Developer: Tango Gameworks – Publisher: Bethesda – Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC – Release Date: October 13, 2017

At A Glance

The follow-up to the solid but flawed Resident Evil 4-style horror game.

Upon Further Inspection

Up the survival aspect by letting players freely explore a larger world teeming with dangers.

What’s The Story?

Time hasn’t been kind to Sebastian Castellanos in the three years since the Beacon Hospital incident. Traumatized and drowning in booze and regret, a spark of hope arrives when he learns that his young daughter Lily, presumed dead in a fire years ago, still lives. The catch: she’s in the hands of the evil Mobius organization and being used to supply power to Union, a virtual town within the hive-mind world of STEM. To rescue her and have one last shot at happiness, Sebastian must re-enter and survive the nightmarish dream world all over again.

The Evil Within 2’s story improves over its predecessor for one big reason: coherency. I had a tough time getting invested in the first game’s plot felt because of how confusing the storytelling felt. Sebastian’s straightforward and sympathetic mission remains as such throughout without veering off the rails. Even as the grander story unfolded, it falls at such a steady pace that I was never unsure as to why something was happening. 

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Another feat the narrative accomplished was making me care about Sebastian as a person. He went from being semi-dorky blank slate to a broken but determined father struggling to confront his inner demons. Watching him face monstrosities head-on in the name of Lily was inspiring; it gave me similar strength to press through the scarier situations. As the extent of Mobius’ villainy became clearer, I wanted to save Lily almost as badly as he did. Surprisingly emotional scenes combined with companions I grew strangely attached displays The Evil Within 2’s big heart at the center of a whirlwind of disturbing moments. 

Even still, the story still stumbles in spots, primarily revolving the two antagonists. Stefano, a deranged artist mutilates people to create “art”, is an fascinating and menacing foe. Unfortunately, his backstory and motivations are largely hidden in easy-to-miss, non-critical files instead of being told directly through the narrative. That same problem holds true of the game’s big villain. He pops out of nowhere without a satisfying explanation of his origins. Also, unlike Stefano, he’s boring; think of every generic religious zealot with a god complex and you’ve got this guy.

How Does It Look?

STEM’s disturbing monster designs send shudders of disgust and fear–in a good way. Union doesn’t stand out architecturally (especially the underground network).  Watching it gradually fall apart at the seams sells the idea of being in an unstable dream world. 

How Does It Sound?

Performances straddle that Mikami line of coming off as emotionally earnest and endearingly cheesy. Hair-raising enemy emotes make the anxiety of being spotted even more stressful. In-game use of the controller speaker adds another neat layer creepiness.

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How Fun Is It? 

Much of The Evil Within 2’s enjoyment stems (pun intentional) from its open-ish world design. Union consists of fragmented hub areas of varying sizes, occupied with monsters, optional quests, and gear.

I love how this approach emphasizes the survival aspect with freedom of choice. It’s up to me to determine where and how to proceed, using my wits and tools at my disposal. Should I sneak past a group of zombies or take them out? Do I have enough firepower (or bravery) to do that? Do I head for the main quest or peek inside that creepy diner for supplies? Instead of being led down a path and forced to confront danger head-on, I could play as I would act in real life; encounter a scary thing, say “nope”, and move on. Blowing a creature’s head apart feels good too, especially with multiple ways to tackle a situation. I’d fend of foes with a shotgun only to notice spilled oil I could have ignited or an alleyway perfect for luring them into an explosive trap. 

Even when actively avoiding confrontation, the eerie atmosphere and unpredictable nature of the world keeps the tension high. I explored a seemingly safe area only for the world to morph into an alternate realm where I was stalked by a single, unkillable, entity. Traditional linear segments with more focused scares provides a good balance to the freeform exploration. Like the first game, these segments toy with minds using clever camera trickery and surreal visual imagery.

A new radio transceiver picks up transmissions that pinpoint sidequests. Most of these are simple ammo/upgrade pick-ups, with only a handful being true missions. I would have liked more substantial side content, as I found the meatier missions to be enjoyable diversions. A sprinkling of emergent scenarios, such as assisting distressed survivors, bring further life to Union. Optional frights, like entering a home haunted by a malevolent spirit, can lead to spooky surprises even if they do grow predictable; you rarely walk out of a building as easily as you entered it.

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A rough first hour starts Sebastian with next to nothing, leaving him to slowly sneak around and die repeatedly. The experience improves exponentially after obtaining a few upgrades to gain some advantage. The progression feels rewarding, with my efforts reflected in how capably I could handle anything after a few hours. 

Play-styles can be steered to favor stealth or combat. However, the game doesn’t allow you to rely exclusively on the former despite somewhat appearing otherwise. The Evil Within 2 rewards confrontation, quiet or otherwise, since killing enemies nets the precious green gel required for upgrades. You won’t find much gel elsewhere, so pacifist players are out of luck unless they don’t mind being at an experience deficit. I appreciate that smaller boss encounters can be beaten without engaging the enemy, but the larger mandatory fights might present a problem for those without a few combat skills under their belt.

So how scary is it? As a horror fan, unnerving would be how I describe most of the game. The aforementioned stalking ghost (basically the new version of the multi-armed Laura from the first game) genuinely frightened me. So did a creature best described as a buzz saw-wielding hodgepodge of body parts. Refreshingly, The Evil Within 2 never resorts to jump scares (that I can recall), instead relying on sheer bizarreness and an uneasy vibe to establish fear.

The Verdict

Sebastian Castellanos’ return trip to STEM is a markedly better outing for Tango Gameworks. Surviving Union engrossed me for hours thanks to the open environments ripe with rewards to uncover, satisfying progression, and exceptional combat. An overall improved plot and stronger characterization for the hero adds soul to what was originally just barrage of mind-bending scares. More so than the first game, The Evil Within 2 firmly stakes the franchise’s flag as a real player within the horror space. 

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