Back in 2014, Tango Gameworks’ #TheEvilWithin released to a polarizing reception. For some, it was a time machine back to the golden age of survival horror. For many others, it was a frustrating and grueling experience. Its detractors complained about Sebastian’s limited stamina, the infamous letterbox presentation, and the convoluted story that had very little heart and humanity to it.
Good news: Not only does it fix its predecessors’ many shortcomings, but The Evil Within 2 is one of the most improved sequels of all time, a leap in quality that is reminiscent of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
The Evil Within Union
The story of STEM, and being stuck inside the mind of deranged lunatic Ruvik, was not appreciated by even the most hardcore fans of The Evil Within. Instead of being an engrossing story with masterful character development, it was more style over substance. #TangoGameworks worked on fixing this most of all, with Sebastian’s return to STEM now being an endeavor to rescue his daughter Lily.
The story is a lot simpler, there is actual character development, and there is a feeling of urgency, pure love and determination which will have you invested in and sympathetic towards Sebastian — something the writers should be applauded for, considering he was previously a rugged, one-liner-spewing idiot.
Bizarrely, however, the first hour of the game is poorly written. In its final moments, there’s some honestly sweet and sad interactions between Sebastian and his wife Myra. These scenes will tug at your heartstrings. The contrast between them and the game’s earliest moments makes the opening feel incredibly rushed, with Sebastian’s embarrassing line about having the best daughter and wife in the whole world making players fear the worst as they watch on in uncomfortable silence. Still, things get remarkably better, and hopefully players do not judge and dismiss the story entirely because of its awkward start.
While I admittedly missed Joseph and Ruvik, The Evil Within 2 has some interesting side characters and bloodthirsty villains of its own. Sent into STEM by Mobius — a shadowy organisation who created this world of shared consciousness — Sebastian must retrieve the core (Lily) and rescue the scientists stuck inside Union. Kidman returns and, although she plays a big role in the story’s final moments, her presence is barely felt, making me hope that we’ll again get stand-alone DLC for her.
The scientists are not the most interesting, based on artificial observations, but they do have interesting stories and they are useful tools for teaching you about Union, Mobius, and Father Theodore, one of the game’s main antagonists. There’s also a female soldier named Esmerelda, a badass who is basically Michelle Rodriguez from the Resident Evil movies. She is by far my favorite ally in the entire game, and I was sad when leaving her behind because of how useful she is.
If you’ve kept up with the game’s marketing, then you surely know about Stefano, Obscura and Father Theodore. Stefano is an attention-craving artist who decorates his home with the art of people dying in a slow-motion loop. Obscura is his “beautiful” camera, a disturbing bit of imagery with the voice of a woman and a likely interesting backstory that isn’t touched upon. Father Theodore, meanwhile, is a priest-like figure in the fiery pits of hell, a judgemental antagonist who tortures Sebastian by exploiting the former detective’s PTSD from failing to rescue his daughter Lily, in addition to the surreal events at Beacon.
Now This Is Survival Horror
Because of modern horrors such as Amnesia: The Dark Descent, Observer and of course, Outlast, gamers have forgotten what true survival horror is. Survival horror is not running away from enemies knowing that you can always hide from them via lockers, barrels or underneath beds; it is constant panic caused by having to make split-second decisions: do I run away? Do I risk battling enemies through melee? Or do I waste ammo and hope to find some later on?
This uncertainty is what the “running simulators” of modern horror have abandoned and forgotten about. That is, except for The Evil Within 2.
On Nightmare difficulty, the mode that you absolutely should play, ammo is ridiculously scarce, enemies are tough as hell, and every bit of combat is a struggle (as it should be). The split-second decision making is more apparent here than in any other game because, while it’s easy enough to avoid fighting enemies, you have to take them on in order to get Green Gel and have any hope of progressing. This means that you constantly have to be aware of your surroundings, as well as the small amount of supplies you have. If you run out, the game does not always give ammo away like free candy, and I even once found myself having to improvise to defeat a boss through rinse-and-repeating the process of stabbing it and running away — because I was not smart with my supplies leading up to this battle, I was rightfully punished.
The “open world” of Union was a concern leading up to the game’s release. How can you possibly balance horror and open world traversal? Well, despite everyone doubting them, Tango Gameworks managed to achieve the impossible. Similar to the Silent Hill games, you can explore open spaces to find supplies, ammunition and collectibles. In addition, The Evil Within 2 also has optional side quests, ones that are easy to miss if you don’t take the time to explore every building and land of space. The simple act of exploring a suburban house resulted in one of the game’s most terrifying encounters. This creates an always present anxiety and uneasiness, because the game teaches you that anything can happen at any time.
Unfortunately, while the level design, crafting and combat is superior to the first The Evil Within, the boss battles are underwhelming. Almost all of them are entirely the same: avoid enemy sight and range by running around the same open square made up of walls and places to cover. They were done a lot better in Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and they come off here as embarrassingly lazy. However, the final two “boss battles” easily stand out, with one of them even being an encounter made up entirely of fan service for players of the original.
The Evil Within 2 is a great game, and it is by far the best and truest survival horror title of the last decade. As only the best sequels do, it fixes all of the issues people had with its series’ first outing: the letterbox is completely gone, combat is a lot smoother, there is an easy to follow story with actual humanity to it, and there is more variety in the gameplay thanks to the open world exploration. It’s a masterpiece of survival horror that fans of the genre should not miss out on.
What do you think of The Evil Within 2? Sound off in the comments below!