The Evil Within 2 is a better game than its predecessor; however, it’s also a less interesting one. The first game was fascinating and yet hard to recommend due to problems with pacing, sloppy storytelling, and plenty of bugs and glitches. The sequel corrects most of those problems and, to use a term I hate, is a far more polished experience as a result. I just wish Tango Gameworks hadn’t abandoned everything special about the original in the process.
Picking up three years after the first game, we find Sebastian Castellanos taking comfort in the bottom of a bottle as he tries to come to terms with the events at Beacon Mental Hospital. No one believes his story of a simulated world called STEM that takes place in the mind of a serial killer and who can blame them. He tried tracking down Mobius—the group responsible—but it proved to be elusive. Until now.
Sebastian’s former colleague, Juli Kidman, pops up and drops a bombshell. Sebastian’s presumed-dead daughter Lily is alive. Mobius is using her as the core of a new STEM world. She’s gone missing inside the system and Mobius needs Sebastian’s help to find her. Sebastian heads back into STEM to save his daughter and quickly finds himself in a fictional American town called Union. The citizens have turned into Lost (fast and erratic zombies) and his daughter has been kidnapped by Stefano, a crazed psychopathic artist who enjoys photographing people as they die.
The shift in setting from a hospital to a town brings with it some small open world levels. Fear not, your map will remain relatively free of clutter. Sebastian identifies points of interest with his communicator, but they aren’t just pointless collectibles or fetch quests. Each waypoint represents either much-needed resources such as bullets, or permanent benefits like enlarged ammo pouches. You can even find new weapons organically through exploration, although powerful ones such as the sniper rifle need to be repaired first. A couple of side quests flesh out Mobius and what’s happening inside and outside of STEM, but these are few and far between. I don’t often say this, but I’d have liked more side quests. The ones on offer generally fit in well with the world and form a natural part of the main story instead of detracting from it.
In addition to picking up ammo, you can also find weapon parts, health items, and scrap for ammo. Ammo can be made at crafting stations and in the field, although it’s a lot more expensive to do it in the field. Weapon parts are used to modify your weapons, from additional damage and critical hit chance to setting enemies on fire or letting you perform stealth kills while in a cloud of smoke.
Sebastian still collects green gel to upgrade his abilities, but with the weapon upgrades taken out of the skill tree, you’re free to select skills that change the way you play instead of just boosting damage numbers. Stamina is halfway competent from the start this time, although I’d strongly recommend boosting the speed at which you move while crouched as you begin the game with the crawling speed of a toddler after a big lunch. Once that’s out of the way, you can pick up skills such as bottle break, which lets you use a bottle to break out of enemy grabs, or ambush which lets you attack from behind cover.
One of the skill upgrades is a bullet time effect, and you’re going to want that because the aiming is terrible. Regardless of whether you’re playing on PC or PS4, you’re stuck with aiming sensitivity that is coupled with the camera sensitivity. When you aim, the camera zooms in so much that the fast-moving camera quickly becomes sluggish and unresponsive to small movements. If you’re playing on console, you’ll also have to contend with the terrible dead zones on the PS4 analog sticks that restrict movement of the aiming reticle to a strict square-based grid. You might as well be using the D-Pad for all the flexibility you have. When all this is combined with the fast-moving nature of the Lost, you have a recipe for frustration.
While the levels shift from open world to linear corridors, the gameplay remains relatively consistent throughout. There are none of the jarring shifts from stealth to intense third-person shooter that were a feature of the first game. From the moment you take control of Sebastian in Union, you can use stealth, combat, or a mixture of the two. The latter is particularly fun. In one encounter with a large group of enemies, I knew I was taking a risk trying to stealth kill one enemy who was close to another three. Before attempting a stealth kill, I destroyed a fire hydrant, spilling water all over the floor. I went in for the stealth kill and sure enough, I was spotted. I ran away, led the three enemies into the water, and fired a shock bolt. They all went down in a heap, letting me run and stomp on all of them. Four dead enemies in total for the cost of one shock bolt. These scenarios could play out in the first game, but they never came close to feeling this natural and organic.
The Evil Within 2 maintains this high quality throughout and the pacing is far smoother than the original. When you’re getting bored of the open world, you can move to a dark linear environment to progress the story, before coming back out into the open world again. Slow moving exploration is mixed with combat and stealth sections so you rarely get bored of doing one particular thing. That said, stealth is by far the easiest way to move through the game and by the time you do your hundredth stealth kill, you might crave the variety of enemy types that were found in the original.
The lack of enemy variety wouldn’t be such a problem if the enemies offered a challenge or showed a few signs of intelligent thought. If Lost spotted me, I could easily lose them by running behind a nearby crate, wall, or vehicle. They rarely bother to search for you. Occasionally enemies would lose sight of me as I was shooting them. If you’re at all experienced with survival horror games, I strongly recommend playing on the nightmare difficulty setting. This doesn’t enhance enemy intelligence, but at least ammo is slightly scarcer and health items aren’t quite so plentiful.
The acting and dialogue could be described as typical B-movie fare, although that might be overly harsh towards B-movies. Both Sebastian and Kidman have new voice actors and they both say the lines they were given to read. That’s about all I can say for the acting without coming across as nasty. Despite this, there are some touching moments towards the end and a memorable final two chapters. It’s not quite “who’s chopping an onion” levels of poignancy, but it’s sad and leaves me wanting more from these characters.
I’d have liked more in the way of background information on the enemies and bosses in the game. The first Evil Within had a remarkable amount of thought put into every enemy. The different variations of Haunted all had reasons for looking the way they did. Two-headed creatures were the manifestations of people with dissociative personality disorder. Creatures in the water were those who drowned while in STEM. Bosses were linked to Ruvik’s personality such as the Keeper with a safe for a head representing his desire to keep secrets. None of this is present in the sequel. None of the basic enemies have logic or backstories to explain their varied physical forms and attacks. There are two main “big bad” enemies and both of them are disappointing. I won’t say more to avoid spoilers, but if you’re hoping for the kind of depth and backstory that Ruvik had, you’re going to be sorely disappointed.
The Evil Within 2 is consistently good throughout its 15-20 hour story, but it never transcends into greatness. Tango Gameworks refined the first game. The combat is tighter, stealth is more viable, and it’s better paced. I just wish Tango Gameworks hadn’t abandoned the parts that made the original special, such as the deep story and detailed lore that was so memorable from the first game. I had more fun playing The Evil Within 2, but I spent far longer thinking about The Evil Within 1. If a third game in the series can combine the best parts of both games, then we could be in for a classic.