Ahhh, another great horror game for Halloween. The first Evil Within was the first major horror game to grace the screens of the latest generation of consoles (and I guess PCs too, but you know what I mean!), and personally, I found it to be everything I wanted in a horror title. It was delightfully gruesome, packed full of intense, challenging combat, and it had a plot that was much darker and smarter than the Resident Evil games it so closely resembled. The Evil Within 2 continues along those same lines for the most part, but there have been a few changes to the formula that will surely make this a somewhat divisive sequel.
The original game had the protagonist, Sebastian, trapped in a twisted mental realm created by science and corrupted by the deranged thoughts of its murderous creator. This time around, Sebastian finds himself forced to enter another mental realm created with the same technology, but on this occasion there are different people involved, and so the unreal world and its corruption have taken on entirely different forms from those of the first game.
One of the biggest changes, and one that I imagine most people will find to be the most agreeable, is the addition of larger, semi-open-world areas. These huge sections of the game, with so many little extra areas, items, and even sidequests to dive into, make this feel almost like an action-RPG at times. It often feels like they’ve taken inspiration from the modern Tomb Raider, with so many optional areas to explore and various crafting materials and collectibles to be scavenged. These locations have a much higher enemy concentration than the ones in Tomb Raider though. You won’t even be able to make it down one block of houses without running into some nasty creatures.
The sheer amount of nasties waiting for you around every corner can make things feel pretty tense and oppressive, as enemies are everywhere and just love to ambush you or block your path at every given opportunity. This, combined with the scarcity of ammunition, forces you to adopt a stealthy approach whenever possible, and that’s another large change in this sequel: it’s much more stealth-oriented than the original. Sure, there are still times when you’ll have no choice but to try to blast your way through a situation, but these kinds of encounters are greatly reduced here.
Almost entirely gone are the Resident Evil 4-style scenes where you find yourself trapped in an area as waves of enemies rush you, forcing you to furiously gunfight until they relent. There are also no more enemies with guns or any other kind of ranged weapons, so all those cover-system gun battles are a thing of the past. Again, without either of these aspects, stealth quickly becomes the best and easiest option.
At first, all this sneaking around may seem pretty nerve-wracking, but I soon realized that the enemies are actually incredibly dumb and that you can get away with a lot more than you’d usually expect from a stealth game, making it all turn out to be quite a bit easier than the original. At first when I got caught trying to sneak up on something, I’d panic and start blasting away, frantically trying to score a quick headshot before other nearby creatures noticed and joined in, and usually wasting more ammo than I’d have liked to in the process. I did this for more hours than I’d care to admit before finally realizing how generous the stealth mechanics were.
As it turns out, even if an enemy spots you and gives chase, you can just quickly sprint a pretty short distance away and duck down behind another object – it seems your terribly slow-minded pursuers don’t appear capable of object permanence. They’ll run a short distance after you, stop just short of your new hiding place and take a moment to angrily sniff the air, then forget about you entirely and turn right around to expose their back. Most of the game became pretty easy after that, and I soon found found myself becoming pretty rich in ammo, health, and other resources. Don’t get entirely complacent though, because there are still some tough parts later on that you’ll be glad you hoarded all those supplies for!
The frequent deadly death-traps of the first game have also been done away with. No more fields of bear-traps or rooms filled with instant-death-dealing, Saw-like murder machines, which I’m told were a source of a lot of frustration for many people (though I kind of liked them!). In general, this is a significantly easier game than its predecessor, though there are still several more-extreme levels of difficulty that can be attempted, if one should wish.
Like with the original, there’s a nice amount of variety in the many different locations you visit due to the constantly shifting mental landscape. The visual design of the unearthly environments, and even more unearthly creatures, is beautifully eerie and grotesque. The graphics have sure had a nice upgrade as well, with impressively seamless transitions, and an almost nonexistent gap between cutscenes and gameplay. It really highlights how amazingly far this generation has evolved in just a few years. Oh, and those awful widescreen bars have been done away with too. I know they were trying to go for “a cinematic look” in the first one with those, but it’s really not necessary when we’re living in an age where everyone and their mother has widescreen TVs.
All in all, I think it’s safe to say that The Evil Within 2 goes out of its way to be a game that’s more accessible and less punishing, as well as attempting to expand on its world and characters. I was impressed to find that despite all of these changes, the game still managed to retain its identity and feel like a natural successor. Its reinvention of itself doesn’t set any new bars in terms of scariness like Resident Evil 7 did, but it’s still an incredibly fun and well-made game that I would definitely count among the very best of modern horror games.
The Evil Within 2 is out now for PS4, Xbox One, and Windows.