Detective Sebastian Castellanos has lost everything, including his daughter, Lily. To save her, he must descend into the nightmarish world of STEM. Horrifying threats emerge from every corner, and he must rely on his wits to survive. For his one chance at redemption, the only way out is in.
The Evil Within 2 is a dilemma. It took me until the final third of the game to know if I loved it or loathed it. In this review, I will consistently compare this game to the 2014 original because of how special that experience was and due to the marketed changes in the sequel. If you haven’t played the first The Evil Within, I highly recommend you do so before picking up this instalment in the series.
When I first played The Evil Within three years ago, I was gripped by its terrifyingly claustrophobic environments. I was intrigued by its ambiguous story and I was frustrated by its janky dialogue and emotionless, boring protagonist. The first game in the series was so frightening that it literally took me several months to finish because I couldn’t play for longer than half an hour at a time. It made me that anxious, and this was probably what I loved most about the game — its ability to create tension and anxiety through its setting and design.
My first play session of The Evil Within 2 lasted three hours straight, which says a lot about my experience with the sequel.
The game opens and we are reunited with Sebastian Castellanos, who was and continues to be the biggest issue with the series. We find Sebastian drowning his sorrows at a local dive bar until he is confronted by the first game’s turncoat Kidman. Some awkward, poorly written and performed dialogue ensues and we are given our objective for the game — venture back into the device known as STEM to fix it and save your daughter (who you just found out is still alive).
The game starts in a similar vein to the original, as you are thrust into a creepy environment and forced to investigate. This is where the game really hits its straps and the tension from the first game is instantly back. After 10 or so minutes of sneaking around, a couple of jump scares and a monster chase later, the game is completely flipped on its head.
After opening up, it’s almost a totally different game to its predecessor. You’re in an open world-type area with safe houses and side missions. This initially gave me a feeling of disappointment — I felt that the developers had taken what made the first game so special and ripped it away in order to make the game more accessible to the average gamer. The telltale sign of this is shown when you start the game and the difficulty options are swapped, so the normal difficulty of the original is now the hardest, while normal is the equivalent of easy from the first game. However, as I progressed, the game maintained its trademark anxiety-inducing segments where I was transported to a different area, akin to the first game, and had to work my way out.
The Evil Within 2 continues like this, for the most part, alternating between open areas and closed linear segments. At first, I wasn’t sure whether I liked it, but as the game went on, I relished the transitions from the anxious linear environment to open slightly less stressful areas. This gave the game a nice balance and allowed me to play for longer sessions… because, you know, I’m a big baby.
Tango Gameworks has improved the controls from the original, which was a major problem for a lot of players, and the shooting and stealth are as tight and responsive as ever — the game plays like a dream.
The upgrade system from the first game is back; however, the weapons upgrades have been split from the green gel hospital chair to a workbench, where you use weapon parts to upgrade and you can focus on using the green gel for upgrading your strength, health, stealth and stamina. This isn’t much different from the first game — in fact, it’s almost too much of the same.
Ammo is as scarce in the early stages as you’d expect, but the abundance of gunpowder you find throughout the world kind of cancels that out, as you can craft as much ammo as you need without a problem.
Something that was quite disappointing was knowing from the start that you’re inside the STEM machine. The first game had so much mystery around what was happening to you, and while the ending of the original fell flat, the journey itself was well worth it and made up for the final moments. Knowing from the beginning of this game that you’re in a Matrix-like machine and nothing is actually “real” took something away from the experience. Don’t get me wrong — there were still creepy areas that made me tremble, but they didn’t quite have the impact with the knowledge it was all a result of the machine.
The enemies of The Evil Within 2 also leave much to be desired. One of my favourite things about the first game was the variety in creepy enemies and terrifying bosses, but almost none of the enemies I encountered in The Evil Within 2 scared me or even intimidated. This was a major let down and I can’t for the life of me understand why Tango Gameworks didn’t feel the need to include more variety in the game’s ghouls and monsters. You basically fight the same three run-of-the-mill zombie character models for most of the game, with the odd mediocre boss battle sprinkled through.
What drove me to the edge of panic was the game’s fantastic environmental storytelling and sound design. Often times I was a wreck just walking through a dark corridor because of the creaks, cracks and the odd footstep I would hear as I progressed. A lot of the time, there weren’t even enemies involved in the scariest parts of the game. I do have to mention, however, even though these were some of the best parts of The Evil Within 2, they didn’t hold a candle to the environments of the original. It seems as though Tango Gameworks moved away from the smorgasbord of creative horror environments that engulfed the first game and I have no idea why? Because that was one of the best parts. As underwhelming as some of the environments were creatively, they are all beautifully put together. The way the lighting interacts with everything in the environments is almost perfect and gives everything a creepy aesthetic that really adds another layer to The Evil Within 2.
The best part of The Evil Within 2 is its story. Generally with horror games, the story starts somewhat on track and eventually is derailed by an abundance of cliches or an overly ambitious approach that never comes together. That is the opposite here. The game starts off seemingly predictable and somewhat mediocre, but really comes together brilliantly with a heartfelt emotional finish.
As I mentioned earlier, our protagonist Sebastian is the biggest problem with the game, due to poorly written and performed dialogue that at times borders on parody. After being chased by a razor-armed three-metre tall monster, it really takes me out of the experience when Sebastian says something along the lines of, “Something strange is going on here”. I began to refer to him as Captain Obvious.
As the game progressed, I actually began to hate Sebastian, until the third act when he actually started to redeem himself. He becomes human, he shows a lot more emotion, and in one sequence of boss fights towards the finale he actually seems to overcome his demons, redeem himself and become likeable. I was so impressed that the game was able to make me care about this stiff boring character. By the end, I was actually rooting for Sebastian.
The Evil Within 2 did something not a lot of games have been able to do — it won me over after a disappointing start. I went from hating the main character to being fully invested in his journey. At its core, this is a creepy survival horror game with tight gameplay and enough scares to keep you on edge. Unfortunately, while improving some aspects of the original, it has lost a lot of the charm that the first game absolutely nailed in its environments and enemies. Much like its predecessor, a few minor issues have stopped it from being a masterpiece, so I guess we’ll just have to settle for a great game.