The Evil Within 2
Available on: Xbox One, Steam, PlayStation 4
Release Date: 13th October 2017
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Reviewed on: Xbox One X
I enjoyed The Evil Within. Yes, sometimes it felt far too linear, yes, the DLC, while great, should have been a part of the main story and yes, Sebastian Castellanos may have been the most bland horror protagonist of all time. Nevertheless, the combat was great, the scares were used appropriately and the enemy designs were astounding. When a sequel was announced at E3 2017, I was on board.
So just what has Tango Gameworks brought to bear for the sequel? Well buckle up, because it’s quite a ride. Before we begin though, I feel like it’s important to state that there is absolutely no way to talk about this game meaningfully without spoiling literally every plot twist in the first game. Already played it, or you’re ok with that? Great, let’s continue.
So let’s set the stage for this review with the opening events. When The Evil Within 2 begins, three years have passed since the events at Beacon Mental Hospital. Sebastian has crawled into a bottle and begun drinking his life away, trying to forget the pain and horrific events that have befallen him over the past few years.
Out of nowhere, Mobius operative Juli Kidman shows up and drops a life-changing anvil of information on his head – his daughter Lily is alive and is being used as the Core in a new STEM system, a Matrix-like world designed to (benevolently, or so Mobius claims) enslave all of humanity for a golden age of peace.
This version, called Union, is much more advanced than the prototype responsible for what happened at Beacon. Unfortunately, Lily has gone missing within the system, which means Union can’t be sustained much longer. So Kidman offers Sebastian an opportunity – find the missing Core and he gets his daughter back. Is this it? Can he possibly get some semblance of his life back together? I mean, all he has to do is find her and get her out, right?
To the shock of absolutely no one, it’s not that simple. The new STEM has begun to completely fall apart, with multiple disturbed individuals having taken up residence, their altered psyches bestowing reality-warping abilities and utterly ruining lesser minds, turning them into disgusting monsters called The Lost.
In spite of that, Sebastian slowly gathers himself, forcing himself with every step, gathering a strength driven by the desperation of seeing his daughter again.
This complete change of characterization is nothing short of incredible and is a major leap in quality over the first game. Gone is the flat, boring detective; this is a father dented by years of pain and torment who won’t stop at anything in order to be reunited with his little girl. The voice acting and dialogue are also much better, emphasizing every moment, making sure you feel the weight of Sebastian’s burden.
Juli Kidman is also well-handled, a reserved, quiet yet bold agent who always seems to want to say more than she really can.
Serving as Mission Control to Sebastian, her role evolves from simply providing direction into something more, indeed allowing Sebastian (and the player) to stay grounded with someone out in the real world. Her role really surprised me in a great way.
The same goes for most of the other characters. Some of the different people you’ll meet are only necessary for side missions, other have major roles to play in the main story and many are a little bit of both. Generally, the writing with this supporting cast is well done, although occasionally it can err on the side of being melodramatic. Still, that’s a preferable alternative to falling flat with cheesy interactions.
Overall, it’s an incredibly enjoyable story, with heartbreak and heartwarming moments both aplenty, with even a touch of humor sprinkled in. I highly recommend taking the time to explore and complete the various side quests as they offer more insight into the story as well as the main cast.
Gameplay and Mechanics
Combat and Exploration:
At its core, gameplay remains unchanged from the first Evil Within however, it’s far more refined. You can still sneak up and kill weaker enemies, with a basic stealth system that, thankfully, was very good about recognizing whether an enemy could actually see me or not. You have to watch how much noise you make as well, run around too much and you can be sure The Lost will come and investigate. Unlike the extremely linear hallways and rooms of its predecessor, The Evil Within 2 has large towns full of buildings and various secrets to explore. Which, needless to say, poses a challenge for the player.
Throughout a good portion of the game, especially early on, you’ll barely have the ammo or ability to kill absolutely every last enemy. As such, you’ll have to balance your gamer ‘must-have-everything’ tendencies with the very limited resources at your disposal. When the game opens up early on, very careful exploration will usually reward you with better weapons, Green Gel, collectibles and more. To help make this much larger play space manageable, Sebastian now has a map in his inventory, so you’ll always be sure of where you are. You also have a signal tracking device at your disposal that can help locate supply caches, ‘echoes’ of former residents or other interesting points.
Stealth is only an option for so long though, and when it does come to combat I’m happy to say it’s tense, frantic and awesome. There’s a wide variety of guns as well as one-time use axes, which temporarily make melee combat an attractive proposition. Crafted an electric crossbow bolt? Perfect, shoot it into a pool of water and watch what happens. Often, your environment will provide options and combinations that when cleverly used, greatly reduce the threat of any enemy or boss.
