The Evil Within 2 is an inconsistent game. There is not a single thing that the game does perfectly, but by that same token, there isn’t much that is all bad either. There’s a lot to like in almost every aspect of this survival horror game, but there’s noticeable issues as well, issues that are not game-breaking by any means, but certainly do enough to bring down the quality of the overall experience. The game successfully builds on the solid foundation that was laid down by its predecessor in 2014, and while The Evil Within 2 isn’t the seminal, landmark survival horror game that a few may have expected it to be, given the incredible potential that its predecessor clearly had, there’s no doubting that it’s still one heck of a game.
While The Evil Within was a very focused, linear experience, with each corridor funnelling into the next one from start to finish, its sequel is a much more open game with a larger focus on exploration. The Evil Within 2 is set several years after the events of the first game, with Sebastian Castellanos still grieving over his previous losses. Haunted by visions of his horrifying journey into STEM, Sebastian has turned into a drunken, washed-up ex-cop. Things, however, change when someone from his past comes into his life once again to tell him that his daughter Lily is still alive, and that they need his help to rescue her.
And so Sebastian enters the horrifying Matrix-like STEM once again, and travels into Union, the virtual reality simulation of a generic American town. Being set in Union, The Evil Within 2 drops players into an open environment, rather than channeling them through linear levels as its predecessor did. Make no mistake, though- this is by no means an open world game, and while there are plenty of side activities here for those who might be interested, the focus is still very much on Sebastian’s personal journey.
"Being set in Union, The Evil Within 2 drops players into an open environment, rather than channeling them through linear levels as its predecessor did. Make no mistake, though- this is by no means an open game, and while there are plenty of side activities here for those who might be interested, the focus is still very much on Sebastian’s personal journey."
What this semi-open-world setting does successfully do is it bleeds a great deal of variety into the game. Exploring Union is always a blast, and the game does an excellent job of making sure that it keeps throwing surprises at the players, even during moments that might seem deceptively like innocuous and regular, run-off-the-mill opportunities for exploration. You never know what’s around the corner, or what might happen if you flip that innocent looking switch, or what further quests a seemingly ordinary side quest might lead to.
It’s a good thing too that The Evil Within 2 manages to keep players on their toes even out in the open, during moments that are supposed to be breathers between the actual set piece horror moments. It’s good because like so many other new things The Evil Within 2 tries doing, it doesn’t do open exploration based gameplay perfectly. For one, loot collection is never more than a rudimentary mechanic, thanks to the lack of variety. Even more aggravating, though, is the fact that due to the very nature of the relatively small sized maps of The Evil Within 2, exploration has the tendency to become repetitive at times. While having to use the resources at your disposal to sneak past the scores of monsters roaming out in the open in these areas is thrilling at first, soon it becomes repetitive and boring, and only serves to harm the game’s pacing.
It doesn’t help that The Evil Within 2’s pacing is inherently broken to begin with- the second half of the game is an adrenaline-fuelled romp that will sink its claws into you and refuse to let go, but the first half often meanders and crawls. That isn’t to say the first half is intolerable- there’s plenty to do and like here too. But considering how much of a leap the second half of the game is over the first one in terms of sheer quality, you just can’t help but wonder why The Evil Within 2 wastes so much time getting to that point.
"While The Evil Within 2 doesn’t force players to revisit areas by itself per se, due to the small sizes of the game’s maps, there are times when it just happens naturally."
It’s when The Evil Within 2 places you in oppressive, terrifying moments that dotted the first game so frequently that it really shines. This isn’t exactly a scary game, and you won’t be having any nightmares about anything that you see in Union, but The Evil Within 2 is great at keeping players at the edge of their seats. Thanks to a great blend of psychological horror and in-your-face jumpscare moments, The Evil Within 2 always keeps you on your toes, and when you’re up against scores of monsters and are forced to think quick and act quicker, it can turn into a very special game.
It is in these moments that you feel the thrill that is perhaps the defining characteristic of the game. Sebastian’s aim is always unsteady, and you can never rely on melee attacks too much either, so combat is always a struggle. Every shot counts, and the enemies you face are always freakishly strong, at least until the very late stages of the game when you’ve finally managed to build up a strong arsenal of weapons. Disappointingly enough, this tension is never translated to boss battles, the majority of which feel surprisingly one-note and disappointingly easy.
