The Evil Within 2 is a patchwork quilt of jumbled ideas and engaging combat in a world that postulates what it would be like to cross The Evil Dead with Inception. Within the context of the game's story, the limit to what the writers can do is really only limited by their imaginations. This kind of unchecked freedom can result in two ways: either it's a disastrous mess with no real concurrent theme to keep it all together, or you could wind up with a highly entertaining romp through an ever-changing landscape that always keeps you guessing. Thankfully, The Evil Within 2 is more of the latter than the former.
The original Evil Within was an exciting fever dream that followed detective Sebastian Castellanos on his journey through the hellscape of someone else's mind. The gameplay was something akin to Resident Evil 4 or 5 and somehow, it all worked surprisingly well. Sure, there were issues with the letterbox presentation (which was later patched out) and the plot was a bit messy, but the overall product was worth exploring. The Evil Within 2 still takes place in the same dreamlike world where the environments can bend, twist or completely disintegrate at any given moment. The writing and voice acting are still a bit suspect, but the game seems to have fixed most of the glaring issues the first had.
In contrast to Evil Within, the sequel has more non-linear approach to its world. There are roughly three larger open-world areas that let the player break out of the tight corridors and claustrophobic catacombs. These spacious sections provide nice little detours and side quests to help supplement the world building and pad out your arsenal. Embarking on these diversions also helps you to net bonus ammo and supplies, both of which are essential to progress in this game.
One of biggest positives The Evil Within 2 has going for it is its core gameplay. The gunplay feels weighty and satisfying and there's a surprising amount of ways to approach encounters. The crossbow makes a return with its litany of ammo types, and you also have access to the standard pistol, shotgun and sniper rifle affair. Most of the enemies explode in a confetti of bodily fluids with a well placed shotgun blast, or crumple in a ragdoll heap if you go for the more stealthy approach. Even though the moment to moment action is delightful, it's worth mentioning that there are some minor issues with hitbox detection when the enemies are in close proximity to you. While getting headshots is difficult due to the weapon sway and erratic enemy behavior (which is fine, I have no complaints there), landing a headshot on an enemy that has invaded your personal space can become a lesson in futility. Again, this issue doesn't crop up often, but when it does, it's rather noticeable.
The Evil Within 2 is marketed as a survival horror game but the actual horror aspect of the game falls more in the line with a slasher flick and comes up short of being an actual terrifying experience. Its idea of horror is to smear as much strawberry jelly around as possible and hope that bits of strewn brain matter and severed limbs will get the job done. It's a shame the developers have taken this approach, since some of the enemy designs are truly grotesque. Everything from their quick, jerky movements to the eerie shrieks can be frightening. However, I think the problem lies in the fact that the game is actually too well lit. Don't get me wrong, the game looks fantastic, but I found myself hardly even using my flashlight. Games like Silent Hill 2 constantly thrust the player into a pitch black environment with only the thin beam from their flashlight illuminating the way. The noises and shuffling in the darkness is what creates the fear in those games. When I can clearly see my enemy, no matter how gnarly it looks, that sense of dread just evaporates.
Despite the de-emphasis on horror, I admit that this game has a fabulous sense of style. Sure, there's buckets of blood and gore strewn liberally throughout, but it's presented in an almost artful way at times. It reminds me of when I went to a BodyWorlds exhibit. On the surface level it's rather macabre and grotesque, but there's also something beautiful about it. One of the main antagonists in The Evil Within 2 fancies himself an artist and each of his murders has a very distinct M.O. While the murders are savage and bloody, the way he frames his victims is somehow aesthetically pleasing and beautiful. It's a weird dichotomy, but admittedly, it's one of the coolest acomplisments I've seen in a game.
While The Evil Within 2 does have some intriguing characters and plays around with its malleable world in interesting ways, some of the lines and the delivery of dialogue can be ear-grating. In particular, two of the villains sound like they're reading Skeletor's B-roll lines. The writers try their best to give the main characters backstory and motivation, but again the dialogue and the delivery feel so choppy that any attempts to get me invested in the story fell flat. That's not to say the overarching plot is bad, because it's actually rather competent. The story is more coherent than the first game and has some entertaining little twists and turns along the way. Unfortunately, the writing just doesn't do its share of the heavy lifting. The sound effects and some of the orchestral music though are fabulous.
It may sound like I'm nitpicking a lot, but the issues I've highlighted are relatively minor when looking at The Evil Within 2 as a whole. This game is just plain fun. I don't remember the last time when I had completed a game's campaign and immediately wanted to start a new game and play it all over again. The Evil Within 2 had that effect on me. The constant shifting between the visceral gunplay and tense stealth sections provided hours of entertainment. The Evil Within 2 wears its inspirations unabashedly. The crafting and resource gathering feel like they were ripped straight out of The Last of Us. The gunplay and stealth feels similar to Resident Evil 4 or even Uncharted. The juxtaposition between open world areas and linear corridors has a Silent Hill: Downpour vibe. However, the folks over at Tango Gameworks have taken these inspirations and molded them into a mad scientist amalgamation of ideas that feel like its own beautiful, yet horrific, beast.