The Evil Within series is a bit obscure these days. Directed by Resident Evil series creator Shinji Mikami, Evil Within is a difficult and gritty survival horror game. Evil Within 2 is a competent follow-up that is much more polished than its predecessor–but somehow loses some of its charm. However, Evil Within 2 is a fantastic survival horror game and one of my favorites of 2017.
Tango Gameworks’ Evil Within released in 2014 to mixed reception. Uneven framerate, a strangely disjointed story, and unyielding difficulty overshadowed a gritty, nightmarish game that is, I think, worthy of cult status. Unfortunately, deep discounts within months of its release and bad word-of-mouth has kept Evil Within from widespread popularity. Evil Within 2 goes out of its way to undo some of the transgressions of its predecessor and it turns out to be a solid survival horror game.
Immediately apparent is Evil Within 2’s smooth, even framerate and much improved controls. There are vast improvements in almost every aspect. The skill point system is much more streamlined, as is weapon upgrades. The story is also an improvement over its predecessor. Evil Within reveled in placing you in nightmare world situations with little connection to each other. Evil Within 2 has a much more cohesive story and setting. Protagonist Detective Sebastian Castellanos has been troubled for the three years following his ordeal in the alternate reality simulation called STEM. The nightmare of the first game was just a simulation – but with deadly real-world consequences.
The evil Mobius corporation has set up another artificial reality STEM system and things have gone wrong again. Sebastian’s former partner and Mobius sleeper agent Juli Kidman convinces Sebastian that he must reenter STEM to save his daughter, who he previously thought perished in a fire. It turns out she was actually kidnapped by Mobius and is the core of their newest STEM system. Sebastian is sent in after other attempts fail, and inside he finds another hellish nightmare, now centered on a town called Union. The story itself is improbable and, frankly, insane, but it has its charm and it is more self-aware than the original even managing to inject some humor into the whole ordeal.
There are good chunks of Evil Within 2 that are set in large open environments that allow you to explore at will. There are secrets to be found, along with side quests and valuable healing items and ammo. While not quite as ammo restrictive as Evil Within, you must still conserve munitions if you want to survive. Stealth and avoidance are sometimes the best options, but the ability to craft ammunition for all weapons makes the guns-blazing approach viable for those who find the ammo to do it. The open world nature of the town of Union allows Sebastian to completely avoid some conflict by finding alternate paths. There are safe houses and NPCs scattered around the world that not only progress the story, but add incentive to look around this hostile environment.
Evil Within 2 is a polished game, but it just doesn’t seem as scary as its predecessor. Evil Within reveled in low ammunition and helplessness, and while Evil Within 2 makes attempts at it, it never quite captures the grindhouse horror feel of the original. There are difficulty settings that allow the experience to more mirror the original as the default setting feels softball in comparison – but that isn’t to say it’s still a walk in the park. Even with the ability to craft ammo, it is still scarce and there are many interesting and grotesque new horrors to be found. Ironically, I found Evil Within 2 the scariest when it called back to the original. Also missing were the difficult and intense boss fights of the original. There were some great set-piece bosses in Evil Within 2, but I just wanted more of them.
Evil Within 2 offers massive quality of life improvements, but it loses a tiny bit of its charm and grittiness in the transition. A great survival horror game with a compelling but banana-pants insane story that manages to make its predecessor better in the process, Evil Within 2 is full of genuinely good horror game moments even if it isn’t always that scary. If you want a horror game this Halloween, this is one to pick up.
Evil Within 2 is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Windows.
This review was originally published on 10/18/2017 at this location.