Does The Evil Within 2 rekindle the series, or just go up in flames?
2014’s The Evil Within showed a lot of promise, but was held back by a number of issues that made the game more frustrating than terrifying. Fortunately, The Evil Within 2 finds its footing and (mostly) succeeds over its predecessor to deliver a survival horror experience worthy of standing among the greats.
The Evil Within 2 sees Sebastian Castellanos returning once more to the horrific virtual reality world of STEM, this time to save his daughter. While the plot of the first game was surreal, under-explained, and downright head-scratching by its conclusion, The Evil Within 2 smooths out these problems for a much easier to follow narrative. And while the cheesy writing and stilted voice-work returns, the emotional arc Sebastian undergoes is a solid hook.
Though the themes of guilt and the ever-present fire motif work well to emotionally tie the story and presentation of the game together, this is no Silent Hill 2. With the questions behind the messed up world revealed right from the start, there isn’t much of a mystery to solve this time around, and it loses some of that “fear of the unknown”.
This, compounded with the problem of too many underdeveloped and rushed antagonists, gives The Evil Within 2 a feeling of “two steps forward, one step back” with its narrative in comparison with the first. Thankfully, it’s in its moment-to-moment gameplay and scenarios where the game truly shines.
The basic gameplay of the first The Evil Within remains mostly the same in its sequel, with a Resident Evil 4 behind-the-back style camera, thankfully not visually hindered by a widescreen format this time around. And while it does feel smoother than the first, it’s still by no means as well implemented as its inspiration.
A camera that pulls in way too close when aiming, paired with enemies that often run straight passed your reticle can make for many missed shots and frustrating moments. However upgrades and the player’s own growing understanding of the combat’s shortcomings can mostly alleviate this, if you have the patience to stick with it in its early hours.
Thankfully stealth has also been revamped, and harder difficulties will have you relying on it almost constantly to take out enemies silently without being overwhelmed. Though the right upgrades can give the game a sort-of backwards difficulty curve where players will learn to trick the dumb enemy AI, it still remains tense and thrilling to silently take down a mob of enemies, or sneak around an imposing monster, knowing one wrong move could get you killed.
Rather than being a fully linear experience, The Evil Within 2 features the inclusion of a few small-open areas for players to explore. It’s these areas where the games mechanics work best, with a focus on scavenging, stealth, and upgrading necessary to survive the nightmare. It plays like an open-world The Last of Us, obviously not as well-tuned and polished, but the thrill of barely scraping by an encounter and the reward of slowly building up your weapons through found materials is satisfying.
And while these open areas highlight the best of the game’s mechanics, they do shift The Evil Within 2 more towards the “survival” end of survival horror. These areas are mostly lacking in true horrific imagery and encounters, which do well to serve the pacing, but the non-stop roller coaster of insanity from the first game is a little missed here.
Not that these areas are totally without that spark of fear, as there is a notable encounter with a ghostly enemy that haunts Sebastian throughout the game. Stumbling into these random encounters were definitely one of the highlights of my playtime, perfectly blending horror and open-world to create a surprisingly unique experience. More of these would have been greatly appreciated as their randomness evokes a totally new sense of dread.
While the mysteries of STEM are gone, this does allow The Evil Within 2′s design to feed even further into surrealism, no longer held back by a pretense of reality. The more linear chapters violently pull the player back into its nightmarish world, only heightened by the downtime spent free-roaming in the city areas. And while subtlety isn’t even in The Evil Within 2′s vocabulary, some of the creature designs and intense scenarios can get pretty creepy. It won’t frighten veterans of horror games, but it still engages the player throughout with awesomely creative moments.
All-in-all, Tango Gameworks have made a better game with The Evil Within 2. It loses some of the raw originality of the first, but gains in a much better playing experience. What it lacks in true horror, it makes up for in delving into open-world, which yields a more involved and diverse experience. After ramping up to a stunning climax, The Evil Within 2 improves on many aspects hampering the original, and branches off into new paths worthy of exploring.
While fans of the original may be turned off initially with its differences, it truly surpasses expectations as it delves deeper into twisted territories. Newcomers as well are sure to find a much more engaging playthrough this time, with a clear, emotional storyline and a fun world and mechanics. The Evil Within 2 delivers on its survival horror roots to bring a quintessential experience to the genre.