Every time I think I have sussed out exactly what brand of horror The Evil Within 2 is it throws something new at me. Thrilling chase sequences seamlessly transition to patient stalking, nail-biting shootouts where every bullet matters lead into five-minute walking tours, supernatural absurdity exists side by side with gross-out gore. The scenery shifts around as much as the pacing: sterile facility, dank sewer network, small-town America zombie apocalypse, medieval torture dungeon, dilapidated mansion… you get the point.
After 15 hours, The Evil Within 2 has managed to burrow its way under my skin so effectively that I barely slept last night. The culprit is a recurring vision that has managed to escape the game and embed itself, rather nastily, in my subconscious. The vision is of a pile of severed corpses assembling themselves into a cackling, writhing mass of limbs and faces – they do this all by themselves, gliding eerily across the floor at first before snapping into place like fragments of metal around a magnet. Good thing detective Sebastian Castellanos is not so easily perturbed.
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In spite of some (hopefully) temporary mental scarring, I am thoroughly enjoying The Evil Within 2, and not just as a throwback survival horror experience. Unlike its predecessor, The Evil Within 2 forgoes tedious horror tropes like out-of-control psychiatric hospitals and brutes with chainsaws for a much more current take on this well-worn genre. That means monsters made of gore and goop, and mind-bending P.T.-esque environmental morphs, all housed in a modern, archetypal American town called Union.
The beleaguered Sebastian has been dragged from a dive bar where he drinks away the sorrows of the first game and brought to the nefarious mega-corp Mobius. It is revealed to us that Sebastian’s daughter, Lily, is not dead, but is currently trapped within STEM, a terminus that connects multiple brains together in a virtual world. Of course, somebody let a few murderous psychopaths in by mistake and now the town of Union is literally breaking apart. The vast majority of its denizens are dead, but have risen again due to some unexplained infection, and now wander the streets.
Those infected make up the bulk of the foes you face in The Evil Within 2, and while they look like humble, shambling zombies, they are a damn sight more devious. For starters, they run, which is pant-messing scary. They are also incredibly erratic, rarely sticking to the same patrol route and spinning around at unpredictable intervals to see what is behind them. Even tried-and-tested tricks like luring them close to you by lobbing a bottle are prone to disaster. Variants include spectral, dagger-wielding ladies who are immune to stealth takedowns; towering, acid-lobbing collections of flesh; and actual human centipedes that are adept jukers.
Union is the real star of The Evil Within 2: a fractal mess of environments that allow for open-world tactical play and resource gathering in one chapter, before dropping you into a claustrophobic torture dungeon in the next. Seemingly small detours into garages lead into side-quests that reveal vignettes of the town’s descent into chaos – it is easy to lose hours exploring every nook and cranny of these modestly-sized areas. Developers Tango Gameworks clearly know when to rein things in, which is evidenced as you inch through an abandoned mansion for ten minutes without firing a single shot, tension amping up with clever sound design and the odd transforming passageway to escalate the terror. It is testament to the level of craftsmanship poured into every locale that The Evil Within 2 manages to sweat my palms without resorting to jump-scares.
My impressions at this point are very positive and I am eager to jump back into Union in order to finish the story and see the rest of its myriad horrors. This is far more than a throwback to the haunting atmosphere and pacing of Resident Evil 4, The Evil Within 2 is entirely its own horror experience – part open-world survival game, part psychological horror.
We will have a full review up as soon as Jordan can stomach returning to Union, so be sure to check back when The Evil Within 2 releases on October 13.