As a series, The Evil Within owes its creative voodoo to Shinji Mikami – the man behind one of the most enduring series of our time and perhaps the most well-known horror game – Resident Evil. What’s interesting then is that to me, The Evil Within 2 feels more like one of the earliest Silent Hill games, and that’s a good thing. Gone is the claustrophobic and linear adventure of the first title, here replaced by an open world that’s filled with both freedom and terror. While it’s not quite as an amazing experience as Mikami’s last Resident Evil title, TEW2 is surprisingly compelling despite bad dialog and an unlikable hero. This is our The Evil Within 2 review.
No Intro Necessary
I didn’t play The Evil Within, but I’ve seen enough of it and the previews for its sequel to know that it sounds like my kind of horror adventure. You play Sebastian Castellanos (totally believable name), a former detective who’s lost his family and his daughter to a tragic fire. When the organization known only as Mobius (totally not evil sounding name) comes to you and tells you your daughter is alive and trapped inside a massive world simulation known as STEM, you better believe it’s time to log back in, find her, and save her.
It’s a neat way to handle the idea of horror happening in a “real world”. Rather than try and convince us that all this evil stuff and all these monsters are rampaging through the real world, TEW2 is happy to let us know it’s all a robust computer simulation. But like in James Cameron’s Avatar, or Nightmare on Elm Street with sleep, if you die in the program, you die in real life. Your daughter, Lily, is the “core” – the child whose brain serves as the basis for the whole system. And clearly, something’s gone wrong in her mind. It’s almost as if these evil mega-corporations shouldn’t knowingly use the fragile human mind as the basis for an entire alternate reality…
The Evil Within 2 is less about jump scares (though they do exist) and more about atmosphere and tone. In that regard, The Evil Within nails it. The creepy world inside this STEM system is nightmarish, in part because it constantly calls back to when it wasn’t so bad. When the simulation was running right, the town of Union was idyllic. The small town life is rendered in minute detail, and when you walk into a diner and find booths splattered with gray matter and gushes of blood strewn among the coffee cups and rotting pie it’s hard not to feel uneasy.
A Whole New (Creepy) World
The Evil Within 2 is a third-person shooter at heart, with equal measures of action, stealth, and puzzle solving or investigations abound. While the intro to the world plays out in a rather closed-in environment (I’ll try not to spoil the surprises), once you’re into Union proper, the whole game world is far more open-ended.
You’re encouraged to hunt around Union to find collectibles, find resources, and find new weapons. There’s a robust but straightforward crafting system in place that includes ammo and even new weapons. One of the earliest option quests is finding a way to fix a broken sniper rifle – we suggest you do that one. It’s not hard, and the sniper will come in handy more than once. There are also a bevy of traps and environmental interactions in The Evil Within 2. You can knock over oil barrels and light them ablaze to burn foes without wasting ammo. You can use your crossbow and electric bolts to set taser-like tripwires that stun and heavily damage enemies. Scouting an area can lead to stealth kills and finding new ways to take on tough monsters, which is far more efficient than just charging in guns blazing.
Sebastian controls fairly well, but as you can see in the streaming video embedded here (just the first two hours of the game, so beware spoilers), he also moves somewhat slow even when sprinting. Maybe they were going for realism, but it feels like it was done to make the game world seem larger than it was, or to build up tension when running from a terrifying creature. When you’re just walking from place to place, it becomes kind of annoying just how slow he moves.
All Shook Up
There aren’t a lot of bugs that I’ve encountered in my roughly 10 hours playing The Evil Within 2, though it did crash twice while streaming (not at all when not streaming). Visually, while TEW2 is a looker, there’s also something off about the visuals even on Ultra that I can’t quite put my finger on. Aurally is another story. Like all good horror games, The Evil Within 2 makes excellent use of ambient sounds, creepy voice-over, and tons of positional audio. Playing this one in the dark and without company is a good way to give yourself the creeps.
And yet, for all its atmosphere, The Evil Within 2 never feels terrifying. Tense and nerve-wracking, sure. But it’s not a really scary game. It’s like a grindhouse horror movie. Grotesque and rife with disturbing images, but it doesn’t quite get you freaking out the way something like Slenderman or Layers of Fear might. Your mileage may vary, of course.
When it comes down to it though. Mikami’s new game may not compare to the horrific Resident Evil 7, but it doesn’t have to either. The Evil Within 2 is a memorable and compelling game all on its own, and one that deserves to be played by horror fans and action game fans alike. The frustrations of the first game (which have been documented by others) are non-existent here and instead, this sequel outshines its predecessor in almost every aspect. Next time, just give us a bit better story and dialog, and a more interesting protagonist.