A Strong Sequel Cranked up to 11
From the moment I started the game, everything about The Evil Within 2 felt incredibly familiar, but strangely foreign, like someone rearranged all the furniture in my house. The story and characters will seem immediately recognizable to someone returning from the previous entry in the series, something that shines through in Sebastian’s demeanor in the opening minutes of the game. No longer are we thrust into a completely unknown realm, as both Sebastian and I accept our task begrudgingly, dreading the dark journey ahead. But even as a player and Sebastian may know what to expect, developer Tango Gameworks keeps us guessing, throwing new enemies, environments, scares, and goals our way.
If the first game was a love letter to Shinji Mikami’s own ties to Resident Evil, the sequel is a follow-up relationship, attempting to outdo the previous game in every conceivable way. The largest change thus far is a somewhat open world, taking the linear story of The Evil Within and tossing it up in the air, allowing players to decide when to tackle the next large step in each chapter. Although this lack of overall linearity may initially appear to detract from the carefully crafted set pieces of the first game, the open areas invite a sense of dread unlike anything else experienced in the series. Oftentimes I’d prepare to make a cross-town trek just to find that my next objective is on the other side of a small army of shamblers, shriekers and other nasties. These tense journeys are made so much more dangerous by the numerous buildings, caches, and small hidden corners there are to explore and find, though the rewards are usually worth it. Using a few shells to kill some zombies is more than alleviated by the increase to my ammo capacity.
Another welcome change is the sweeping update made to items. Your steady supply of green gel is no longer used for weapon upgrades. The newly introduced weapon parts have taken over that role, and specialized parts and red gel act to unlock paths to stronger upgrades for your weapons and abilities respectively. Crafting has also been expanded greatly, where before you could use parts to create bolts for your crossbow, now a player can use gunpowder, medicinal plants, pipes, and other odds and ends to create ammo, health syringes, and crossbow bolts. One item completely missing is the match; previously used to burn ‘defeated’ enemies, players could ensure they wouldn’t revive and attack again, but that’s no longer a concern, and the absence of them is not a problem. All these and the new open world allow for more player freedom, where you can sneak around and stealth kill enemies, snipe them from safe distances, or even charge in with a shotgun. Of course, the safest solution is usually to run and live to fight another day, but sometimes confrontation cannot be avoided.
Gameplay is not the only improvement made to the series, as the story is now far more coherent and relatable. Instead of stumbling blindly through random locales seemingly pulled from the Resident Evil series, the settings of The Evil Within 2 all make more sense within the context of the story, even if they do look more implausible. Exploring a floating, crumbling town has been made more believable than exploring a village or a church in the first game. The story itself is also more easily accessible, as Sebastian’s quest to find and save his daughter makes him easier to empathise with, giving the player a clear goal instead of “survive all this insanity”. The supporting characters this time around have also improved, proving to be far less infuriating to deal with. The characters Sebastian meets have fears and goals, and their personalities shine through in their conversations with Sebastian, instead of speaking in circles, which seemed to be the case in the first title.
The biggest strength of the first game was that it truly put the ‘horror’ in survival horror. Whether it’s facing overwhelming odds, the rare jump scare, or dealing with creepier enemies, the game always kept players on their toes, and the sequel truly seems to ramp things up. As mentioned before, the open world aspect changes everything, and players can now be attacked from any direction, occasionally slowing progression in favor of safety. A few enemies emit guttural moans, or pained gasps, and some taunt you with child-like giggles, and every time I heard one of them, I dropped to a crouch and became hyper-aware of my surroundings, a true testament to the sound design. Jump scares are still rare, and they never feel overdone or cheap, always serving as a reminder that players cannot rest until they reach a safe room. However, nothing is scarier than crawling through tall grass and suddenly seeing an open eye icon - an indicator that an enemy has spotted you. If you don’t know where the enemy is, your safest bet is to sprint for safer pastures, but it’s a thrill to run for your life.
The game, although a massive improvement, does feature some small annoyances. While fighting on a catwalk near a ladder, I found myself trying to climb down instead of stomping downed enemies, although fighting in such a cramped space was a poor idea. One enemy in particular feels poorly balanced; she’s meant to be sneak-attacked, which deals massive damage, but if you fail to do so, she’ll absorb so much ammo, it’s almost worth it to let her kill you and try again next time. If the game allows players more freedom to deal with situations the way they want, a punishing situation like that can kill the fun. That said, these problems are few and far between, and shouldn’t deter any potential buyers from enjoying a solid title. There’s a lot of fun to be found - even a shooting gallery mini-game that feels like it belongs in Resident Evil 4 - and anybody that enjoys being scared will find hours of enjoyment and horror within this solid title.