The Evil Within needs no introduction. It’s a game that stood out upon release at the shores of current gen gaming for its horrific twisted and obscene journey into the minds of players’ that dared to step into the nightmare. It’s fair to say that whilst Capcom were struggling with the identity of Resident Evil and whilst Silent Hills was a ‘thing’ for a short while, Tango Gameworks stood up to the plate to bring back and revitalise true old-school horror. The Evil Within isn’t perfect and criticism was mainly aimed at a collection of technical faults, but all in all it still stands out as one of the best horror games on Xbox One to this day. Fast-forward three years and here we sit with a direct sequel, but what have Tango Gameworks done with all of that time to ensure that The Evil Within 2 stands alongside the predecessor? Let’s hesitantly dive in and find out.
The game picks up several years from the conclusion of the first game, and detective Sebastian Castellanos is understandably riddled with guilt and remorse over his tragic loss. When notified that his daughter is still alive and (marginally) well, Sebastian jumps at the chance to run head-first straight back into the nightmare world of STEM to save his little girl. The premise and the concept gives off a mash-up of Resident Evil 4 and Silent Hill 2, and whilst those bars are very high to reach as far as survival horror goes, The Evil Within 2 manages to grip your attention and keep tight hold of it throughout the entirety of play. Not only will the sequel mess with your emotions but it will suggestively toy with your mind as it unapologetically treks across several lines that few dare to step over. Much like the predecessor The Evil Within 2 is not perfect and does come with a few cracks, but it goes without saying that the game accomplishes everything a sequel should set out to achieve. It’s fresh, it’s compelling, it’s intriguing and most importantly it’s frighteningly engaging.
The opening handful of chapters (up until say chapter 4) serves as an introduction to the basics of play. It’s also here that you’re thrown into Union, a small town that’s fallen prey to the same events that haunted The Evil Within’s Beacon. Much like the predecessor, The Evil Within 2 is a gorgeous experience to immerse yourselves in. I wont go so far as to say that it houses monsters that are equally as memorable as the first game, but it goes without saying that the disturbing emphasis on the environments steal the show here. Tango Gameworks constantly play with your perception on so many levels that it has you questioning every bump, creak and muffled thudding that you’ll encounter during your stay in Union. Rooms will shift and alter as you move through them, sometimes temporarily eliminating the option of turning back. Dead bodies will dangle by the throat from the ceiling and then change formation the second you take your eyes off them. Portraits will suddenly change their art for something that can observe you as you step further into the chaos, and it only gets more twisted as you descend deeper in.
In regards to exploration and environmental engagement The Evil Within 2 is more open in comparison to the original, trading restrained chapters for a band of semi-open world sections. This level of freedom has been padded out with several side-quests and characters to interact with, each of which helps to add more weight to the story at hand and Union’s history. You’ll often be rewarded for being adventurous and daring by stepping off the beaten path and scavenging for much needed resources, but whatever direction you head off to, you’re never truly safe. Enemies of all shapes and sizes will constantly be on the prowl, and although you can indeed begin to familiarise yourselves with the disgusting distinct noises that each foe makes, Tango Gameworks ensure that you don’t get too cocky and comfortable by throwing in some shock unexpected encounters. Union itself will also fracture and discombobulate as you progress further in, warping the very town you inhabit into something so disfigured that even Tim Burton would admire it.
Despite that the standard enemies don’t seem as fearsome as the enemies from The Evil Within, the main antagonists do a wonderful job at making you feel uneasy and (oddly) nervous. Take for instance the serial killer photographer that’s seemingly capable of freezing and looping his victims dying seconds, forcing them to forever endure their gruesome murder, over and over again. This is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg and if anything can be said about The Evil Within 2’s enemies, it’s that they stick with you long after you put down the controller. This isn’t a game that you can outwit or go in all guns blazing because irrespective of the fact that you can earn a heap of new weapons and gear, it’s far too easy to have your ass handed to you on a silver platter. Throw in the heavy layer of resource management as well as taking into account that enemies are far more threatening in this game than they were in the first, and it forces you to think carefully before you act.
Crafting plays an integral role here, or at least a much deeper role than that of the predecessor. Throughout the entirety of play you will stumble across helpful items such as gunpowder, herbs and fuses that can be used to create ammo and healing goodies that will aid you on your way. These items are scattered (or dropped) at a pace that fits the old-school survival horror theme magnificently well. There’s a fine balance between crafting out in the open and crafting at one of the workbenches that will be available to you. Crafting on the move will cost you twice the amount of materials, and should only ever be utilised when absolutely necessary. When Sebastian returns to the safe house, he’ll be able to upgrade skills and weaponry as well as read up on gathered intel. The Green Gel (picked up from downed enemies) will be used solely for upgrading Sebastian, whereas Red Gel will go towards unlocking advanced skills. Weapon upgrades can be obtained via weapon parts, which collectively makes the entire progression system feel more grounded and steady going.
The same can be said about the combat which despite being quite similar to the first game, ties into the aforementioned progression system considerably well. The combat is still quite sluggish to begin with but nevertheless it doesn’t take all too long to bond with the mechanics. Touching up on the difficulty of The Evil Within 2 there’s a few tiers that you can select from, and more to unlock once the core game has been completed. You’re able to see the pros and cons of each difficulty at the main menu, which helps you to suss out what experience you’re looking to subject yourself to. The main differences between low end and high end difficulty modes typically rests on resource management and tougher enemies, but that’s not to say that the base difficulty wont prove challenging because it bloody well is. My biggest problem with The Evil Within 2 is that it’s annoyingly tedious for the first couple of hours. This is simply due to the fact that playing as Sebastian to start out with is far too dialled down. You would expect a former detective to at least house basic skills, but most of these basic skills rest on the shores of the progression system. Meaning that you’re required to unlock several abilities before Sebastian feels enjoyable to manoeuvre. It’s not a massive issue, but it’s certainly something that stuck out for me.
The Evil Within 2 gets off to an awkward start due to sluggish combat and tedious gameplay, remedied only by the several skills and abilities that can be unlocked to aid Sebastian on his journey through the intriguing yet terrifying ordeal. The boundaries that are imposed on Sebastian are for aspects of play that are so basic that it hurts the opening section of the game. It’s a shame really because what follows on from the point in which you unlock Sebastian’s potential through the solid progression system is so well written, well delivered and incredibly well presented. Tango Gameworks have withdrawn the twisted iconic personality from the first game and have injected it into the sequel, constantly hitting the player with dread, unease and genuine fear. The environments are brilliantly designed to toy with your perception, littered with warped and disturbing enemies that will stay with you long after you put down the controller. The several side missions that you can take on to lengthen the 14 hour campaign helps to add more longevity to the mix, grouped with the added layer of replay value via post-game unlocks. The Evil Within 2 effortlessly accomplishes what any good sequel should set out to achieve, and then some. This is old-school survival horror at it’s finest.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.