I didn’t like The Evil Within. There, I said it. It felt like a reskinned Resident Evil 4, in a genre that had moved on, and it relied far too much on its restrictive combat. It also went way over the top by the end, devolving into nothing more than farce. Thing is though, it had some good ideas, and it seems like Tango Gameworks brought those over to this sequel, leaving behind most of the original game’s issues.
Sebastian Castellanos returns as the protagonist, sinking deeper into the bottle after the events at Beacon Hospital, as well as searching high and low for Mobius, the shadowy company that was responsible for the torture he suffered at the hands of Ruvik and the many abominations of his psyche. This is where The Evil Within 2 begins, as his old partner Juli Kidman (who bears a remarkable resemblance to Claire Redfield, I found) comes back to offer him another chance to enter STEM and, most importantly, rescue his daughter Lily. “Isn’t she dead?” I hear you ask. That’s what everyone else, including Sebastian, was led to believe. Turns out the whole thing was staged, to cover up Mobius’ kidnapping of his girl, to use her as a core subject for its next STEM experiment: Union.
Union is where you’ll be spending your time during The Evil Within 2, the quiet little town created by Lily. Except it isn’t exactly quiet anymore, nor is it particularly stable, as something has ripped apart the town and turned most of its inhabitants into mindless monsters. Zombies, basically. Right from the off, I couldn’t help but see a bit of Silent Hill Downpour in the town of Union, and that even came through in terrific atmosphere throughout the game. Some of the creature design is Silent Hill 101 too, but never to the point of outright copying; it’s simply testament to the quality of this game’s design.
First up is the man you may have seen in the trailers for the game; fond of a camera, he is. Oh, and he likes to murder folk as well, just FYI. He immediately gives off an unsettling vibe, especially when you come across his “creations”; the bodies of his victims, held in a kind of suspended animation, forced to endure their final moments forever. It’s a gruesome sight, like a paranormal version of the movie Seven. The monster he sends after you is a little bit too close to the original game’s silly designs, but luckily that’s the only time I felt a little nonplussed by an enemy. There is one creature in particular, which I shan’t spoil here, that sent shivers down my spine every time it appeared. It’s been a long time since I felt that urge to switch off a game in fear, but damn I wanted to.
That kind of nerve-fraying atmosphere fills The Evil Within 2 from start to finish, as it eschews the action focus of its predecessor in favour of a more considered, stealthy approach. Creeping around the denizens of Union never got old, and I’m not normally the biggest fan of stealth, because if you messed it up, things could get real messy, real fast. Luckily, Tango Gameworks knew that the first game was too difficult for many, due to some wonky mechanics (Sebastian’s infamous inability to sprint for longer than three seconds, for a start) and an incredibly stingy amount of ammo given to the player. Clearly it was to encourage stealth or to increase the panic felt by the player, but instead it just frustrated people. To that end, The Evil Within 2 offers a better difficulty selection, with its easiest setting offering plentiful resources so that most players can see the story through to its thrilling conclusion. Stick it on higher difficulties though and those that enjoyed the original’s challenge aren’t forgotten.
The best mechanics from the original game do make a return, like crafting and upgrading, but they’ve changed a little for the better. You can’t simply craft everything on-the-fly anymore, at least not without using extra resources. There are workbenches to use now, which allows you to craft normally, but also upgrade weapons using scrap parts found throughout Union. Sebastian himself is also upgradeable, once again using the mysterious brain juices collected from fallen monsters, and the way it is incorporated into this new story is handled remarkably well. Again, I won’t spoil how, but it is pretty cool.
Something new for this sequel is the open-world exploration it introduces, rather than the totally linear story of its predecessor. This means that Union offers side quests, discovered as you roam the streets, some of which are home to the scariest moments in the game. Make no mistake; The Evil Within 2 is far more of a horror game than the first game, and I guarantee that almost every time you get close to a side quest, you’ll be on edge before you even start it. That’s down to the radio that is used to track these quests; pressing Triangle on PS4 brings up your communicator, and it uses radio waves to pick up anomalies in Union, and whenever you close in on one, the radio pipes up and it got me every damn time. Every. Single. Time. These side quests can simply result in finding Mobius operatives’ bodies that can be searched, which give you ammo or sometimes pouches that increase your carrying limit for certain things. Sometimes however, you’ll stumble across something traumatic and you’ll hear the final moments of an unfortunate resident, which then leads to something horrifying. Again, like Silent Hill Downpour, some of the game’s best moments come from these discoveries.
I mentioned the atmosphere earlier, and there is no doubt in my mind that most of it comes from Shuichi Kobori’s absolutely stunning audio direction. The music is used sparingly, usually once you’re spotted by an enemy to turn up the panic factor, but the majority of the game is spent listening to the environmental audio and the monsters that roam Union’s streets. The standard monsters simply growl and grunt, but the special types are much more memorable, such as the knife-wielding women that reminded me of the thing in the attic from Rec. Their dry moans are eerie and disturbing, and because they’re tougher and more dangerous than regular monsters, this automatically makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. It’s tough to mention the audio design without mentioning that creepy enemy I avoided talking about earlier, but I will say that when it appears, the sounds it makes will instill fear in you every single time.
Much like the previous game, The Evil Within 2 is not a short affair. I finished it in around fourteen and a half hours, but I did miss one or two minor things along the way. If you go in search of every collectible and anomaly throughout the game, it’s certain to add a couple more hours onto your playtime. It did start to sag a little at around the twelfth hour, but by the time the concluding chapter arrived, I was hooked again and ready to see how everything played out. The story is impressive, keeping me playing even when the too-close camera was driving me mad during the action beats, and coupled with the atmospheric scares that never resorted to cheap jump tactics, it’s easy for me to say that not only does it erase my bad memories of the first game, but The Evil Within 2 is one of this year’s best horror games.
Strong Silent Hill vibe
Great use of sound
Fantastic, creepy atmosphere
Goes on a bit too long