Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: 13/10/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
Whilst it received a bit of a mixed reception from both gamers and critics alike, I was always a big fan of The Evil Within. Sure, it didn’t really expand upon the survival horror genre all that much and it certainly liked to play things incredibly safe with its linear and traditional approach, but I couldn’t help but to thoroughly enjoy the purity of it all.
Naturally then, I’ve been excited to play The Evil Within 2 and see what Tango Gameworks could bring to evolve upon the original. What we have is an incredibly enjoyable experience that doesn’t stray too far from its roots, but expands upon its gameplay mechanics enough to ensure that players are kept thrilled during their tense and horrific re-visit to the perilous world of STEM.
The Evil Within 2 takes place three years after the original game, with Sebastian struggling to come to terms with everything that he encountered in Beacon Hospital whilst under the control of STEM. Things take a drastic turn though when he encounters his ex-partner Kidman, who informs him that his daughter Lily (who he believed had died in a fire) is actually alive and being used by the mysterious organisation Mobius to act as the core in a new version of STEM (the cause behind the horrific setting of the first game).
Everything has gone pear-shaped in this new version of STEM though, which takes the form of the idyllic American town Union. Monsters have appeared, psychos and running loose, the landscape is falling apart, and worst of all Lily is in danger. It’s up to Sebastian to return to STEM once more to rescue Lily and, of course, take down a few psychopaths along the way…
The narrative offers a much more personal experience this time around, with it being tied directly to Sebastian rather than just the twisted mind of a deluded psychopath. It still offers plenty of shock value and is full of dark twists and turns, but I felt a lot more motivated to see the story through when there was so much at stake. It actually made Sebastian a more fleshed out character, with personal motives at the forefront rather than just the urge to survive. This is also helped by the fact that each character was a lot more self-aware this time around, with none of them unsure what was going on but instead fully aware of what STEM is capable of.
The more personal and character-driven storyline offered by The Evil Within 2 also allows the player to essentially take time out as it guides them through narrative pieces that focus less on taking on enemies and more on the horrors of the world. It could almost feel like a ‘walking simulator’ at times, with the player simply guiding Sebastian through some disgusting sights that’re full to the brim with haunting imagery that tell you more about each character’s harrowing tale. It’s an interesting approach and one that I appreciated; whilst there’s certainly an abundance of shock value in place, it ensured that The Evil Within 2 never abandons its new found emotional and character-driven atmosphere too.
One thing that’s worth mentioning is that I think those who played the original game and its DLC will get a lot more out of the narrative. Don’t get me wrong, The Evil Within 2 can certainly be played as a stand-alone experience, but you’ll appreciate it a lot more if you know about the history of the game world, its characters, and the ever-mysterious Mobius.
One big difference introduced by the sequel from a gameplay perspective is the fact that most of the main environments of the game take an open-world approach, with the player able to explore each area freely. There’s always a ‘main mission’ marker in place that the player needs to reach if they want to progress through the story, but there are plenty of optional side missions and small endeavours to partake in as you explore each nook and cranny of Union too. In honesty, I’m surprised that a lot of these extras were made optional; they’re never small and meaningless undertakings, but instead fleshed out scenarios that offer side-stories not only relating to the residents of Union but also Sebastian’s past. There was one instance in particular which stood out, with Sebastian being pursued by a ghostly figure as he looked to escape a place that felt very similar to Beacon Hospital from the first game – the fact that some players might miss out on scenes like this feels criminal. At the same time, the fact that they exist and will only be seen if you actively pursue them adds a sense of intrigue to the game and shows the level of freedom that is offered to players who’re willing to be adventurous and head off the beaten track during their time exploring Union.
Besides giving you a lot more freedom to explore Union, the open-world also adds an extra degree of tension to proceedings, especially since you don’t know what might be around each corner. You might be exploring an abandoned train carriage only to find some hidden enemy, you might be inside a garage only to have a knife-wielding monster lunge at you, or you might even head into a diner to find that it’s… well… haunted. There really is a level of unpredictability to the world that ups the ante as far as creepiness is concerned. At the same time though, the open-world gives you a more flexible approach in avoiding enemies – I bricked myself when I first started playing the game and saw that there was a huge number of enemies surrounding a street corner I needed to make my way across, but there were so many ways to approach the situation that I ended up making my way past them with no problem.
It gives the game a non-linear feel that really ups the ante as far as player freedom is concerned. In honesty, I wasn’t fully sure what I thought of the open-world at first, especially after appreciating the linearity of the first game. The more I played though, the more I started to find myself engrossed by it – both for the enhancements it adds to gameplay, but also for the added tension and creepiness that the unpredictability of the open-world brought. It shows that The Evil Within 2 isn’t just trying to use the same tricks all over again, but instead evolves upon the formula of the original game in meaningful ways.
The tension of the open-world is strengthened by the game’s tough enemies, which can be pretty tricky to take down. Given that The Evil Within 2 plays like a traditional survival horror game, you’ve often got to assess each situation and pick your battles in order to preserve ammo. This can be difficult in an open-world though where you never quite know what’s around the corner and if running from one group of enemies will just lead you straight into another.
Luckily, you’re well-armed with a great variety of weapons on offer including pistols, shotguns, a crossbow, and a sniper rifle, but you do need to make sure that every shot counts. Enemies can take one hell of a beating, so if you aren’t aiming for the head you might find yourself blowing through a load of ammunition just to take down one measly foe. Enemies are quick and erratic in their movement too, so you really need to be on the ball as far as aiming is concerned. Believe me, I not only wasted a ton of ammo during my first few hours with the game as I tried to get used to how enemies moved and where best to shoot them, but died a whole lot too – it’s certainly pretty unforgiving at times. That being said, there were also times when the enemy AI would make them easy targets for me as they ran into walls or open doors, so the game isn’t ALWAYS as clever as it’d like to be. For the most part though, you’re up against merciless foes who simply take no prisoners.