Outside of boss battles, when you get outnumbered, it’s often a good idea to run and hide and try a different approach. That different approach, however, isn’t always the best option either. While sneaking up behind enemies and dealing them deadly, silent blows sounds like a great idea on paper, it doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. Enemy AI in The Evil Within 2 is excellent- the monsters you face don’t always follow a set pattern of movement, or a concrete path. Staying in one place for too long is never a good idea, since being spotted is a sure shot way of attracting every ghoulish freak in the vicinity, and thanks to their unpredictable and erratic movement, trying to sneak up behind them is also always a huge risk. Moments when you’re trying to figure out how to get past scores of enemies are some of the best in the entire game, and are usually good enough to mask the fact that the basic stealth mechanics in The Evil Within 2 themselves are quite basic- and not to most polished.
You never quite feel like you’re safe, and it’s this constant, persistent edge-of-the-seat tension in both stealth and combat that makes The Evil Within 2 the great game that it is. To make sure that it maintains a balance, it keeps doling out upgrades and newer, more powerful weapons. The sense of progression is great in this game, and you always feel like you’re getting stronger, like you’re readier than you once were to deal with whatever horrors might jump out at you. A lot of this is thanks to the progression mechanics that The Evil Within 2 introduces.
"You never quite feel like you’re safe, and it’s this constant, persistent edge-of-the-seat tension in both stealth and combat that makes The Evil Within 2 the great game that it is."
Using the gel that dead enemies leave behind, players can upgrade Sebastian’s skills to make him more lethal, or more acrobatic, or stealthier. The progression system isn’t the deepest you will ever see, but it works very well, allowing players to better upgrade Sebastian to suit their own personal playing styles. There’s a crafting system in The Evil Within 2 as well, but there’s not really much to speak of here, rudimentary and shallow as it is.
From a narrative perspective, The Evil Within 2 is much less sure footed. The game’s writing is highly inconsistent, going from being tense and crisp in one moment to becoming silly and spotty in the next all too often. Despite this being Sebastian’s second foray into STEM, all too often you’ll hear him exclaim at the oddities and monstrosities he runs into, and you can’t help but feel that the point of these moments isn ‘t to portray Sebastian’s reactions, but to help prod the player into reacting a certain way. It’s weak and ineffective, and I’d rather The Evil Within 2 had done its talking with its visual effects…
…Which are just excellent, by the way. The Evil Within 2 is brimming with surreal and bizarre scenes, of monstrous mutants and chilling beauty, and these scenes would have packed much more of a punch if Sebastian spoke a little less. Sebastian himself isn’t a very interesting character either, but then again, neither is anyone else you meet in the game. They’re all merely vessels whose only purpose is to move the story along. Strong voice acting would have definitely helped their case, but the voice work for all the characters in The Evil Within 2 is patchy at best. On the positive side of things, the game has some of the most well-directed cutscenes you will ever see, and the quality of these cutscenes by themselves is often enough to make you forget about all the other shortcomings.
The Evil Within 2 faces a number of technical issues as well. Generally speaking, this is a pretty great looking game, and the overall visual quality is elevated even more by the excellent imagery and art style that Tango Gameworks puts on display quite liberally. That said, there are plenty of moments when the frame rate drops noticeably, while texture pop-ins are just as common, especially during some of the cutscenes. Speaking of cutscenes, the lip syncing in The Evil Within 2 is also off quite often.
"The game’s writing is highly inconsistent, going from being tense and crisp to becoming silly and spotty all too often."
The Evil Within 2 isn’t the freshest, most original horror game you will ever play. It doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, and it’s by no means a genre milestone. What it is, though, is a solid, deeply enjoyable experience. The Evil Within 2 attempts to do many things, none of them entirely fresh, and while it doesn’t do any of them with resounding perfection, it still manages to deliver an excellent fifteen to twenty hours of some of the most intense action-horror gameplay in the last few years.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Larger focus on exploration; Surreal imagery; Constantly keeps you on your toes; Stealth and combat are tense and challenging; Progression system; Very well directed cutscenes; Excellent and unpredictable enemy AI.
Exploration can get monotonous and repetitive after a while; Frame rate drops and texture pop ins; Lip syncing issues; Bland characters; Inconsistent writing; Crafting system lacks depth; Broken pacing.