I’m approaching an ominous, unnaturally posed corpse. I can’t see its head at first, but as I emerge from a darkened hall into the harsh fluorescents, I can see that in place of a head, there’s a shower of blood, frozen in mid-air. The body is in a glass box, and there’s a camera on a tripod pointing in its direction. This twisted art exhibit plays on loop like the most egregious gif you’ve ever seen. Worse yet, the “artist” has my daughter.
This early moment sets up your expectations for what The Evil Within 2 is — a macabre dance that will continuously throw unsettling moments in protagonist Sebastian Castellanos’ path on his quest to save his daughter. And The Evil Within 2, as you’ll read in our review, makes all of these moments count towards a surprisingly poignant story that twists and turns with ease, but never in a way that feels unearned.
The sequel to Tango Gameworks’ 2014 survival horror title from the mind of Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami improves every facet of the game. From the gunplay, to the set pieces, to its pacing and exploration, to the story that makes both the shadowy organization and its collective consciousness contraption comprehensible. The Evil Within 2. Kidman confirms Myra’s theory to Sebastian, as he learns that Lily has taken the place of Ruvik as the core of the collective consciousness. But unknown forces have caused the dreamscape to go haywire.
Sebastian heads to Union, designed as a run-of-the-mill small town filled with Mobius-vetted citizens to test and further develop STEM. Only the Union that Sebastian enters isn’t a slice of Americana, but a dark and dreary hellscape, riddled with grotesque monsters and unforeseen anomalies.
“The Evil Within 2 is a layered, story rich experience that transcends the typical definition of survival horror.”
Stefano Valenti, the grotesque photographer, is only the beginning of Sebastian’s problems. Unlike the first game, Sebastian feels like a full-fledged character in whom you can be personally invested, rather than a generic detective thwarting ambiguous evils. Injecting a more personal storyline raises the stakes, and as the game progresses, each death serves a meaningful purpose towards Sebastian’s internal and external struggle.
While there are certainly callbacks and references to the first game that will enrich the experience for players that ventured into STEM the first time around, the game itself is coherent and self-contained enough that newcomers won’t be totally lost.
The Evil Within 2 successfully fleshes out Mobius and makes much better use of the STEM system, removing obtuse elements from the first one. All of the pieces fit together in a story that will keep you guessing until its final frame. A story of redemption, love, and loss, it’s surprisingly heartfelt for such a grotesquely gory game. It shines through superb pacing, impactful cutscenes, and writing and dialogue that far surpass the original.
Chaos and calm
The story often works so well because it has been broken into digestible chunks of action and exploration for the player to take at their own pace. As opposed to the more linear original, The Evil Within 2 features an open world layout in and around the town of Union. Unlike a lot of recent open world games that feel packed with obligatory filler content, The Evil Within 2’s Union is just big enough to get sidetracked in, but not so much that you’ll get totally derailed with optional objectives.
Sebastian once again has two options when upon finding a pack of feeding zombies: He can engage with guns, or sneak around them. Thankfully, both elements are improved. The Evil Within’s gunplay was imprecise and unsatisfying, but now it feels more in step with one of its greatest influences, Resident Evil 4.
The game’s stealth sections, similar mechanics seen in Silent Hill and Resident Evil 7, feels more intuitive, thanks to an on screen eye that details your visibility to nearby enemies. While many players quickly abandoned stealth as unviable in the early hours of The Evil Within, it remains a viable tactic throughout most of the sequel.
The Evil Within 2’s story will keep you guessing until the final frame.
The town setting implores you to be stealthy, as you never know when you’ll be ambushed by a pack of monsters emerging from a grove of trees or an alley. Ammo and supplies are still scarce, forcing you too meticulously loot through the dilapidating buildings to better prepare you for your next trek beneath the darkened sky.
This is where The Evil Within 2 hits its stride: Choosing when to hunt for supplies and when to engage, how you spend your limited upgrades, whether you fight enemies or try to sneak around them – The Evil Within 2 constantly forces you to weigh difficult options. Do you take out that group of monsters guarding a weapons cache, or do you sneak by them en route to your next objective? There’s unfortunately not quite enough variety in the enemies and their behavior, but fortunately you are given a wide range of ways to deal with them.
To be clear, the most headache-inducing aspects of the original — the crafting, and attribute power ups — have been toned down. It’s no longer a grind on the game’s default Survivalist setting, but on the hardest difficulty level, prepare to grind for those attributes and crafting materials to upgrade your firepower. We don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, though, as playing at the highest level forces you to explore and uncover more of Union’s secrets.
A morphing nightmare
If anything stood out in The Evil Within, it was its morphing set pieces made possible by the distorted consciousness of STEM. Unfortunately, those set pieces were broken up by long corridors and big, open arena-style battles against enemy hordes. In short, they were inconsistently utilized. The Evil Within 2 better capitalizes on the concept of STEM, making each of the game’s 17 chapters a clever surprise.
It’s easy to forget sometimes as you’re exploring the world that you’re not actually there; you’re in a bathtub connected to a STEM machine, trapped in a living, breathing nightmare. Like P.T. and Layers of Fear, the game actively messes with your perception and expectations at every turn, with objects and people that appear and dissipate before your eyes. Sebastian himself also warps the world around him to fit into his own darkest fears and regrets. These psychological, surreal elements help elevate the experience beyond the standard video game trope of exploring a haunted town.
Despite its many shocking moments and images, we wouldn’t say the game is particularly scary, at least not in the “jump scare” sense. It’s more chilling than anything else, which may turn off those who seek more explicit thrills.
The town serves as the game’s central hub, but STEM acts as a portal to the unseemly, from chaotic fiery depths, to topsy turvy structures in the sky; from evocative, scenic boss fights, to places of eerie calm and comfort that break up the despair. There’s a fine attention to detail here that makes the world a more vibrant and yes, gruesome place. It’s too odd to be reality, but it feels real all the same.Our Take
The Evil Within 2 overhauls every aspect of the original to create a surprisingly adept sequel that makes us a hungry for more. Both gunplay and stealth have been refined and lend themselves well to the restrained open world format. Its surprisingly heartfelt narrative and many twist and turns round out the experience.
Is there a better alternative?
If you want to be scared, Resident Evil 7 is the better bet, but The Evil Within 2 has an acute eye for suspense, and tells a great tale, which is rarely done within the genre.
How long will it last?
Our first playthrough took about 11 hours. A New Game Plus with exclusive weapons and perks unlocks upon completion, along with numerous side quests to keep you busy.
Should you buy it?
Yes, fans of psychological horror or action/adventure and anyone not easily made queasy should play The Evil Within 2. But play The Evil Within first to get the most out of this stellar turnaround.
The Evil Within 2 was reviewed on PlayStation 4 with a review code provided by the publisher.