+Characters are more believable and human than ever before
+Offers different approaches to combat
+Not all enemies attack the same, making combat harder, and more difficult than before
+Tons of hidden collectibles and resonances for players to go through
+Graphics, sound, and even acting is top-tier
-Hearing Castellanos say “What the-” phrases wears thin after a few hours
When I first experienced The Evil Within 2 during my time at QuakeCon 2017, I knew I was already getting into something big. The world had changed around me, the situation was similar, but nothing remained the same. Sure, I had ended up seeing the similarities between Shinji Mikami’s previous work on Resident Evil show due to the parallel’s that had been drawn between some evil corporation, mutants in a virtual (can we call it that?) world, and even their shady doings.
But it didn’t prepare me for the experience I was about to have. Tango Gameworks hasn’t been scared of bringing a “pure survival horror” experience to life with The Evil Within, a game that was flawed, fun, and at times rather trying. That doesn’t go without saying, I played the living Hell out of it in hopes of a sequel.
As someone who felt that Tango Gameworks has shown that survival-horror can still find success, I knew something big was happening with this sequel, and that redemption could be possible from my previous experience. In truth, even my impressions hadn’t changed from my initial experience, instead they were expanded upon, and the end-result was more than I had expected to receive.
To get us started The Evil Within 2 takes place sometime after the original title, putting us back in the role of Sebastian Castellanos, a man whom has drastically changed due to the events at the Beacon hospital. Due to the events that unfolded before him, Sebastian has changed, in ways, he has broken. He’s not the same man he was before, and now things seem a bit worse. His daughter is gone, his wife is nowhere to be seen, and his former partner Kidman, is working with the mysterious organization Mobius (Umbrella, you have nothing on these guys). The bad news for our former detective? His daughter is being used as a stabilizer, a core in ways, for the STEM system.
And that is exactly where your journey sends you: back into Stem in order to find your daughter. Unfortunately, this also means your descent into madness is once more in place, and you’re about to see an entirely new form of a mans personal Hell. Unlike our previous entry, the story has actually been cut clean for us this time around. It’s concise, it’s straightforward, and it doesn’t cut corners by leaving plot holes everywhere. It doesn’t leave you to ask the whats, the whys, or the hows. This time around, it’s all explained rather well, making this a proven successor to The Evil Within.
This time around you also get something you didn’t get before: a clear goal from start to finish, with a deep focus on the games engaging narrative, and the cast that help bring it to life. The game isn’t shy about its story, it’s not shy about using any and all resources to bring it together. Once inside the city of Union, which was created using STEM, you’ll take notice to a few important things: The world is open, it is large, and there are a lot of NPC’s that help flesh it out, and make this city become a living entity of its own. What makes this all the more unique compared to the first entry is something more unique; Union is a living and breathing character of its own. You don’t just enter a world expecting to see what you had in the first one.
Union is rife with its own lore. It’s something unique, something you feel you could have been apart of, which is what made titles such as Resident Evil, Rule of Rose, and even Silent Hill so appealing to those that played them. The lore for the city is deep, it’s creative, and most-of all, it’s a character that stands out just as the city of Silent Hill did. They absolutely nailed it. I mean, they nailed it. I actually felt bad for the city of Union and those that called it home. To me, what happened within it, was a disaster, especially as the events unfolded before me. But why is this actually important?
The Evil Within 2’s Union is a Character and a Metaphor
Whether you notice it or not, The Evil Within 2’s city Union is a character. It is ABSOLUTELY the most important character within the game. Not Myra, not Kidman, not Sebastian’s daughter, or the psychotic killer you chase, but the city itself. As you play through the game, you need to take notice of a few EXTREMELY important details. The city has been falling apart, destabilizing ever since some events unfolded and left Union to start crumbling in on itself (lets avoid spoilers, shall we?). Because of this, the city is beginning to fracture, and the sanity of those helping bring it to life, are doing exactly the same.
