The Evil Within 2 is Tango Games newest foray into the surreal, Lynchian nightmare world that they first debuted back in 2014 and for the most part, it improves on the survival-horror formula from the first game and expands on it in interesting ways.
The Evil Within 2 wears it’s inspirations on its sleeve; the first game was directed by Shinji Mikami, creator of the Resident Evil series, and the similarities between the two are impossible to miss. It quickly becomes clear that many cues have been taken from the massively popular The Last of Us. There’s a huge focus on stealth, you’ll be throwing bottles to distract zombies, crafting health and ammunition and finding powerful, single use melee weapons which work almost exactly like shivs in The Last of Us.
The story opens pretty strongly with a flashback to a burning building where your daughter had ostensibly died. As in the first game, you play as Sebastian, a gritty, gravelly-voiced detective who never seems to know just exactly what the hell is going on. You are brought into a huge compound owned by some shadowy cabal Mobius who act as The Evil Within’s version of Umbrella Corp. They explain to you that, surprise, your daughter’s still alive. But she’s gone missing and of course, only you can find her.
You are then jacked into the Matrix… er, Stem machine into Union; a virtual city fractured by some evil force, to find your daughter and the team that went in to save her. I won’t go into the minutia of the story here, but the story is as convoluted and packed full of cheese as you would expect from a Japanese survival-horror game, hitting well-worn beats of worldwide conspiracy and apocalyptic doom.
Initially, the combat is hard, cumbersome, slow and frustrating. Your crouch walk is so slow that I found myself creeping between zombies for a quick stealth kill, only for him to walk away faster than I can and eventually turn around and alert other enemies in the vicinity. The melee attack is so weak it only helps for getting your face bitten off, and the pistol has all the firepower of a bargain bin Nerf gun. After some time slowly creeping behind enemies at a snail’s pace and running away after being being spotted with your tail tucked neatly between your legs, you’ll begin to find better equipment and upgrade your weapons and abilities while figuring out better tactics on how to take down groups of enemies.
But even with a wealth of upgrades, the melee never feels effective, the shooting never feels precise enough. The camera feels disconnected to the player, I’d turn around quickly only to have to wait for the camera to catch up. Some abilities that should make the stealth feel smoother only add another layer of finicky controls and button prompts to wrestle with. Feeling under powered is arguably tantamount to creating an effective horror game; make it easy to shoot enemies and avoid being hit and you run the risk of ruining the tension, but the trade-off shouldn’t have to be wrestling with awkward, clunky controls. While it certainly helps build tension, it also can be the main source of frustration. This isn’t necessarily a problem confined to The Evil Within 2; it’s almost a staple of survival-horror as a whole. But by now a workaround could have been figured out.
Resource management and crafting is a huge part of The Evil Within 2; treat bullets and health kits like an action game and you’ll soon find yourself in a pickle, unable to progress comfortably. But it’s substantially less harsh than many other survival horror games as you are given enough freedom that, unless you’re deep in a story segment, you can easily go off track, kill some grunts and get stocked up. Similarly, if you come across a section of the map where you’re outnumbered (or too scared) you can bail and return later when you’re feeling up to the task.
The world of The Evil Within 2 is pretty open, contained in sandbox sections connected by tunnels, giving you side quests and points of interest to explore at your own pace. It’s not a huge world, but there’s enough littered around each area that it never feels too limited.
A common problem of taking a narrative-driven game into an open-world or sandbox format is a lack of cohesion, making the story feel disjointed and hurting the overall impact; a la Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain. While the overarching narrative stays very much front and center of The Evil Within 2, it does suffer from this problem to an extent. The sidequests give you a healthy dose of backstory and help realise the world while also being incredibly useful for gathering supplies for crafting, but the conversations are bland and the characters are two-dimensional. They seem to serve only as a way to point the player in the right direction. And while they are optional, if you were to just do the main quests you’d be missing a lot of useful loot.
The voice acting doesn’t do The Evil Within 2 any favours, either. Its B-Movie vibe can be a joy to watch as the ludicrous story plays out with its cartoonish villains, but it creates a schism in tone between the narrative and the gameplay. One moment you might be on the edge of your seat; heart pounding and frantically flailing to stay alive against some horrifying Cronenberg-like creature only for the tension to be undercut by cheesy and redundant lines.
Where The Evil Within 2 really shines is in its ability to create a creepy atmosphere using its fantastic and phantasmagoric aesthetic. Up close some of the textures and character models of human characters are unimpressive. But the lighting effects and the atmosphere it creates make up for that. The enemy design is satisfyingly creepy, making the first time you encounter a new creature especially daunting.
There’s something extra creepy about exploring the world of The Evil Within 2 when compared to linear horror games. Many times when I was off the beaten track exploring, there was an unshakeable feeling that I wasn’t supposed to be there, that around any corner could be the most terrifying creature ready to rip my head clean off my shoulders. Many times these detours led to an important weapon or item, where other times I’d end up being hunted by some grotesque beast. It always felt like a toss up; it could be either very bad or very good, which made it that much more tense every inch I strayed further from safety.
About half way through the game, after a disappointing, anti-climatic boss-fight, the game makes a jarring shift and begins to pick up the pace. Your goals become clear and the story moves forward much more quickly. It makes the first half of the game seem somewhat redundant and inconsequential. But it also becomes more restricted and linear, the tone changes and it begins to feel like an action game, losing some of the suspense and adding much more of that frustrating combat.
The Evil Within 2 ends being a bit of a mixed bag; if you can play for long enough to get past the initial frustration of the early game there’s a thrilling and genuinely terrifying experience to be had. Despite the issues with controls, I still had a lot of fun playing The Evil Within 2. The sandbox format is a welcome addition, exploring the different locations within Union is where The Evil Within 2 is at its best. While it’s bogged down by gameplay issues and a disjointed narrative that prevents it from being a must-buy, it stands out as one of the best survival-horror games on the current generation of consoles.
- Creepy atmosphere
- Exploring Union is great
- Brilliant monster deesign
- Clunky controls
- First half of story feels pointless
- Wrestling with the camera