Platform: Xbox One (reviewed), PlayStation 4, PC
Developer: Tango Gameworks
In 2014, Bethesda published a game that returned to the core of the survival horror genre. They didn’t attempt to go the way of first-person horror where they strip you of weapons and just want to have you run away and hide from everything, they stayed true to the genre and provided an incredible throwback in the form of The Evil Within. While some people thought it felt shallow and lacked any significant character development, the game was successful enough for Bethesda to give Tango Gameworks the greenlight for a sequel where they could build on the foundation they laid in the first game.
The Evil Within 2 returns to our hero Sebastian after the Beacon Hospital Incident. He is in a state of depression and confusion after the traumatic events from the first game and is trying to come to terms with the death of his daughter who passed away in a house fire. He is a shell of what he once was and finds himself downing bottles of alcohol to help cope with this awful combination of pain. Eventually, it is revealed to him that his daughter may still be alive, but he must return to STEM (the nightmare machine that caused the events in the first game) to search for her.
His journey takes him into a fake town inside STEM called Union, it’s a small and happy town, ideal and dream-like but things go wrong and turn it into a hellscape. Sebastian must make things right and hopefully, claim his daughter at the end.
Now that The Evil Within 2 (TEW 2) is here, I can say that the game is a major shift from the first game but it still remains true to the original from a gameplay perspective and aesthetically and it’s glorious.
A sandbox world filled with a variety of ways to approach situations:
Within the first hour of TEW 2, you can already begin to see the major changes made to this game. For starters, the original was a linear, claustrophobic experience filled with dread. The sequel opens things up into a semi-open world sandbox with linear sections along the way, it’s a unique change that helps not only allow for much more variety in gameplay but also within its scares. Since you’re able to freely explore this town, a lot of the scares come from things like walking through alleyways or searching a house and encountering a horrific creature by surprise.
There were several instances where I was making my way to my next objective or scavenging for resources and a random monster I would bump into a monster, completely unscripted, and I’d panic to draw my gun and line up a headshot. You’re constantly on your toes simply because you’re in an open environment where you’re incredibly vulnerable due to lack of weapons and ammo. It creates a state of tension that never stops until you turn off the game, there’s rarely a moment where you can feel genuinely safe. There are safe houses for you to gear up and craft ammunition but you have to eventually go back out to face your fears.
The sandbox nature of the levels gives players so much more freedom. You can completely avoid fights if you’re careful enough, you can charge head on and get mauled to death, or you can use your environment to your advantage. If players survey their surroundings before tackling a fight with a horde or boss, they can usually find creative ways to help disperse their foes without wasting nearly as much ammo as they would if they did nothing but fill them with lead.
Car windows can be broken to reach in and honk horns to distract enemies, fire hydrants can be cracked open to create a puddle of water that’ll conduct electricity if you shoot a shock bolt from your crossbow at it, and you can plant various traps or light gasoline/oil trails to turn your opponents into an inferno.
It’s a major step up from just sitting in a tight room and holding off enemies for a prolonged period of time, it gives you choice and makes you think about everything you’re doing so you don’t waste your precious resources. There were times where I would try to climb on top of a car to flee from a group of flesh-eating monsters but Sebastian would begin the climbing animation and then fall off, leaving me to get my organs ripped out of my stomach. Not everything always works as you might expect which made it really frustrating at times but it succeeds more often than not.
One of the best parts of survival horror games is the feeling of incredible stress when an enemy is slowly walking towards you and their head is moving back and forth, side to side like a pendulum, while you are trying to put a round in between their eyes with one of the few bullets you still have in your clip. The Evil Within 2 executes on this so, so well, there were countless times where I was gripping my controller so tight that my sweaty palms were almost glued to it.
A story filled with depth, great characters, and emotional moments:
While many enjoyed the gameplay of the first game and will likely adore the sequel’s innovations, there were some who weren’t thrilled with The Evil Within’s story. Right off the bat, the game shows that Tango is listening to those criticisms. Sebastian feels more realized and like a proper character rather than an emotionless vessel for the player to move through the world. He blames himself for the death of his daughter and suffers from PTSD after the Beacon Incident, he’s deeply troubled and the villains in the game capitalize on this to torment him.
A lot of the things happening in the game mirror Sebastian’s fears and guilt, he’s constantly getting reminded of his failures as a father by physical and mental torture. Unlike the first game, you begin to feel for him and want nothing more for him to overcome these horrors and conquer evil. There’s a moment towards the end of the game that puts everything in perspective for him, it’s a revelation that ends up defining his character and builds him up to be the hero that he needs to be. It’s well-written, brilliantly performed, and heart-wrenching.
TEW 2 finds the emotional depth that it needs to have in order to truly deliver a phenomenal story that not only helps keep the player engaged, but makes the player feel something and motivates them to keep pushing forward.
The villains in the game are also pretty spectacular, some range from monsters that just scare the living hell out of you due to their petrifying looks and menacing behavior all the way to flesh out characters that serve as more than just bosses.
The one villain that has been actively showcased in promotional material is Stefano, a former war photographer who finds death beautiful and artistic. He stages murders and uses his supernatural powers to put his victims in a constant time loop where they die over and over again so he can capture the perfect picture. He actively tries to stop your attempts to save your daughter by putting you up against bosses that inflict serious damage. In one particular fight, there are traps laid out that mimic Stefano’s powers so you can lure the boss into briefly freeze them in time and unload rounds into them or buy yourself enough time to heal up or gather supplies.
For those wondering if this single-player game justifies its $59.99 price point, it does. You will get a major bang for your buck. It took me nearly 20 hours to complete the game on my first run through with roughly 30 deaths and there’s plenty of side activities and collectibles to gather to help elongate that time.
While maybe not as scary as the first game, The Evil Within 2 gets weird at many different points. The designs of the monsters are abstract, the levels are crafted with care and every little detail helps make the world feel much more dreadful, and some of the scripted sequences are absolutely jaw-dropping with how strange but also brilliant they are. There is still a lot to be scared by here but it’s a different kind of fear from the first game due to the change in environments.
Some technical hiccups that can be forgiven:
The game performs pretty well, for the most part, there were a couple FPS hiccups here and there but they were brief and minor enough that it didn’t detract from my experience. One of the most distracting things for me was the fact that there was some annoying pop-in that could be noticed in the distance, objects would phase in and out of existence randomly and it was a bit bizarre.
TEW 2 also features conversations with some NPCs, they don’t change anything in the game, it just gives some average backstory and details of what’s happening so it’s sort of unnecessary. These conversations feature those lifeless scenes that you see in a game like Horizon: Zero Dawn or Fallout, their voices might be emotive but their faces are blank and it comes off as awkward. These ultimately could’ve probably been removed or trimmed down to some brief animated cutscenes that tell you what you need to know.
Despite some technical shortcomings, The Evil Within 2 is an incredible horror game that should not be slept on. It’s been awhile since we’ve gotten a game like this and it shows that there’s still a lot of things that can be innovated on in the genre. Tango Gameworks took all of the criticisms of the first game to heart and built an emotional game about guilt and forgiveness. The amount of depth in the game’s story is worthy of an applause and there’s a lot of fun to be had with the intense, sweat-inducing gameplay. The Evil Within 2 is a must play for horror fans thanks to its moving plot, sandbox gameplay, and nightmare-ish world and is an essential purchase for this Halloween.