Having never played 2014’s Evil Within is a distinct disadvantage when going into its sequel these past few weeks. The game wastes very little time explaining the premise or reintroducing characters, beyond saying “hey, it’s you again”. The protagonist frequently declares this is “just like the Beacon incident”, especially in the first chapters, without a shred of a clue as to what Beacon is. It of course refers to the first game, I suppose, and that’s on me. However it doesn’t feel like being thrown into the deep water, on account of the plot being so very shallow. More memorable than the self-indulgent albeit gorgeous feature-length pre-rendered scenes is the permeating and immersive sense of dread, fear, risk and achievement thanks to well-balanced mechanics and bang-on sound production.

The narrative of Evil Within 2 may be something worthwhile if it showed just a little more and told a whole lot less, especially if it stopped retelling and repeating and reiterating and repeating and repeating. The world has fascinating potential, with reality regularly being bent and destroyed, and the few horrendously disfigured and difficult enemies exhibiting the extent of gory creativity at play. Unfortunately the interesting enemies are greatly outweighed by bog-standard zombies, and beyond some mortifying displays of art, the content of the plot is fairly conventional for a psychological horror thriller. Every note is played absolutely a thousand times, as if Evil Within 2 is worried that, god forbid, you may have missed that very important moment. I didn’t miss it, Evil Within 2, it’s just uninteresting. Somehow every heavy-handed, deliberated story-telling step is simultaneously complete nonsense and unforgivably predictable.

These residual memories operate as vessels for convenient exposition.

These residual memories operate as vessels for convenient exposition.

For every moment Evil Within 2 holds your hand through the shallow paddling pool of a narrative, it leaves you to your own ungainly devices as you scavenge and scurry from intimidating zombies. I never once felt comfortable with the amount of ammunition or upgrades available to me, which made every encounter a menacing risk/reward assessment. Every botched stealth attempt has weight, as entire clips are wasted in panicked, frantic firefights. Evil Within 2 releases a bit of pressure at some moments, granting a flood of enemies and ammo to use up before returning to the uncomfortable baseline.

These gory crime scenes are confronting and memorable, and teach the player to panic when these murder-capturing cameras are turned on Sebastian.

The opening of the game seems to set up a deep conspiracy revolving around the constructed town of Union; this quickly falls to the wayside. The first half of the game is spent exclusively following one named baddie, with another taking his place, and maybe two minor baddies popping up. If this screen time was shared among more villains, the town of Union may have been a more convincing and interesting place, and those two would not have overstayed their welcome quite so bad. As it stands, Sebastian’s trail of vengeance is rather simple, and his character development confined to firstly a lesson in manipulating anger and vanity, and secondly in learning to forgive himself. His profession (Detective Sergeant) is almost irrelevant, beyond the fact that he is a stoic alcoholic, and an overworked cop is the easiest trope to work with.

Murder as art as a concept is not particularly exciting, especially when the interesting cameras give way to flesh sculptures. Gross.

More than any of the characters in this one-dimensional cast, the sound of Evil Within 2 absolutely steals the show, as I realised in the hell-factory section of the game. In the safety of Sebastian’s room, all is calm. Travelling through the mirror triggers a bright white transition and accompanying shimmering sound effect. When the light and sound readjust to the new setting, the mechanical pumping of machines and bass drums, and cyclical, racing strings immediately create a sense of relocation into unease. The footsteps of hidden enemies are enough to send jolts through the player, and the groan of a disturbed ghoul lunging out is enough for the coldest of us to break formation and run for the gates. Evil Within 2 is remarkably immersive, predominantly due to dense, dynamic, and relentless music and sound. 

In the opening sequences this scenario is frightening, but now I have become the master of zombie manipulation and assassination.

A survival horror game that is balanced to create a genuine sense of survival, Evil Within 2 instills discomfort and struggle into the core mechanics and the surrounding aesthetic. The medium-specific factors are great at conveying this sense of survival horror, even if the plot is to be written off as basic and standard. The world is fascinating if underdeveloped, and the level design is fun if typical. Evil Within 2 will make you feel threatened and offer what feels like a mountain of a task to defeat. It will not manage to make you care about a single character.

It’s all swings and roundabouts and corporate kidnappings and familial blackmail and straightforward god complexes.

8/10
Excellent

Select Start Media was provided with a review copy of The Evil Within 2 for PC.