At least you can always rely on using your knife or the one hit kill axes that are scattered around when low on ammunition, but when enemies come at you in such large numbers it’s not always the best method to rely on. Don’t worry though; the game still allows you to be tactical in your approach with plenty of combat scenarios in place where some clever thought will easily see you wipe out your foes. You don’t ALWAYS have to run away, regardless of how tempting it might be, and sometimes luring your foes your way with a well-placed throw of a bottle can make them easier targets to pick off…
There aren’t just extra missions to find out in the open-world of Union, with resource gathering and crafting playing a bigger role in The Evil Within 2. This time around you aren’t just limited to crafting different arrows for your crossbow, but will instead be gathering plenty of different resources that can be used to make new items such as extra ammunition, health packs, or just weapon parts to upgrade your arsenal.
In some ways it actually alleviated some of the game’s survival horror tension, especially since I knew I’d never really run out of bullets because of the huge supply of gun powder I ended up coming across. At the same time though it also added to the gameplay experience as a whole: It meant there were a lot more instances of risk versus reward as to whether it’d be worth venturing through enemy infested areas for some extra resources, or instead walking away empty handed.
Stealth played a big role in the last game and returns again, with Sebastian now having to sneak through the larger open-worlds rather than just linear levels. The openness gives you a lot more freedom though, with the player able to follow a series of different routes rather than just the one. This could mean sneaking in between buildings, across roofs, between the countless obstacles blocking roads, or even in bushes that completely hide your presence. If you manage to sneak behind an enemy you can even take them out with one hit, which saves ammo and makes sure no one else hears you. There are some exceptions to the rule though, including the god damn creepy knife wielding female enemies whose presence you’ll know by their creaking noise – I was caught out when stabbing one of them from behind, only for them to survive and retaliate against me. The Evil Within 2 isn’t afraid to be brutal and there’s definitely a learning curve to be found in how you approach each situation.
To further enhance the stealth elements of the game there’s a new cover system in place, but I found it a bit of a mixed bag to actually use. Whilst it was nice to know I’d be hiding from enemies, it felt a little awkward to control – especially when trying to move around corners. There was no real consistency as to whether or not you’d stick to cover or not too, so trying to quickly jump into cover in a tense situation might not always work as you wanted it to. Sometimes it was just a little easier to crouch and work around different obstacles myself, even if using cover would’ve been the more practical approach.
Upgrades are back too, though they’re a bit more refined this time around. Everything is broken down clearly into different sections, with each skill and stat improvement being specifically catered for in a more diverse way. The same applies to weapon upgrades, which you can improve however you please. Whilst there was certainly a level of freedom in how you approached upgrades in the last game, I feel they’ve cut out some of the more useless abilities this time around and instead focused on providing more significant ones that are actually beneficial to the varying ways in which you can approach the game.
On a visual basis, everything looks a lot better this time around with some stunning sights and lighting effects in place throughout Union. The world can often be an incredibly surreal one, which is certain emphasised by the countless grotesque things you’ll see and bizarre inhabitants you meet. They never fail to impress though and I was constantly left staggered by the haunting environments or the vile creatures that blocked my path. The last game catered for both current and last gen consoles and it showed, but The Evil Within 2 spares no detail when it comes to making a stunningly disgusting world. That being said, the Inception-like sequences where the world breaks away don’t feel as impactful this time around, but there’s still a shattered environment to see that shows that the rules of physics don’t quite apply when in STEM.
There are plenty of little details in place too, such as seeing Sebastian gag and cover his mouth when in the presence of a disgusting sight or having to stretch out his shoulder after barging through a blocked door. Sure, these are small touches, but they make the game more believable and go a long way in improving the overall authenticity of The Evil Within 2’s presentation.
That doesn’t mean that everything is perfect though. I came across a few graphical glitches when playing the game, with plenty of texture pop-in and even a few occasions were enemies were clipping through parts of the environment. One time I had a crawling enemy stuck to my feet who would only disappear after re-loading my save file – there are certainly plenty of oddities to be seen.
Whilst the first game was known for being a pretty tough experience, the difficulty levels offered this time around have been made a lot more accessible. It’s made clear what each difficulty offers too, with each of them never feeling too hard or too easy, but instead designed to cater for everyone. The lack of clarity as far as the difficulty levels were concerned was a talking point of the first game, but it’s something that’s certainly been rectified here.
The Evil Within 2 takes everything about the original game and improves upon it, with its horrific yet stunning open-world, its personal story that focuses more on Sebastian, and it’s engaging survival horror gameplay keeping the player thrilled right up until the very end. I never knew what the game was going to throw at me next, but I could always guarantee it’d be both exciting and frightening: would more could you want from a survival horror game?
Outside of some graphical glitches, a clunky cover system, and a few hitches in the enemy AI, there really is a lot to love about The Evil Within 2. It’s unpredictable, it’s grotesque, it’s undeniably challenging, but it’s also an exceptional experience that horror fans simply need to check out.
I thought it had already been a good year for survival horror fans thanks to the release of Resident Evil 7, but the excellent The Evil Within 2 has made sure that it’s going to end as a bloody brilliant one.