Sophomore slumps are constantly real possibilities when moving onto the second phase/release of anything. The fear that something won’t connect on the same level as its predecessor, is a real concern that sits deeply nestled in all of fandom’s belly. In the case of The Evil Within 2, everyone can rest easy knowing that the game improves on every single one of the first games mechanics, story and general survival horror attributes.
You once again take on the role of Sebastian Castellanos, who almost immediately finds himself back in the alternate reality that is STEM. Turns out the spooky shadow organization Mobius has been experimenting with both alternate realities and Castellanos’s daughter who was presumed dead in a house fire. No time is wasted getting back into the new fabricated reality that comes in the form of “any town USA,” Union.
I appreciate how little time the game spends on typical exposition. It is a nice change of pace to not have to waste time with slack tutorials in order to re-familiarize you with controls. This game treats you as a gamer and doesn’t bog you down with a ton onscreen prompts right out of the gate. It gives you quick instructions as situations arise, as opposed to wasting precious time.
When Castellanos arrives, he discovers that Union is breaking apart due to some corruption from within its construct. Yep, you guessed it. Despite Mobius telling you that this experience will be different than that of the first games STEM, you quickly find that things are actually way worse. Although for most of the game the reason why is kept a mystery.
The breaking apart of Union creates an urgency to find your daughter and attempt to get the heck out. But, the games open-world begs to differ with the narrative drive. There is a lot of exploration to be done. And if you like myself, are a completionist, then it is going to be tough forcing yourself to only hit up main objectives. Especially, when the side mission help to unfurl the story a bit more organically.
Your communicator acts both as your communication to your old pal Kidman at Mobius, and as a way of locating both side and primary objectives. Some of the side missions will lead to downed Mobius operatives and offer up a chance to get yourself some neato weaponry and much-needed crafting materials. In order to mix things up in the variety of side missions, there are points where you begin to track spectral resonance. Those moments offer some of the scariest moments of the game as you are hunted by a David Cronenberg meets J-horror entity whose voice can be heard through the PS4 controller’s speaker. The combination of the entity spookily humming lullabies and its ability to move as fast as the devil if it locates you makes for some seriously hair-raising moments.
A lot of the fear factor doesn’t simply come for the fact that there are monsters in the dark. It predominantly comes from the character design of said monsters. Painstaking detail is injected into each encounter. Even the lower level guys are bursting with pulsating pustules. Knowing what these things look like, definitely lend to the dread of entering a dark room or cutting across an all too quiet alley. Even after you have explored an area, don’t be so quick to run back through, assuming all is safe. You never know when another creature will be spawned in the assumed safe zone.
Speaking of the bad dudes, this game has a huge nightmare cabinet variety of characters. A Priest that creates his own twisted kingdom out of a church and a photographer who freezes his victims in the moment of exectution for use in his art gallery are just a couple of the fine folks waiting for you in STEM. Each big bad comes with his distinctive distorted world and enemies who inhabit those realms.
Sometimes small character animations can make all the difference. In this game, Sebastian looking nervously over his shoulder while sneaking through enemy infested areas, or him looking back over his shoulder while being chased makes all the difference in the wanting to pee your pants arena. The graphics are all superb here too. They rival the graphics of Resident Evil 7 when it comes to the use of light and shadow and overall atmosphere. In some cases, it even raises the bar in the survival horror genre by having a balance diet of survival and action based combat. If you are a survival horror fan, the idea of the amount of weaponry this game gives you may initially scare you off, but trust me. The game offers very little ammo and plenty of evil dudes that can take plenty of bullets. Personally, I have spent a lot of the game using stealth maneuvers to either sneak around or use one hit sneak attacks in order to save ammo. The game lets you choose your playstyle, which I a nice change up. Those familiar with the Hitman games are sure to benefit from being a veteran of stealth.
Crafting materials you find throughout can be used in different combinations to make ammo, meds, etc. In addition, weapon parts you find can be used to upgrade your weapons. I’m not a big fan of the simple crafting model that the game puts forth. With everything else being so polished and fresh this feels like an afterthought. I have seen this in a lot of games recently and none of them offer anything outstanding to the mix. In fact, crafting in this game sort of breaks the immersion spell.
Along the way, you will find a few safe houses that contain a bunch of goodies. Something I find pertinent being a huge coffee drinker myself, is how Sebastian is able to drink a huge mug of coffee in order to completely fill his health bar. These medicinal coffee machines can be found only in safe houses and take a little while to brew a new pot after you polish off a cup. So, you are going to have to wait a bit to refill your health by the same means again. Small portals in mirrors allow you to travel through the looking glass to an alternate reality of Sebastian’s old police department office. Here you are able to hone your skills at a firing range, spend time with your cat and upgrade physical attributes. Unlike the crafting table, these upgrades are a little more thought out and original. In order to begin upgrading, Sebastian must sit in a wheel chair that transports him back to Beacon Mental Hospital and includes a familiar face from his past. From this menu, you can upgrade things like stealth, combat, physical points. Green gel gathered from downed enemies is used as currency to perform these improvements.
The Evil Within 2 takes complete advantage of being a full on scary bastard of a game – with plenty of gore to accompany the time that you will spending scared witless. It is cerebrally terrifying and manages to piece together the otherworldliness of Silent Hill and the horrifying character design of a hodgepodge of your favorite horror films. I’m not susceptible to 99.8% of any and all jump scares, but this game’s creative ways of pulling them off made up for that small percentage I was lacking. It earns every beat that it goes for in both its scares and in its twisting turning and chilling narrative. Horror fans, this is going to be one of your favorite things this October.