The Evil Within 2 is the sequel to 2014’s The Evil Within. The original game was helmed by Shinji Mikami, director of beloved video games Resident Evil 1 & 4, so naturally anticipation was extremely high. The result was a wildly uneven game that brought the horror hard and fast, but lacked a logical narrative thread that would have made the experience something more than a series of loosely linked horror vignettes.
The Evil Within 2 directed by John Johanas and written by Trent Haaga (who we chatted with recently) seeks to address the lack of story cohesion while still providing a solid, scary horror experience and happily succeeds for the vast majority of its playtime.
Three years after the events of the first game, protagonist Sebastian Castellanos has become a bitter, self-destructive drunk. He’s no longer a cop and spends most of his time getting pissed and lamenting the disappearance of his wife, Myra and death of his daughter, Lily. One day his old partner Juli Kidman appears with an offer too good to refuse: enter the world of STEM (basically The Matrix) and save his daughter, who isn’t actually dead after all (phew!) but is lost within STEM’s virtual realms (bummer!).
It’s a classic, albeit slightly shopworn premise, but it does mean once Sebastian enters STEM the game doesn’t keep trying to pull the ‘this is reality… or is it?!’ trick the first game overindulged in to deadening effect. Naturally STEM is a scary, violent and horrific place and the game’s first half plays a little like The Last of Us meets Silent Hill, featuring tense treks through monster-filled neighbourhoods, with little ammunition and death potentially around every corner.
The term “survival horror” is much abused in modern games, but in the case of The Evil Within 2 it’s apt. You will be struggling to survive, relying on stealth, cunning and nerves of steel. I lost count of the number of times I’d sneak up on a group of enemies only to see my plans go tits up because one of them saw me, and I had to run, hide, set traps or die. In the 20ish hours it’ll take you to complete The Evil Within 2 your nerves will be getting a serious workout, especially if you explore the surprisingly large hub areas and take on some of the excellent side missions.
Gameplay wise The Evil Within 2 plays very much like the original, for good and ill. You’ll creep along in a third person POV, crafting ammo and healing syringes, stealth killing when you can – shooting when you can’t. The handgun handles like a slippery piglet, even fully upgraded, and in the end most battles were so messy I’d resort to using the ever reliable shotgun. This isn’t a bad thing per se, and in fact adds quite a lot to the tension of the piece, but if you’re looking for precision shooting you may be disappointed.
Boss fights feel a little lighter on the ground also. The first game would often reuse the same bosses over and over to obnoxious extremes, but the handful of boss fights in the sequel feels a little light nonetheless. Also, and this is extremely nitpicky, but Sebastian has what must be 74,000 lines that are variations on “what the fuck?” or “what’s going on?” Seb, mate, you’re in the horror Matrix – this was pretty clearly explained at the start – weird shit’s gonna happen, how about you get on with it, eh?
The Evil Within 2 is a solid, scary, tense and ultimately unexpectedly emotional experience, with a great central yarn at its core. It builds upon the foundation of the original, giving players a reason to care, while also providing numerous occasions for one to brown one’s trousers in fear. Fans of survival horror who feel ill served by modern AAA games take note: you’re not going to want to miss this one.