The evil within 2
Throws a bucket of guts at the wall, and most of it sticks
Apparently if you link a bunch of brains together, all you get is a big gory nightmare. People are weird.
“We’re constantly, and pleasantly, surprised by the directions the game takes”
Like an overexcited chef with a twisted mind, before you’ve had a chance to finish your first serving of horror Tango Gameworks whisks your plate away, replacing it with another, gorier course – and then another a minute later. And while its narrative isn’t quite strong enough to tie all of that together neatly, most of what it serves up tastes damned good. (Just don’t ask what kind of meat you’re eating.) The first game’s hero, Sebastian Castellanos, is forced back into action when he discovers his daughter Lily — who he thought died in a fire years before — is alive. A shady organisation called Mobius faked her death and is using her mind to power STEM, a machine that allows people to plug into a nightmare-scape. But Lily has gone missing inside the virtual world, and it’s falling apart as a result. Mobius needs Sebastian to go and find her so it can salvage STEM, and for Sebastian it’s a chance to save his daughter.
You follow the trail of breadcrumbs Lily leaves behind, shooting, stabbing, and sneaking past the corrupted citizens of this formerly idyllic world and battling bosses at regular intervals. It’s structured as a few small open-world hubs connected by more scripted sequences. In the open-world bits you can charge after the next breadcrumb or take on side quests, which will reward you with ammo, health kits, and crafting materials. Resources are tight, so it’s worth stepping off the main path. Exploring side areas will reveal unique stories, too; at one point we sneak through an abandoned hospital wing past a giggling ghost that can pass through walls.
The spice of strife
Away from the hubs the game never lets you sit still, throwing all manner of mechanics, environments, and boss fights your way. We fight flaming enemies in catacombs, solve a puzzle by putting a necklace on a mannequin, dodge laser beams so that we can slash works of art with our knife, and defeat a boss that teleports around the map and takes photos that freeze us in slow motion. There’s far too much to describe it all here, but we’re constantly, and pleasantly, surprised by the directions the game takes. Most of the settings look fantastic, too — while the graphics are nothing special technically, each area has a unique, consistent style.
Given all this variety you might think The Evil Within 2 is more of an
action-adventure game than a horror title, and we’re tempted to agree. Yes, there are slower, atmospheric segments, and some of the dingy corridors and piercing screams genuinely make the hairs on the back of our neck stand up. But most of the time we aren’t dreading rounding the next corner, we actively want to take a peek just to see what the game will throw at us next.
None of the scripted segments would work if the combat was bad, but it holds up well. Enemy AI is basic (your foes will retread the same routes over and over), but good enough to make sneaking up and stabbing them in the back fun. When it all goes wrong you’ve got an arsenal that continuously expands, from a pistol to our favourite, a crossbow. There are numerous types of bolts to fire: one electrifies puddles of water and frazzles enemies, while the smoke bolt gets us out of countless sticky situations.
The over-the-shoulder shooting feels satisfying, especially when you hit an enemy’s weak spot. The Lost, the main enemy type (think zombies that can sprint), will go down in two headshots — the first splits open their skull to reveal flailing tendrils, the second turns everything above their neck into a red mist. The weapon variety means you’re never short of options, and you can use the environment, for example kicking over petrol barrels and shooting the oil that drips out. The combat’s only weak when enemies are up close: because of the way the camera works it’s nigh-impossible to hit anything that’s right up in your face, even if the aiming reticule is pointing between their eyes. It feels unfair when you die because of it.
And you will be dying a lot in The Evil Within 2, because it’s fiendishly difficult. The camera is deliberately slow to swivel, and reload times are long. The imaginative bosses (fighting the masked flamethrower was a particular highlight) hit hard and offer a real challenge, even when you’re doing exactly what the game wants you to do. We only beat a buzzsaw-wielding corpse amalgam because of the convenient tripwires set up nearby, and even then it takes us seven goes. Bosses highlight just how gory the game is, too. In one, a shambling monster made of corpses will grab you and vomit green goo into your mouth until you go limp. In another, Sebastian is pinned down by a spiky-limbed foe and stabbed repeatedly in the head.
So, you’ve got tough boss battles, impressive environments and solid combat. What ties it together? Two strands just about manage to keep things coherent: one, Sebastian’s quest to find his daughter, and two, an internal power struggle between Mobius operatives for control of STEM. We never become fully invested in the Mobius part, though, which is essentially a parade of vaguely interesting bad guys.
Sebastian’s search for Lily is far more relatable, but again only half draws you in. A parent’s search for their child is a refreshingly simple story thread that provides an excuse to keep the game rumbling forward, but we see too little of past interactions between Sebastian and his daughter to really care. And it doesn’t help that the writing is predictable and voice acting laboured, landing halfway between ultra-serious and B-movie bad.
The pacing, too, is a little off. We like how the game eases you in with an open-world section before throwing you into the action. But towards the end of the game we’re losing interest, partly because of the story, partly because it simply becomes a series of boss battles. We would’ve liked to have seen some of the mid-game variety nearer the finale.
However, overall The Evil Within 2 impressed us. None of its individual elements are spectacular, but its core systems are solid, and we’re constantly left wondering which environment the game will show us next. Fans of the first game should tuck in, as should anyone who is looking for a more action-packed route into the survival horror genre (and can stomach the sight of a partially opened skull).
The bosses are grotesque. This one chases you, grabs you with one hand, and bisects you with a circular saw.