The Evil Within is a divisive franchise. The first game was directed by Resident Evil creator, Shinji Mikami, and was anticipated as his long-awaited return to horror. Upon release, many people loved the game (and much more hated it), but both sides agree that the game was not so much survival horror as it was an action game with psychological horror elements.
With The Evil Within 2, Mikami steps into the producer role, and director John Johanas takes the helm. Under his vision, the sequel moves away from the gritty and claustrophobic levels of Beacon hospital in favor of open areas and the more welcoming town of Union. Johanas doesn’t steer the series into the survival horror experience some may have wanted, but he takes what the original game brought and refines it into a more accessible package.
Three years have passed since the events at Beacon, and Sebastian has fallen into a deep depression. His wife is still missing, his daughter, Lily, is dead, and he has absolutely no one to help him process these events. While drinking away his sorrows, he is approached by former colleague Juli Kidman. She reveals that she is a part of Mobius, the company responsible for the events in the first game and that Lily is alive and in danger. They need his help to get her back.
A psychopathic artist, Stefano Valentini, has taken over the STEM and is using its world-bending abilities as his personal canvas. Capturing Mobius employees, he spectacularly kills them and takes photographs of their death, only to have them replay over and over again in brutal fashion. The first hour or so of The Evil Within 2 is dedicated to setting up the plot – making up for all the questions that went unanswered from game one.
It’s somewhat of a slow start, but it’s intriguing, expanding on the events from both the original game and it’s DLC. However, once Chapter 3 rolls around, The Evil Within 2 begins to show you what the franchise has always had the potential to be.
Gameplay remains mostly the same. You have your typical shotgun, pistol, crossbow, etc. Melee is still overly weak, sneaking is highly recommended, and matches are entirely gone. What changes are the locales you explore. No longer are you trapped in the cramped environments of Beacon. You’re now in the exposed suburban town of Union, and this is the absolute best change in the sequel because it allows you to take on each encounter in a variety of different ways.
Use the silenced pistol to draw a monster away from the pack, then sneak kill it to save ammo. Sprint past a couple to draw their attention and lead them to an oil spill, light them up and be on your way. Or you can take the stealthy route and avoid enemies entirely – saving you health syringes and ammunition.
Even the more enclosed areas have opened up – many focusing on verticality for variety. Alongside this comes side quests to keep things interesting, and a communicator to find them, alongside collectible items and past memories that tell of what happened to previous humans in the STEM. New enemy types and a revamped upgrade system have you building a character that works for your play-style. Want to kill them all in one hit? Build for that. Fancy a more tactical approach? Take on the stealthy skills. The Evil Within 2 wants you to play your way, and it’s all the better for it.
Playing on the Nightmare difficulty, which the game describes as “for those who enjoy the difficulty of the first game”, I really had to conserve my ammunition. Because of this, I opted for stamina and health-focused upgrades as well as some damage boosting ones – gotta make those bullets count! There were a few points I had to retry due to running out of ammo, but forcing myself to conserve bullets and get creative was a good challenge that gave me a better experience.
That’s not to say all the design elements are perfect, however. Even on this difficulty, most of the boss fights were ridiculously easy. While the set-pieces were all fantastic, the fights were “shoot, run, reload, grab ammo, repeat.” Aside from one or two standouts, encounters dragged on further than they should have. The game’s side quests brought some exciting puzzles to solve, and it’s a shame these didn’t make it into the main fights. One oddity – while all previous boss fights had respawning ammo, the penultimate boss did not, and the final one didn’t until later. This forced me to reload previous saves and spend an hour grinding out an area to save ammo. I felt a bit cheated, as neither were particularly hard. I would spend five minutes running around waiting for something to spawn, and nothing did. If I had another way of doing damage that would be okay, but there was none. This is likely only an issue on Nightmare, as I have heard on multiple accounts that easier difficulties hand out ammo like candy, but it’s still a frustrating taste of an otherwise wonderfully balanced difficulty.
These issues are entirely forgiven, however, because of how damn good the story is. No matter how stuck I was getting, I had all the desire to push through and figure out what the hell is going on. Once things get going around Chapter 4, they never stop. Each story arc somehow tops the last, to the point where everything going on is utterly ridiculous, but feels entirely plausible due to how well it’s explained. I highly recommend going into this with as little known as possible. The voice acting, while better than the first game, still isn’t great, but the plot is engaging enough to ignore that anyway.
Technically the game runs alright. I experienced one odd crash on my original Xbox One, but otherwise, I had a pretty smooth experience. The Evil Within 2 stayed at a solid 30 throughout, but I experienced a couple of light bugs. Backing out of menus, switching weapons, and interacting with the environment would occasionally not occur. Sebastian would freeze up for a few seconds, and then I’d have to restart the animation. This lead to death more than once, but it was nothing game-ruining. Also, there were multiple times where I was grabbed by a zombie that didn’t catch me. Animations are a tad janky, as are character models, with Sebastian looking substantially better than anyone else. The locals are gorgeous, however, and loading times were quick.
The Evil Within 2 is a prime example of a sequel done right. Not only does it improve upon every mechanic established by the first game, but it also stands on its own as a jam-packed psychological thriller. It has its tense moments, but the sequel strays even further from survival horror than the first game. If you can ignore that and appreciate this game for what it is, you’re in for one of the most intense experiences of the year.
This review is based off the Xbox One version of The Evil Within 2 provided by Bethesda Softworks.