The metaphor is evident from the start. Union is falling apart, the minds holding it together are bending, breaking, and becoming consumed by madness. The city itself is fractured into broken districts, which are a host to their own forms of this discord. The city is literally fracturing, just as the minds of its citizens are. The minds are collapsing, the city is collapsing, and because of it, the “virtual” world of Union is beginning to fragment, just as a mind riddled by madness would. You see, the game is all about the psychological effects of STEM itself, and what better way to show that than have the not-so-main character itself represent the effects of madness itself?
But even with Union being a character on its own, we do need to talk about the cast since this game has a gigantic cast compared to before.
The Evil Within 2‘s Cast is Stronger Than Before
Lets face the facts. The Evil Within wasn’t strong. Narratively it tried, but ultimately, it was let down by its characters. Not that the actors, the writers, or the design team could have fixed this post release. Sometimes, just sometimes, it happens when working on an entirely new IP. Luckily, the second try was a charm, and it shows with the cast, as well as new voice actors for both Kidman as well as Castellanos.
But there is a reason for me mentioning this. In the first game, Sebastian Castellanos felt stiff, he felt rugged, and to be honest, I had a hard time with his character. I loved the game, but it doesn’t mean it had its flaws. Thankfully, this has changed in the sequel. He’s stronger, his hard-boiled personality, and rough exterior are the draw he needs, and they didn’t go wrong with that. This time around, he’s a character that I like, he’s human, his believable, and his personality is genuine both in voice and the acting performed by Marqus Bobesich (Survival of the Dead, Duck World).
Not only did they do a solid job bringing Sebastian to life and make him believable; he legitimately reacts to the world around him. At one point during my time in Union, he actually gagged while taking off his gas mask, and made the remark about how the area smelt with it on. Let alone did he react to that, he even is one that sighs with relief when escaping combat. If something horrific comes by, you can hear his breathing grow a bit edgier, and human-like. It wasn’t something that felt forced, but rather, it felt natural.
The same goes with the emotion in his voice. He’s alive, he cares, and the acting performed by Bobesich brings Castellanos to life in every way possible. The same can be said for Meg Saricks whom plays Kidman and Rafael Goldstein (Fallout 4 as Henri) whom plays the psychopathic killer Stefano. Their performances are rock solid, they truly worked hard in order to bring the game to life with their top-tier acting, but there is one person that deserves a pat on the back more than all of them.
Kiara Lisette Gamboa deserves a huge round of applause. It’s not easy being a kid actor, especially a voice actor for video games. The performance has to be spot-on, and Kiara did so without a hitch. Her portrayal of Lily Castellanos wasn’t just convincing. It was heart wrenching on how she brought a scared little girl to life in a city like Union, a place where monsters are running free and scaring her half to death. Truth is? This young actress has a lot of potential, and with a key role such as Lily Castellanos, she could make a name for herself as an actress and join the ranks with those such as Jodelle Ferland (Silent Hill, Cabin in the Woods).
Lets Talk About The Evil Within 2’s Gameplay
When you talk about horror-survival games, you have to also talk about overall mechanics and design. That’s what brings them to life outside of the acting. This time around, you won’t be totting your weapons down a linear path. The Evil Within 2 decided to veer of that path. Instead we’re given a semi open-world to enjoy. Before you raise your nose at the game over this and then roll your eyes, we need to talk about this part, because it is important. It is a key feature.
So why should we talk about it? A lot of it is because gamers hate the idea of open world games, and the idea of maps being filled with unnecessary busy work, and possibly losing design focus over it. Unlike titles such as Dragon Age: Inquisition or Assassin’s Creed Unity, you aren’t going to see this in The Evil Within 2. Instead you get intricately designed zones, ones where you can go back and forth in order to hunt down the secrets hiding inside of the city of Union.
