be challenging, since enemies are usually in groups and alerting one will often alert the rest, leading to being mobbed by monsters that make quick work of Sebastian until having upgrades later on that protect against such problems. It makes me wonder if the linearity in the latter third of the game is a signal that people should be fully exploring Union when possible to claim all the upgrades and have a Sebastian who has more chance at sustaining life against the odds. Thankfully, the combat feels a tad more responsive, with guns offering visceral impact on enemies with amazing sound effects and visual treats for anyone into causing bloody damage. Each weapon feels like it can dish out the pain. Head shots matter, but erratic enemy movement often means targeting can be tricky (hence my love for the shotgun and its wider shot arc). Movement is still on the slow side while aiming, but I can see why, because it adds tension to the combat when multiple enemies are coming towards the player. One thing to note that is absent from this sequel is the requirement to burn enemies. It was something that I felt was carried over from the remake of Resident Evil, but while it worked in that game due to the confines of the mansion, in The Evil Within, it was a hindrance to the game’s pacing.
Those instant death scenarios that relied on quick time events are gone. Everything about this sequel feels like it was out there to fix everything that broke the pacing. The game moves much smoother from scenario to scenario, with the game never feeling like it is taking control away from you to cause its horror situations. Better pacing goes a long way to keeping a player’s attention span, and with all those blocks removed in this sequel, it flows much better, not just with gameplay, but also with how it manages to deliver its horror in a more coherent way without throwing the player all over the place.
Monster designs remain brilliant in the sequel, and while this time around I don’t think there is a true star like The Keeper, some do come close, such as the Guardian, a monster that is covered in mutilated women parts and multiple heads that constantly laughs manically while carrying a circular saw. It’s even more frightening when she becomes a “normal” enemy that can appear randomly on the streets of Union. The art team certainly haven’t lost their touch when it comes to the creativity behind the creatures, something that passes also into the level design. There isn’t anything this year in video games that offers the beauty of destruction that is seen in Stefano’s museum, the game’s photographer serial killer.
The overall look and feel of The Evil Within 2 is fantastic. Visuals are a step up over the last game, due to the lack of support for the old generation of consoles. The PC port, while not exactly having the best optimisation, runs well enough on max settings at 1440p, but it only offered around 60-70 fps on a GTX 1080, with the game even hitting the lower 50s in some parts of Union. It doesn’t support SLI, so there is no way to power through with brute power. The game can also be glitchy. There was one instance where I had to reload a checkpoint, as I was stuck between a table and a chest of draws that I had just taken an item out, somehow managing to lock myself in between the two objects. Dead bodies can also have an magical affect on the game’s physics, causing them to float in an amusing manner. It’s a shame these appeared, spoiling my overall experience, but I don’t think it is a big enough problem that people should be worried about buying the game and having a buggy time, as it seems not many people ran into the same game breaking problem as I did with that table.
That said, pushing those hiccups aside, The Evil Within 2 is a grand follow up from a studio who has set out to fix the pacing issues with the first game, while offering a bigger, more coherent title that looks better and plays better with the reworked stealth and upgrade mechanics, but without forgetting the parts that made most of the original a solid action horror title. The Evil Within 2 throws players into its disturbing, more personal world for Sebastian, offering some great horror scenarios and thrilling, tense action to back up its amazing monster and environment design. Even though this year has been amazing for games, it’s not been the most active for action horror fans, making The Evil Within 2 highly recommended for people who enjoy throwing themselves into disturbing adventures to get their thrills.