The Evil Within 2 weaves a tangible fear—a tightness in the chest that comes from hearing a piercing scream in the night, not knowing where it’s coming from. Knowing if you don’t find its source in seconds, you’ll likely die at the hands of some sickening monstrosity. Counting the handful of shots you’ve scrounged up, wondering if it will be enough. It’s pure, horrifying delight.
Sebastian, years after the events of the original game at Beacon Hospital, finds himself dragged into a whole new trip into another reality. Now seeking his daughter from a world fabricated within the consciousness, he’ll navigate a winding story that serves as a good enough framework to keep the game moving forward, but is not especially well-written, often plagued with clichés and predictable twists.
Luckily, The Evil Within 2 doesn’t need it, as its ever-shifting fever dream of locales and monstrous stalkers will be enough to keep your attention. Reality is in constant flux here, so players can never be sure what will happen when they turn their back. Opening the front door to a house in town may lead the player down dreary hospital halls, a gently hummed song coming from your PlayStation 4 controller as a cloaked figure stalks you. A corridor in the town hall may open up to a red-tinted room filled with mangled bodies, all reaching for a single door. The world doesn’t follow any rules as to what can happen, changing layouts and displaying horrifying visions with little warning, using the environments to unsettle and leave players uncertain.
These frightening visions are a beautifully rendered, sickening as they may be. The Evil Within 2’s visuals showcase an eye for darkness, light, and colour that can load the most innocuous space with menace, or turn a scary moment into a truly hellish nightmare. The monster designs are also quite strong, with a flair for the outlandish. A hulking figure made of corpses and heads that wields a huge buzz saw? It may sound a little ridiculous, but in this particular setting, the over-the-top nature of the monsters makes them feel like a natural fit—like creatures born of the same chaos that keeps the world changing.
It doesn’t hurt that encountering them is raw tension. The Evil Within 2 isn’t big on giving the player ammo for any of their weapons. You’ll often only have a handful of shots you’ve managed to scrounge up—and that’s assuming you searched hard—which means enough to kill one, maybe two basic enemies, typically. This supply goes up and down in places depending on how many enemies the game intends to throw at the player there, but for the most part, players are dealing with constant ammo famine. Not only this, but it really doesn’t take much to put poor Sebastian in the ground. A handful of hits from the most basic enemies can kill him, meaning any kind of large encounter is instantly a cause for alarm.
Not having enough shots sounds like something that would get annoying, but the developers excelled at knowing exactly how much you might conceivably need to get through an area, and giving players the barest minimum. It is doable, but it never feels that way in the moment. Instead, it always feels like you’re one fight from complete disaster. Checkpoints are, thankfully, very generous, although this does erode some of the tension if players are paying attention.
While it has many excellent, surreal linear locations to fight in, the open world-like areas are still the best part of The Evil Within 2. Their meandering alleys and streets offer tons of places for enemies to hide to surprise players, offering many scares that linear corridors just can’t manage. These moments also create great player-driven moments where their particular choice of route or action leads to some terrifying encounters. That they can do little side quests for extra goodies, get more bits of plot, and basically trigger a terrifying, randomly-appearing haunting, all while under this tense fear of death. Open world horror is here, and stunningly, it works really well.
Players can avoid some of these dangers by being sneaky, but The Evil Within 2’s stealth just isn’t all that great. Many monsters seem to keep very odd patrols, turning around at unpredictable intervals, and there’s often very poor cover between the player and enemy. Even with some stealthy upgrades, it often didn’t feel viable to try to sneak at all, forcing a straight fight for all but the most patient killers.
A few minor glitches can make this worse. At times, Sebastian had a tendency to warp a few feet ahead when making a melee attack, or he would get stuck in a climbing animation when hopping over something. These appeared infrequently throughout the game, but they were annoying, as they tended to happen when fighting extremely dangerous enemies.
There are tons of items to entice you to make the likely lethal decision to go exploring. All kinds of crafting materials, weapon upgrade parts, and Sebastian-strengthening goo are abundant, which all give that little twinge of happiness at picking up in-game goodies while also drawing players into making poor decisions involving their survival.
That said most of the upgrades don’t seem to offer a great deal of improvement. Many of them offer marginal increases in performance that are hardly noticeable—shotgun upgrades only offering 5% extra damage, sneaking speed increases barely register—although there are a few new moves and decent improvements exist. At least crafting gives players ammo and items at a decent rate.
Still, feeling poorly equipped is when The Evil Within 2’s tension is at its best, and when the horror is at its most compelling. It’s when you don’t have enough shots that the fear really takes hold, making players appreciate the threat of that pile of corpses charging at them with a saw. Players may never feel powerful as they play, but it’s that vulnerability that is the game’s greatest strength, making players ever afraid when death can happen at any moment.
The Evil Within 2 was reviewed using “retail” PlayStation 4 download codes provided by Bethesda Softworks. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.