The Evil Within 2 review: Stand me up at the gates of hell

The Evil Within 2 captures the magic of the original, builds upon its lore and does so with tongue-in-cheek self-awareness to create a disturbingly haunting game.

Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PC (version reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Release Date: October 13, 2017

There’s something magical about each Shinji Mikami survival horror game. Even when he plays patient parent, supervising and producing titles while someone else sits in the director chair, there’s an unmistakable depth of game mechanics that few developers understand. As much as Sebastian Castellanos (and the player) have every right to be frightened by the horrors that surround them, the fear that your misfired bullets could mean an early death is just as powerful.

The Evil Within 2 takes place three years after the events of the Beacon Mental Hospital, with Sebastian still coming to grips with what happened. Mobius pulls him back into the fold with Kidman informing him Lily, his daughter once thought to have died in a fire, is still alive, representing the Core element of a Mobius STEM virtual city environment called Union.

Sebastian is tasked with bringing Lily back alive, with the secondary task of bringing back any Mobius still inside. Like any great survival horror game, various monstrosities of derelict condition plague the city of Union, with the player needing to conserve ammo and tread lightly in order to take them out. How that’s presented to the player, from a narrative and gameplay perspective, is compelling.

The Evil Within 2 Stefano murder

Bethesda

For the most part, The Evil Within 2’s story is broken down into three aspects; Sebastian’s past, the truth and the determination to move on. As he digs deeper and deeper into Mobius’ machinations, questions about what’s real and what’s a lie become a cruel guessing game, one where the game’s antagonists twist the knife as they plunge it into your heart.

Whereas the predecessor focused on a primary antagonist and their motivations with a core duo taking him down, The Evil Within 2 brings in a wider variety of characters (both antagonist and protagonist), each sharing their motivations and personal drive. Not only that, but the story flows swimmingly from chapter to chapter, keeping the player constantly guessing what’s coming next from both the enemy and Sebastian, himself.

What I find exciting is just how well explained everybody’s role is in the game’s story. The cruel backstories of a murdering photog artist, the silver-tongued schemer and others who twist the plot are well-developed and telegraphed in precise ways that show, not tell, the player. For those that need finer details, there are plenty of files and memories scattered throughout to help paint a better picture in the way the developers want to slowly leak out information. Players who think they know this universe based on the first game will expand their knowledge with a universe that uses its lore to push the story into unexplored avenues going forward.

The dialogue and voice acting can be a bit campy at times, but it lends itself to self-awareness from the developers. From memetic references to minor quips on where this game has made changes to address criticisms of the previous title, The Evil Within 2 owns its lighthearted jabs to cut into the dense, psychologically horrific overtones it creates with its disturbing creations.

The Evil Within 2 screenshot enemy

Bethesda

With an expanded cast comes expanded gameplay depth. The Evil Within 2 brings forth a few changes to the progression system, where players can alter the character’s passive stats in addition to alterations for the multitude of weapons. Multiple playstyles can be implemented, meaning you can focus on a cloak and dagger, run and gun, brute tank run or a combination of them all.

…Players are always kept on their toes with new ways to play the game.

Becoming a jack of all trades may be best suited for this game, as the enemies are as menacings as they are brutal. If you’re not paying attention, even a common mutant that hits you with fists could suddenly scream to bring his or her buddies over. Between poisonous screechers, unstoppable specters, fire titans and chainsaw-wielding bio-freaks, there’s no end to the brutish horrors that lie in wait. Enemy encounters make as much logical sense within the environment as they do from a difficulty standpoint.

Variety is a spice of life and is a strength of The Evil Within 2 not only from a narrative standpoint. Tango Gameworks likes to change up mechanics for certain objectives to keep things fresh. Whether it’s a slide puzzle, a stealth segment or even a change in perspectives, players are always kept on their toes with new ways to play the game. Best yet is the fact that they’re often brief enough not to be overbearing, but varied enough to mix things up.

The Evil Within 2 screenshot

Bethesda

The manufactured STEM city of Union lends itself to a much more open environment for the players to explore, and there’s plenty to do in and around the city while searching for your lost daughter. A “Communicator” radar phone-like device picks up frequency signals from fallen Mobius members, fading memories of Union citizens and other unworldly creations, setting up secrets and side stories.

…The team has done an excellent job at subverting expectations and delivering on the psychological aspects of horror.

The Evil Within 2 gives the player a lot more to do during large segments of the story, providing a semi-open-world mentality mixed in with a linear format. It’s a welcomed change, personally, as the player learns more than enough with a straightforward playthrough but uncovers more secrets and alternate story moments by diving deeper into the world around them.

With players knowing the established backstory and the tricks Tango Gameworks used to scare them, the team has done an excellent job at subverting expectations and delivering on the psychological aspects of horror. There are certainly enough moments that jump out at the player, though. I recall one “gotcha” moment where they double-pumped on an enemy coming to life, getting me on the follow-up that hit me like a right hook after several jabs.

This game is more disturbing than grotesque, even when employing a similar amount of bloodshed. To look into the minds of the disturbed, sycophantic and psychotic who will go further than what’s realistically possible to torment you, while the game throws demonic entity after otherworldly mutant into your path, is a thrilling ride through and through.

The Evil Within 2 screenshot obscura camera

Bethesda

The Evil Within 2 is a visually stunning game with an excellent color palette to boot. This game has crafted its worlds, enemies, encounters and designs to evoke sadness, anguish, empathy, unsettling anxiety and tranquility at each opportune time, with an understated score that swells triumphantly when the time is right.

Playing this on my PC, the development team truly stepped it up from a software perspective. The forced 30 FPS and letterboxing has been removed, with a tongue-in-cheek comment for those who turn the black bars on at the top and bottom. Running a rig with a GTX 1080 graphics card, i5 4670K CPU and 16GB of DDR3 RAM, keeping settings to High kept things running at a mostly smooth 60 FPS for most of my gameplay. You can push to Ultra, but without an i7 it won’t keep smooth 99% of the time.

There were some technical bugs present, jumping between development choice arguments and downright disappointments. For example, sometimes characters clearly in the line of sight for enemies would not get seen, although there are spoiler reasons why these characters may not get attacked. Other times, I’ve walked right into NPCs and stood inside them, or phase shifted in animations for opening doors or other movements.

Don’t let minor transgressions get in the way of the stronger praise, here, as The Evil Within 2 answers criticisms of the first game with a resplendent title worthy of your time. From the moment you set foot in the unnerving, unsettling city of Union, you are in for a hellacious hailstorm of demonic doom. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Evil Within 2

Tango Gameworks

9

Whether it’s the variety of worlds to explore, monsters to slay, personalities to pontificate about or the added depths of survival gameplay, The Evil Within 2 will send chills down in more ways than one. Subverting the expected and expanding upon the familiar, it builds upon its own universe and gives the player more to think about once finished. Long story short; you’re in for a hell of a treat.

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.