You actually are given tools to do so such as a communicator once you reach the games third chapter (which is where the prologue ends), and are set down a path to explore the world about you. Because of this communicator, you’ll be able to look forward to some of the city’s worst and best kept secrets through unknown signal sources called Resonances, which act as the games waypoints for you to go through. These areas of interest are just that for a reason.
They’ve held their own secrets, they’ve become a place where a major mission has taken place, or even where a side quest had potentially been. Because the game is using a semi open-world system, side quests aren’t tiny. They aren’t your average “please go to point a and find this object and bring it back to point b”. They’ve grown in massive ways. They are gigantic, some even having taken me an hour. almost two to complete due to all the hidden objects I had to find or the enemies that were on my way there. Just like in my hands-on with the QuakeCon build: The Evil Within 2 is all about high-risk and high-reward.
The tougher the side-quest or hidden signal source, the better the rewards. One such quest has you help a Mobius agent inside of Union reconnect a server so that it may work, and doing so allowed you re-establish connections with the servers. Once the connections are re-established, the agent opened all the caches lying around the district of Union I was in. Thus I had ammo, crafting materials, upgrade materials, some green gel, and even a high-end weapons part in order to upgrade my weapons further than before.
It’s Not Just About the Open-World
But this did come at a greater risk. Now I have stronger enemies running about, I may have to use my ammo unless I can be sneaky, but it pays off as long as you don’t run in head first and hope to win a massive battle. But that can’t go without saying that The Evil Within 2 doesn’t want you to play guns blazing. Instead it offers multiple approaches. Don’t want to sneak around and take advantage of stealth kills, headshots, and running your enemies down as quick as possible? That’s fine. Go guns blazing, set yourself up so you can use your melee, set yourself up so that you can use use close quarters combat or your weapons more effectively.
Even stealth kills are effective, logical, and at times, a great decision. Even if you do decide to take the more aggressive approach, The Evil Within 2 has toned down the gore from the first one. It trades off the gore for a more subtle horror approach, one that injects its psychological effects on those that play. Instead, you’re given something more adaptive, violent, and more alluring: a horror experience that is both contentious, and one that is more terrifying than before. This time the tension was real, it was not forgiving, and honestly scared the ever-living Hell out of me in every way possible.
The feeling of being in Union isn’t just haunting, it delivers a foreboding sensation to those that play it. A sensation that players have something bigger at stake, something that can never be returned to them if they don’t make the needed choices in order to succeed. Death is imminent, and it does wait, and my scares weren’t a once-in-a-while affair. I was given the chance to feel this form of dread hit me multiple times, once while sneaking through those opening moments of my entering Union where a woman was force feeding a gentlemen, only to begin bashing his skull in against his dinner plate.
The Evil Within 2 – PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release Date: Available Now
That feeling once more smashed into me when I made may way across the city in order to hunt down a secret room. Even with an unknown signal hissing its way onto my communicator, it didn’t help the fact that something more ominous awaited me. I was instantly thrust into an entirely new environment; I was back where it all had started. I was once more at the Beacon hospital, where it all started. In ways, I felt dread once more wash over me, just as it did for Sebastian Castellanos. The horror was back, it was real, and it was unsettling. This time even more-so than before.
Before I can even come to terms with what is happening, I hear it, the subtle growling of a woman behind me, and before I knew it, the screen had cut to Sebastian getting thrown down, and before I knew it, beheaded. The game isn’t one that is just subtle about stirring up ones own anxiety. It’s one that also drives home the sense of fear, it’s one that doesn’t hold back, and it’s fully open to the idea of scaring the living Hell out of players.
Fortunately for the horror genre, this is a game we need, and one we need desperately. I openly have to admit one simple thing: survival-horror games are back. Bethesda and Tango Gameworks didn’t hold back and I hope in the future, they continue doing so, and delivering home an even more terrific experience in a follow-up title.
Our review is based upon a retail version that was provided to us by the games publisher. For information about our ethics policy please click here.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10
About the Writer:
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the boarders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.