Upgrades and Safe Rooms:
Whenever you need a breather, a rest, to upgrade some stuff, or simply want to look at a boring room rather than hellish creatures, you can go to one of a handful of safe rooms. Scattered throughout Union, these rooms are impervious to attacks from any of the vicious enemies in the game and usually contain some helpful supplies. If you find yourself needing a bit of caffeine to calm your nerves, the Safe Rooms also contain one of my new all-time favorite game mechanics: coffee pots that restore health.
No, I’m not joking. It’s fantastic. It’s amazing.
Each room has a pot of coffee that, when drunk, completely restores Sebastian’s health and refills over time. They take a LONG time to brew though, so it’s a nice balance that makes sure you’ll always have a way to restore your health but you still need to manage your supplies carefully.
Every safe room also contains a mirror that’ll transport you to Sebastian’s Office, a sub-level of STEM and the ultimate safe room. It’s here you can chat with Kidman about new information, display your found collectibles and upgrade your various stats as well as your weapons. At a certain point, you’ll also unlock a shooting range, which lets you test your skills and unlock more Green Gel, locker keys and weapon parts, all of which are very important for upgrades.
The upgrade system for your weapons and stats is similar to the first game however, several elements have been streamlined or outright replaced. For starters, you still collect Green Gel in containers and from slain enemies.
This time though, Green Gel is only used for Sebastian’s various skills, as you’ll need to collect weapon parts to upgrade said weapons. Despite using these different resources, the upgrades work in a fairly similar fashion. You’ll have different trees, such as Health or Recovery in Sebastian’s skills, or Damage for a particular type of gun. Just having enough of that resource isn’t enough though, as certain special upgrades are locked off and you’ll need to collect a particularly rare resource, Red Gel or High-Grade weapon parts, in order to unlock them. It’s a nice trade-off that works well and again, rewards careful, thorough exploration of the environment.
Even if you comb your surroundings, there’s no way you can upgrade absolutely everything, so it’s important to carefully weigh every option and make sure you actually need it before purchasing it.
Graphics and Sound
Visuals and Sound Design:
The Evil Within 2 looks fantastic, especially when compared to the previous game. Gone are low-resolution textures and grainy faces, this is a sleek presentation. Environmental detail is fantastic, with a surprising amount of attention paid to even the fine writing on small posters or book covers. The lighting is superb and used wonderfully in combination with the sound design to ramp up or ease tension, whatever the scene might call for.
Characters also look extremely good, especially in cutscenes. There are a couple of idle animations during optional conversation that tend to repeat more often that I’d like but that’s it.
I played it on the Xbox One X, which renders it at 1800p with an option to unlock the framerate. (The PS4 Pro and PC versions can also unlock the framerate.) I highly recommend doing so, as only a few areas suffered dips, the others maintaining a very smooth, responsive feel simply not possible when locked at 30fps.
Atmosphere and Soundtrack:
At every turn and around every corner, The Evil Within 2 has a fantastic setting. Foggy towns, with dark night contrasting the greenery and suburban neighborhoods that put you at unease. These give way to other areas that reflect the personalities of serial killers or other disturbed entities that are reshaping the environment around them. There’s a very wide range of different areas to go through, so no one setting ever feels like it overstays its welcome.
The environmental shifts usually foreshadow a new enemy type or boss, and this is one of the areas where The Evil Within 2 truly excels. Every creature here looks and sounds horrific, even the basic Lost. Hit one with a headshot but failed to kill it? No worries, its brain simply turns into tendrils as it makes unearthly screeches. Tall, thin, poison-spreading enemies can always be heard before they are seen, with an asthmatic wheeze foretelling their arrival. Bosses cackle, roar or make other uncomfortable noises and it works phenomenally well. Playing with a good headset is an absolute must.
My first playthrough on Survival Difficulty clocked in at just over 18 hours. In doing this, I did my best to find every hidden file, photographic slide, locker key and hidden cache of resources possible without using a guide. If you are playing on a lower difficulty, or you just aren’t as concerned with finding everything or doing the handful of side quests, you can probably shave a few hours off.
Still, there’s weapons and difficulties you can’t use until you beat the game at least once, as well as nearly countless collectibles. If you want, there’s enough here to keep you playing at least a few times over. All of that compounds with just how fun it is to play, how enjoyable the story is and how well the combat is balanced with the survival elements. If you’re a fan of Survival Horror, the replay value here is through the roof.
When it comes to gaming, this is by far the most welcome surprise I’ve had all year. Practically every issue I had with the first Evil Within is addressed here in some shape or form. The horror is ramped up, the storyline intriguing, the leads interesting and the gameplay fantastic. The Evil Within 2 takes the premise of a ‘single player, linear, story-driven game’ and proves that it can be done without placing too much emphasis on the ‘linear’ part of the equation. What Tango Gameworks has accomplished here is nothing short of fantastic. Well done!