After years of slowly morphing into action games, the survival horror genre has been getting back to its scary roots lately, first with Resident Evil 7 biohazard, and now with The Evil Within 2 (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC), a third-person psychological fright-fest that really does have you trying to survive a horrible situation (and is a slight but noticeable improvement over its predecessor).
Set three years after 2014’s The Evil Within, The Evil Within 2 finds former detective Sebastian Castellanos haunted by the death of his daughter, Lily, and his inability to stop a company called Mobius who, in the original, created a device called STEM that links people to alternate dimensions. But when his former partner and current Mobius employee Juli Kidman tells him that Lily is actually alive, and in danger, he uses the STEM to rescue his little girl.
In other words, it’s like if Resident Evil was inspired more by The Matrix and The Cell than Dawn Of The Dead, but the former movies had been directed by Hideo Nakata (Ringu) or Takashi Shimizu (Ju-on: The Grudge).
The similarities between The Evil Within 2 and those Japanese horror movies is most prevalent in the beginning, when you’re exploring and solving situational puzzles in a building that’s constantly morphing, leaving you with the kind of dread you only feel when you’re not sure what’s real and what isn’t, and whether that thing that’s real now will still be there if you turn away and look back.
But while this is how The Evil Within 2 begins, and becomes again later, the bulk of the game is actually a scary stealth action game set in an open world. Well, open suburb, anyway. Using shadows and tall grass you can hide in, and easily tossed bottles as distractions, you have to cut across lawns and through homes, making your way past the local residents to your next objective.
It is during these parts of The Evil Within 2 that this game will either grab you or lose you, depending on how you prefer to play stealth games.
Like all stealth action games, The Evil Within 2 works well if you play as a pacifist, as someone who’d rather sneak past an enemy than engage them. But if (like me), you prefer to play stealth games as a sneaky serial killer — as someone who kills everyone so you can then explore and revisit areas without worrying that you’ll be spotted — you’ll run into problems. While there are sections of town where the locals are loners, the street lights don’t work, and the lawns are unkempt, there are also spots where the streets are wide and well-lit and the enemies like to hang out together. All of which makes it difficult to hide or sneak up behind someone with your knife at the ready.
That said, the suburban parts of The Evil Within 2 are decidedly more fun when you’ve found or crafted a full compliment of ammo and health packs, and can thus take more chances. Or at least protect yourself when your attempts to be sneaky goes horribly awry.
Though it helps that you can now craft ammo and health supplies on the fly (though it’s cheaper to use a work bench, which you also need to upgrade your weapons). And that The Evil Within 2 has good coffee. So good, in fact, that it replenishes all of your health. The catch being that you can only get it from a coffee maker, and like real coffee makers, it takes time to brew a fresh pot.
What makes The Evil Within 2 work so well — and notably better than its predecessor — is how all of these elements work well together. While there are times when it’s obvious that going forward will take you from one of the freaky, non-combative buildings to the suburbs, there are other times when you’ll unexpectantly slip back into a scary section.
As good as The Evil Within 2 may be, thoigh, it’s not without its problems.
For starters, Sebastian often stupidly turns off his flashlight whenever he interacts with something, like when he picks up some ammo. Though, thankfully, it’s not one of those flashlights that have weirdly crappy batteries which drain quickly but then recharge when you turn the flashlight off.
I also don’t understand why he can’t pick up and reuse the bolts of his crossbow like you can in Rise Of The Tomb Raider. Or, you know, real life.
The Evil Within 2 is also one of those games where sprinting drains a stamina meter. Y’know, that mechanic that has never been fun in any game every. And it’s doubly annoying here given how Sebastian’s typical movement speed is often more of a stroll than the swift trot you’d expect from a guy trapped in a freaky alternate dimension full of horrible creatures.
But then, your enemies in The Evil Within 2 are also weirdly attached to their homes. So much so that if you run away from them, they’ll stop chasing you after a bit, and will then head back where you found them. Which is good for you, but bad for them, since it gives you an opportunity to sneak up behind them and kill them.
There’s also a control issue with The Evil Within 2. Depending on which control scheme you choose, pressing down on the right thumbstick will either make you to crouch and move slowly, or it will bring up the menu used to switch weapons. Which is a problem if (like me), you have a tendency to press down on the right thumbstick when you’re spooked or in a frantic fire fight.
While these issues make The Evil Within 2 less fun than it could’ve been, they don’t ruin the game. Nor do they make it less freaky or frightening. Granted, this isn’t as scary, or as engaging, as Resident Evil 7 biohazard, but it is a marked improvement over the first game, and yet another example of why you don’t need to make a game less scary to make it more exciting.