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The Evil Within 2 review

The open road to hell.

Our Verdict

An intense and thrilling psychological survival horror sequel that improves on its forerunner in almost every way.

Need to know

What is it? A psychological survival horror game with a range of open world features.
Expect to pay: $60/£40
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda
Reviewed on: GTX 980, Intel i5-6600K, 8GB RAM
Multiplayer: None
Link: Official site

The Evil Within 2 revels in its grotesqueness. Inside its opening five minutes, you're forced to watch a young girl burn to death. Later, you repeatedly observe a man's head explode by gunshot. Then you witness a scene so horrifically graphic I worry recounting it will cause me to bring up my lunch (it involves an incapacitated man being force-fed his own lunch to the point where it's clogging his throat). The next 15-20 hours are punctuated by similarly stomach-churning moments—the sum of which highlights a psychological horror game determined to terrify beyond jump scares.

For the most part, it works. And while cheap frights are served by the game's zombie natives on occasion, its tortured antagonists, manifestations of guilt-driven grief and open world elements present a far more ambitious game than the 2014 original. Like its forerunner, it struggles at times with the B-movie trappings, jarring narratives, and ham-fisted voice acting synonymous with the genre, yet The Evil Within 2 rarely feels disposable. 

The Evil Within 2 drops protagonist Sebastian Castellanos into the simulated world of Union—a corrupted, monster-ridden town that's thought to contain your (presumed dead) daughter, Lily. It's here that the game first experiments with an open world structure, as you make your way back and forth across a handful of well-sized maps, each of which is filled with accessible buildings and collectible items. Early on, you pick up a communications device that allows you to track Lily's whereabouts, as well as a host of optional side ventures, such as the locations of weapon parts and caches, and bits of additional storytelling.

This presents a more thoughtful approach to progression. During the game's earlier chapters, I regularly found myself abandoning the main story arc, instead trekking to the furthest corners of the urban sprawl in search of loot and ammo. The loot was often well guarded, which forced me to engage with the game's new cover system: two modes that allow Castellanos to hug surfaces when crouched, and portray him as a greyed-out silhouette when hiding in long grass. 

While this marks a departure from pure survival horror, it benefits the game's stealth systems since you're no longer required to distract foes with smashable bottles—despite this still being a feasible if tedious approach. Open areas are less densely populated, although enemies are more aggressive and have the means to pursue you for longer. With this in mind, the first game's optional enemy visibility indicator is switched on by default, which I'd suggest sticking with given how easy it is for enemies to get the drop on you in open environments.

Performance and settings

The Evil Within 2 ran without any problems at ultra settings/1080p on my GTX 980/8GB RAM/Intel i5-6600K PC.

NB—The original Evil Within game ran on the id Tech 5 Engine. The Evil Within 2 runs on a customised version of the id Tech 5 Engine, named the STEM Engine. 

Graphics settings  Motion Blur, Depth of Field, SSAO, Screen-Space Reflections, Volumetric Lighting, Shadows, Anti-Aliasing, Chromatic Aberration and Film Grain (can be disabled), FOV slider, LOD, Bloom, Object Motion Blur, Camera Motion Blur.

Variety in your means of attack is important, as your environment can often be manipulated to suit your circumstances. One failed attack saw me hightailing it from a horde of The Haunted. I unscrewed a nearby fire hydrant, waited till the group was ankle-high in water, and blasted the pool with a Shock Bolt, taking down six enemies at once. Another botched onslaught had me setting a crowd alight in a petrol station oil spill. These tactics are hardly new in games, but they do add a nice twist to mob conflict all the same.

I tend to think third-person, over-the-shoulder combat horror games benefit from controller input, but switching to mouse and keyboard in the above examples allowed me to better navigate my surroundings whenever I found myself fenced in by my enemies. If you'd rather run for cover, those familiar with the first game will be pleased to know Castellanos can now sprint for far longer.  

Moreover, a new crafting system lets you turn your plundered treasure into bullets, crossbow bolts and health items, among other things—a process that can be done on the fly, or at crafting benches within safe houses. The former will cost you more in the way of resources, but Union boasts a generous amount of hidden spoils should you need to cobble together firepower in a hurry. Castellanos' office can only be accessed via safe house mirrors, though, which again lets you trade Green Gel for ability points across several specific disciplines.

When not dazzling, you'll settle into The Evil Within 2's narrative. This tells a similar tale of anguish, where beleaguered hero Sebastian Castellanos has again been duped by the faceless Mobius corporation. We learn that his daughter Lily is the core of the crumbling STEM neural network—within which Union is housed—and her extraction is being blocked by two very distinguished and charismatic villains, and the evil minions they command. These unpredictable foes are mentally unhinged art lover Stefano Valentini and power-mad cultist Father Theodore Wallace, and both will keep you on your toes, both in the story and in battle.

In pursuit of this double act, you'll traverse a familiar set of narrowly interlinked corridors that spawn mysterious doors and unsettling clandestine messages, before facing off against a number of shit-scary foes—not least The Guardian, a shrieking she devil composed of writhing corpses and saw blades. The Evil Within 2 always looks great, but these set pieces look extraordinary and sound genuinely terrifying.   

With Resident Evil mastermind Shinji Mikami deferring directorship to Tango Gameworks colleague John Johanas, The Evil Within 2 angles itself between PS2-era throwback and inventive sequel. Almost everything has been improved, here, yet it still feels like a classic survival horror game, one infused with enough psychological horror to keep it feeling fresh.

The Verdict

The Evil Within 2

An intense and thrilling psychological survival horror sequel that improves on its forerunner in almost every way.