Perhaps some of you remember how I slammed The Evil Within a few years ago. I stand by that review now, and I didn’t even do a complete anal unload on the game. I did mention the few good points it had, did I not? I also gave it another go when I was deciding whether to buy this one or not to see if I still felt the same way, and I do, it still sucks – but at least they patched out the stupid letterboxing, so you can add a belated 10% to my old score, if you want.

I wasn’t initially that interested in The Evil Within 2, to be honest. At least, not until I was cooking one day and clicked on a random YouTube recommendation on my iPad of one of my favourite gore-hound YouTubers playing the game on launch day. And blow me down if it didn’t look a lot better. In fact, it actually looked like something I would like to play. But then again, I thought the same thing about the previous game. So, after much um-ing and ah-ing, I decided to drop the cash on it and take the risk.

Game info

The game picks up some time after the previous game, with protagonist Sebastian having gone the way all clichéd, grizzled ex-cops do – seeking solace in the bottom of a bottle. He’s approached by Juli Kidman, the double agent working for the shady organisation from the first game, who tells him that his daughter Lily is still alive and in the hands of her employers. Was Sebastian’s dead daughter brought up in the last game? I honestly can’t remember. Anyway, Lily is being used for inhuman experiments, running their Matrix-like dream machines, but they’ve lost control and need Sebastian to go in there and sort it all out – after all, he survived the last one.

That’s sort of the premise of the game, a machine that sends people into shared dream realms, kind of like the Matrix, or The Cell, or Inception. It’s not a new idea, but The Evil Within takes it in a horrific direction. After Sebastian is plugged into the machine, called Stem, he sent into the Dreamscape to search for his daughter – and the agents who went before him, if he can. In fact, the opening bit where Sebastian is first put on the machine, I’m sure, is inspired by a scene from The Cell, with the huge red curtains and the frozen-in-time gore scenes. After you get through this bit, you find yourself in the main Dreamscape, a quaint little Stephen King-esque anytown called Union, where the game proper begins.

Sebastian is issued with a communicator that allows him to communicate with Kidman, who’s monitoring his body in the real world, but also allows him to scan for signals in the dream world that indicate main missions, side missions, points of interest, collectibles, that sort of thing. The town of Union is also surprisingly big and open (for a horror game) leaving Sebastian free to head straight to his main mission goals, or explore to find new weapons, collectibles, upgrade items and the brain juice that is used to enhance his innate abilities.

Well, all right! This is more like it. One of my points of contention in the previous game was that it didn’t have enough open areas. It had a few, but these were linked by long stretches of linear paths with very little space for exploration. Other players must have complained too, because the Evil Within addresses this nicely, and the whole game is much more open. You can take whichever routes you want to reach your goal, sneak around enemies you don’t want to fight, explore that house with the lights on that might have loot in it… it’s much more fun.

The combat is similar to the way it was in the previous game, but also much more fun. In the early sections, you’ll definitely want to sneak a lot and use distractions and stealth kills – especially if you’re a tit like me who always has to play on the hardest setting – until you amass an arsenal of weapons and upgrade them a bit. Speaking of which, not only can you upgrade your weapons, you can also craft ammo by finding materials in the world and you get a few different types of weapon in each category, like different types of handguns and shotguns – are you kidding me? I would have been happy enough with the less linear nature of the game, but now I get Resident Evil 4 style weapon choice too? Wicked!

The enemies are just as messed up as in the last game, although instead of being barbed wire torture-porn victims, they’ve got some weird white tentacle goop on them – and at least you don’t have to burn their bodies with matches now. There are occasional tougher enemies with odd designs and new attacks, requiring new tactics to beat, sometimes as mini-bosses and sometimes just wandering around the world to make your life difficult, and the main boss fights are a huge improvement. Not only are they deliciously demented, but there’s far less “running circles around an invulnerable, insta-killing boss trying to solve a puzzle” as in the last game. Now the bosses are fought in sizeable arenas where you can even hide from some of them and explore to find environmental damage options to save you some ammo.

Unfortunately, there is a smidge of sneaking around invulnerable enemies, the kind of thing I loathe. It’s why I don’t play those lame walking-simulator puzzle horror type game. Laziest form of game design, in my opinion. And that ghost woman you encounter from time to time can sod off! You can even occasionally encounter her in the world, outside of her mandatory encounters. Lovely.

And of course, there’s the upgrading of Sebastian’s innate abilities, such as a larger health bar, increased aim stability, more stamina, and even some new powers like time-slow aiming. You do this by collecting the green brain juice then sitting in that nightmarish upgrade chair to spend it. Tougher enemies drop more brain juice, so you need to weigh up each encounter on the risk and resources it would cost to bring them down versus getting big doses of brain juice for upgrades.

Well done, Tango Gameworks, you fixed everything I bitched about in the last game and I found myself feeling much more joy than frustration this time round. What little teeth-gritting I did was mostly self-inflicted for playing on the hardest setting, which is damn tough.

90A demented, free-form action horror game that is exactly what I hoped its predecessor would have been. Under normal circumstances, I’d score this game, which is great but not transcendent, a solid 85% – but I thought the developers deserved an extra 5% for actually listening to player input, which is quite a rare thing these days.

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