One of my favourite survival horror games in recent memory is The Evil Within. Released three years ago, it featured horrifying monsters and effective mind games to create a memorable and exciting experience that has stayed with me years later. To say that I was excited for a sequel is an understatement, so I’m pleased that The Evil Within 2 refines its craft even further, throwing some engaging open world elements into the mix as well. What follows is a tense, harrowing experience that had me captivated right up until its final moments.
Sebastian Castellanos is back, this time he is on the serious hunt to find his daughter. To do so, he must enter into STEM, a world intended to simulate small-town America, but full of corruption in the form of twisted creatures and other nasties that go bump in the night. It’s pretty convoluted (and won’t make a lick of sense if you haven’t played the first game) but it has a much clearer identity that allows you to go head-first into some insane situations without a lot of explanation required.
After the first couple of chapters whet your horror appetite in The Evil Within 2, you’re all of a sudden given the option of side quests and exploration, something pretty unexpected for a genre that so often leads you down very specific pathways for structured jump scares. Opening the world up in this way is weird at first, but quite quickly inspired me to search out as many side quests as possible to make the most out of the experience.
Finding a diary left in a spooky house leads to quite the haunting scenario, a radio signal has you gathering much needed ammunition from fallen soldiers and a stationary train carriage has some tantalizing loot if you can survive the monsters inside it. Not only do these moments feel vital to gathering much-needed supplies, but the small stories within the moments are unique and interesting by themselves, whether they’re linked to the main storyline or not.
I found myself trying to track them all down in a very moreish fashion, excited to see what mysteries I could uncover and finding unique moments that, if I’d chosen to, could have been ignored completely.
What doesn’t always work as well in an open world environment is the inevitable back-tracking that some missions require. The underground tunnel system for example looks a bit samey after a while, and having to trudge through them doesn’t always feel organic or very interesting, Still, it doesn’t create too much of an issue and is made worthwhile by the eventual rewards; I guess some location diversity would have been nice.
“There’s a true sense that anything could happen at any time…”
The rest of The Evil Within 2 does a fantastic job of keeping you on your toes at all times. Locations you’ve previously visited don’t necessarily stay as you’ve left them, and being inside STEM means they have doubled down on the visual trickery and hallucinatory nature that keeps you completely on edge. There’s a true sense that anything could happen at any time, such as transporting you to another world completely, or sprinting frantically down a dark hallway with a living breathing nightmare chasing you down.
My palms were sweating almost at all times, even during more subtle moments like a slight knocking sound could be heard as I crept through an air vent. The paranoia that is created by the style and rhythm of the horror is intense, leaving me at times exhausted from the video game emotional trauma I was putting myself through.
Scavenging for supplies is part of the experience; collecting weapon parts to make minor upgrades to your guns and that all-important green gel that gives you more vitality, endurance, attack power or stealth. Making decisions here that match your play-style is key, and as your supplies are quite limited, you must choose wisely. Enemies are the best source for the elusive gel, so while you might prefer to avoid combat to save your ammunition, getting kills is the best way to increase your stats, so it’s a fine balancing act that will have you weighing up most battles that can’t be completed using a stealthy approach.
I preferred a more violent and aggressive approach during my play, so it helps that the combat feels really crunchy in the best way, with heads exploding, limbs flying off and squishy sound effects highlighting the gore and destruction. It’s hard not to appreciate how grotesque it all is, even when I missed my shots half the time because of the pressure of a nasty foe lumbering towards me trying to eat my face off. The erratic movements of enemies and the way they change their patterns frequently means that battles never feel truly easy, and getting overrun in the early game is regular occurrence.
Characters you come across in The Evil Within 2 are pretty much cardboard cut-outs of horror stereotypes, with clichéd dialogue and not much emotion behind them. The initial main villain was particularly campy and even Sebastian himself got on my nerves after a while, as he was constantly surprised and shocked by the crazy things that were happening around him. Come on dude, I played the first game; you’ve been through equally weird shit before this. The goal of finding his daughter Lily at least kept the structure of the story pretty clear throughout, with themes of loss and forgiveness holding it together pretty effectively and helping you sympathize with the man.
In terms of presentation, it’s stunning, with a really smart use of lighting and sound to create a claustrophobic, daunting adventure at every turn. There’s nothing quite like doorways that lead to nowhere and entire rooms disappearing behind you mere seconds after you’ve explored them. The way it plays with conventions and combines trippy visuals that melt off the screen kept me equally petrified and captivated as I too started to constantly question what is reality and what is just another delusion.
The Bottom Line
The Evil Within 2 left me exhausted by the time the credits rolled; like I’d survived an ordeal – and I have. It cleverly provides you with just enough motivation to keep pushing forward, even when the odds seem to be stacked against you. Ammunition stays low but is never impossible, and the weight of the darkness surrounding you is always countered by a small glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel – even if you only just make it there before getting ripped to pieces. Some of the narrative beats fall a little flat but the mind-bending style is mesmerizing and its open world sections with memorable short stories make it one of the more distinctive survival horror games you can get your hands on.