Where sequels can often seem blinkered and self-assured, peddling the same templates with some added bells and whistles, Tango Gameworks really went back to the drawing board with The Evil Within 2. It’s certainly iterative in some ways and quite a lot of the systems in place will seem familiar, yet the way everything comes together has improved massively, creating a tense, polished slab of survival horror that’s a joy to play.
When conducting a postmortem, I didn’t have many nice things to say about the first game. Seeing Shinji Mikami return to a genre he effectively created (or at least pioneered) was all I needed to dive in without too many questions. It was a complete mixed bag, however, and one that I found easier to critique than to offer much praise. In fact, the only things I truly enjoyed in the first game were some of the fantastic creature designs and the generally chilling atmosphere.
One thing that still isn’t great is the story. Compared to the original, The Evil Within 2 is easier to follow and the characters are a tad more interesting. After the events at Beacon, detective Sebastian Castellanos is left broken, haunted by visions of his dead daughter, Lily. He’s given a lifeline when Agent Kidman comes back into his life, claiming that Lily actually survived the house fire and is now a subject for research company Mobius as they look to evolve the STEM program.
This state-of-the-art machine can connect human minds, transporting subjects to an alternate reality. It’s an experimental piece of tech and one that Mobius, as a shady megacorp, is looking to exploit. Their virtual utopia quickly falls apart, however, and Sebastian is sent in to clean up the mess. Think Inception meets A Nightmare On Elm Street. It’s hardly a gripping narrative but it does have its moments. At the very least, players get to wade through a series of hellish dimensions as Sebastian’s delves further and further.
One of the biggest changes Tango has implemented is a slight shift away from their previously linear template. After a lengthy intro, players enter Union, a small town that can explored at your own pace. Although it was clear where the game wanted me to go, I spent the first couple of hours searching the area, battling pockets of enemies and searching buildings for salvage and secrets. For a moment it almost felt as though I were playing a Bethesda RPG, checking off a list of objectives, upgrading my character, and soaking in the lore that’s left strewn around the level. Although The Evil Within II reels itself in during the latter half, becoming far more narrow, those initial stages felt liberating, helping to create an atmosphere instead of needing to constantly reach for jump scares or over-the-top set pieces.
With a range of weapons and skills to unlock, upgrading Sebastian quickly became my core focus, keeping an eye out for any valuable resources. The Evil Within 2 definitely leans into the survival side of the survival horror genre, scattering meager handfuls of ammo here and there, forcing players to think tactically and adopt a stealthier approach to combat. Compared to the original, sneaking up on enemies and insta-killing them is far more reliable here. On the whole stealth is manageable, employing a helpful cover system to keep Sebastian out of sight and generally making it easier to evade bad guys.
The shooting feels a tad sharper too, though still isn’t on par with the likes of Uncharted or Gears of War. Enemies will often contort themselves while stumbling towards you, making it easy to miss a shot even when they’re at point blank range. Still, for the most part the shooting is fun, offering some punchy, visceral feedback as you pull on the trigger. With the gameplay much smoother and progression more meaningful, you’ll want to play The Evil Within 2 for more than just Sebastian’s story and its frightful foes.
Speaking of enemies, they’re just as inventive and creepy as before, especially the handful of recurring “boss” characters that crop up from time to time. There are also plenty of throwbacks to the original game, including one particular scene that adds a letterbox filter. They’re great little nods that add yet another bizarre layer to this nightmarish reality Sebastian is trapped in.
It’s all brought to life via the STEM Engine – a modified version of idTech – and without the design held back by last generation consoles. As a result, The Evil Within 2 looks incredible, combining raw power with some of the best art direction you’ll find in a horror game. The accompanying soundtrack is superb too and while the voice cast is solid, though there’s only so much they can do with the awkward script.
With the original game having done so little to impress me, The Evil Within 2 has come as a massive surprise. Although the story still failed to hook me, clever gameplay changes and well-used horror tropes combine to create a vastly-improved sequel.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4 Pro