I always considered The Evil Within to be a divisive game. It seems most people I've met either love it or hate it. I was in the love it crowd, and I was always hoping for a sequel. Much to my surprise, Bethesda saw fit to provide the world exactly that with The Evil Within 2. I was worried at first that this sequel may not quite recapture those feelings I had for the original game, and when I hear terms like "open world" thrown around I really feel like the point got totally missed. So are my darkest fears confirmed, or does The Evil Within 2 manage to surprise me?
The Evil Within 2 takes place about three years after the events of the first game and opens up with Sebastian Castellanos spending his days getting lost at the bottom of a bottle and trying to forget about the horrors he has witnessed. It isn't long before Juli Kidman shows up and offers one hell of a surprise for Sebastian; his daughter is still alive and in the possession of a company called Mobius. The catch? It'll require Sebastian to dive into another STEM machine, putting him back into a world of nightmares and horrors the likes of which he could never imagine. Sure enough, he agrees and finds himself in the town of Union, battling monsters and trying to make friends with the few survivors to find his daughter and get out.
The plot is a noticeable improvement over the first game, though that's mostly because the plot of the first game was complete nonsense. There are really some good moments here but it's just that at times the plot becomes predictable and whips out some weird clichés. I also couldn't help but get the feeling that the game basically lifted most of its plot points from other famous horror games. The main characters consist of Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong facsimiles, they're fighting a company that is Umbrella in all but name, and they're trapped in a small town with a dark horrific secret that may as well be Silent Hill. Also, you got one antagonist that follows a religion that is a Unitology knock-off, another that apparently went to the same art school as Sander Cohen, and a little psychic girl who's one red dress away from being Alma. You've seen this all before, maybe not in this order, but it's hard not to compare the individual pieces to their counterparts.
Thankfully the game really picks up when it comes to actually playing it. You'll be trapped in the town of Union, and have to scavenge it to survive. This means you'll have a small open world available to you that you can explore. The world is broken into three sections and never felt cumbersome to actually wander around. Naturally, each section is populated with monsters that you need to either sneak past or kill to advance. That hasn't changed so much from the original, as the game uses similar stealth and combat mechanics from there. You still hold down a button to sneak, and can now take cover behind objects to ambush enemies that come close.
If you're worried the open world is going to ruin The Evil Within 2 then let me alleviate those fears now. I was actually impressed with how well the open world worked. Just wandering around and exploring proved interesting, and seeing various lives upended and destroyed by the current calamity never ceased to amaze me. Furthermore, there was just something weird about seeing monsters shamble around in the distance and knowing I'd have to go over there eventually. One monster, a limping multi-armed, thin woman who makes this awful ragged breathing noise, always freaked me out whenever I saw her in the distance and I always gave her a wide berth.
While the open world is what you'll be spending a very large chunk of the game's twenty-hour runtime in, specific levels will move you to a more linear path. The Evil Within 2 takes some good advantage of these moments, loving to rapidly change the environment around Sebastian depending on which way the camera is facing. One scene saw me moving back and forth in a room full of hung corpses, each time those corpses relocating when I wasn't looking at them. Another saw my attempts to simply climb up a staircase foiled by the appearance of an endless staircase that has permanently etched in Sebastian's mind.
You can't avoid enemies forever, and before long you'll be forced into encounters with them. You'll mostly be using pistols and shotguns throughout the game, and it provides a couple different versions of each that all have their advantages and disadvantages. You'll also see the crossbow returning, allowing you to load it with different arrow types. You can blow enemies up with explosive arrows, use smokescreen arrows to hide, or shock enemies with... shock arrows. Each arrow can also be used to lay traps or interact with the environment, giving them some diversity and multi-purpose. There's more than enough enemy variety as well that I found myself having to change up tactics constantly, and sitting in just one place to shoot people was not a viable strategy.
That said, I do have one complaint about the enemy design, and that's the lack of any super memorable ones. If I think of The Evil Within I can instantly conjure up memories of the safe-headed Keeper, or the disgusting bloody spider-like Laura. There are a couple good ones in The Evil Within 2, one that I was a particular fan of was the Obscura that combines weird ballerina movements with a horrific camera head, but outside of that there's nothing that I'll be remembering for years to come. Likewise, the boss fights mostly feel a little blasé when compared to the original game. There are still a few great ones that I don't want to spoil, but most of them are just big enemies with big health bars.
While they were a big part of The Evil Within, this game has toned down how many puzzles you'll be seeing. I only remember a few actually showing up by the end of the game, and most of them were rather straightforward. One had me turning cranks to align some circles on the floor in the correct pattern, while another required me to look through a mirror to find the correct door to pass through. Nothing overly difficult, but creative enough without becoming the focus of the game.
Occasionally the game also tries to break into something else, with mixed levels of success. At one point there's a first-person stealth segment that I wasn't a huge fan of, but was easy enough to sort of just run past a lot of the enemies. There's a late game section that's almost an on-rails shooter, having you automatically run from cover to cover while getting unlimited ammo, and that was pretty fun. It doesn't happen often enough to be too much of a bother, but the few times it messes this up stood out.
As I mentioned before, The Evil Within 2 introduces an open world, and with it comes side quests. There's only four total in the game, and one of them is less of a real quest and more of a lead up for another side quest. If they're actually worth doing is another matter entirely. They're not bad, and they come with some nice rewards, but they pale in comparison to the main quest and none of the four really stand out in my mind. Nearly all of them are some version of "go here and kill the enemies", with only a single side quest breaking from that mold. If you want to improve your chances of surviving Union then they're worth a look, just don't expect to actually remember any of them.
While the proper side quests may be kind of iffy, the rest of the side content that you can just find by exploring the open world is genuinely fantastic. At one point I entered a random house and found a journal from the owner, who was worried her current place may be haunted. Finding little else to do, I went to leave only to find my exit blocked by a ghost. Said ghost transformed the house into a medical facility, and I had to sneak my way out. The catch? Well now the ghost was mad I escaped, and proceeded to randomly appear in the open world, turning sections of the game into sudden bouts of stealth or running. It was really interesting, and interactions like this always made the open world worth exploring.
All of this is in a game that I thought was rather beautiful in a sort of grotesque way. Technically the game was rather impressive with some fantastic environmental work and character models. The artistic design is still top-notch, even if I wasn't spooked by it in the same way. There's also some good voice acting to go along, with Sebastian's emotionless voice actor from the first game getting replaced by someone with a bit more range. There's also a good soundtrack here, kicking in with a choir during the boss fights while remaining quiet when it needed to.
As I said at the start, I was worried that The Evil Within 2 would lose most of the things that made the first game great. Sure there are some misses, like the less memorable monster design, but there's far more success here than failure. Great enemies, fun combat, a well made open world, and some really fantastic moments of horror did a lot to keep me attached to the game. If you're a fan of the original then you should find more to love here, and if you didn't care for the original then maybe your mind will be changed.
The Evil Within 2 combines a great open world with some fun gameplay and smart design to really improve upon the original game.
- Great Open World
- Fun Combat
- Good Enemy Variety
- Amazing Discoverable Moments
- Technically Impressive
- Plot Mostly Borrows From Other Games
- Few Flat Moments
- Less Interesting Monster Design
- Bad Side Quests