The Evil Within 2 is a marked improvement on the original game, serving up plenty of psychological chills and tense moments, in an open-ended world that encourages exploration - if you dare.
The first Evil Within game was directed by horror stalwart Shinji Mikami of Resident Evil fame, and it shows. We spent a large portion of that game screeching like hyperactive children, thanks to the bizarre and hideous menagerie of monsters populating the surreal, twisted world you find yourself trapped inside.
After eventually escaping that nightmare, you’d expect Detective Sebastian Castellanos to steer well clear of anything STEM-related. Sadly, fate has other plans. A familiar face from the first title comes back into his life, with unexpected news: his daughter, Lily, who was thought to be deceased after a tragic accident, is apparently alive and locked inside of an all-new STEM-related horror show.
Once again it’s up to Seb to venture into an artificial world, this time with much more personal stakes. So begins one of the best psychological horror games of 2017, sitting right alongside Resident Evil 7.
If you haven’t played the first Evil Within, you’re probably going to be quite confused by the story of this sequel; at least, at first. Some old characters are quickly introduced and jargon is bandied around, so we’d suggest at the very least checking out a Wiki round-up of events to clue you in.
All the same, once the game gets going, even series noobs will be gripped. The tale is pleasingly straightforward and sinister, concentrating on Castellanos’ hunt as the make-believe world of Union crumbles and cracks all around him. There’s a healthy dose of mystery too, as an unknown deranged killer is stalking about the town, creating artworks out of his murder victims. And as if that wasn’t enough, the hapless detective finds himself hunted by a warped and chilly spectre who mockingly calls his name as she tracks him down.
Seb’s main mission is to find Lily, yet the town of Union is quite open-plan in nature at points. Your trusty radio occasionally picks up signals from the other inhabitants, which could potentially lead to weapons caches, some much-needed health boosters or simply a room filled with murderous monsters. It’s up to you whether to break off from the primary objective and explore.
These side quests are usually just as intriguing as the main story, revealing a resonance of the chaos that took place before Seb’s arrival. In fact, our only complaint is that there’s not enough of these distractions; a fair bit of the game takes place in more traditional confined areas with linear routes to follow. Where Evil Within really shines is the open sections, which allow you to creep onto rooftops and sweep through run-down buildings, in desperate hope of finding some more bullets - or a powerful new gun. The fact that you can choose whether to sneak or fight works well too, although the limited ammo supplies definitely steers you in the former direction.
Thankfully the stealthy approach is very satisfying. An eye meter shows if any nearby monsters are aware of your presence, while Castellanos has a very useful silent kill move that can be upgraded to work around corners.
Evil Within 2 also does a great job of hooking your interest and tempting you to play on that little bit longer, just to see what craziness you encounter next. The game is as mesmerising as it is disturbing, offering up some unique and terrifying creatures to put down with your arsenal. Even in its quieter moments, there are plenty of memorable set pieces. The killer’s art ‘exhibitions’ are utterly grotesque, while Union becomes darker and more twisted as you progress further into its corrupted heart.
Presentation is fantastic throughout also, especially in the outdoor segments. Seeing the rest of the town curled up on itself and scattered through the sky never gets old. Inside, things are a bit more generic; houses all look the same, while the military corridors of The Marrow are about as dull as it comes. Thankfully there’s always a creepy foe to deal with, to take your mind off it.
As before, you can upgrade Seb’s abilities by collecting green goo from fallen foes. This encourages players to sneak kill enemies rather than simply avoiding them entirely, which leads to plenty of tense moments as you strategise on the best ways to take down groups of monsters. Which upgrades you choose will reflect the way you play, with some dedicated to staying hidden and others building you into an unstoppable killing machine.
The Evil Within 2 serves up plenty of other asides to keep you occupied throughout. You can collect resources to craft bullets or upgrade your weapons, for instance, or collect documents which are scattered around to fill in the backstory. Completists have plenty of reason to go exploring, even if it comes at great risk.
Horror fans will definitely get a kick (or rather, a serious adrenaline jolt) out of The Evil Within 2. The game is at its best when you have free reign in the more open-plan environments, yet even in the more traditional, linear levels, a constant threatening atmosphere and some memorable set-pieces keep you hooked. You can pick it up right now for Xbox One, PS4 and PC.