The Evil Within 2 is a survival horror game developed by Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda on PS4, Xbox One and PC in 2017. While trying to drink away the memories of Evil Within 1 (I know the feeling, pal), ex-police officer Sebastian Castellanos is confronted by his old associate Juli Kidman. She reveals that his daughter Lily isn't dead, but has been kidnapped by the shadowy organization Mobius in order to stabilize their own STEM environment, Union. But now that environment is collapsing, so they need him to rescue her before it's too late.
Right off the bat, EW2 corrects two of my major gripes with the first game. We get a proper setup that firmly grounds the stakes in reality before all the mind-melding reality-bending shenanigans occur and the story is actually relevant to our main man Sebastian. This comes at the cost of retconning Lily's death, but it's a small price to pay for some actual emotional investment from Sebastian.
I'll admit that Union is less eye-catching than Ruvik's STEM environment, but the concept as a whole is more interesting. It's a fake semi-rural American town that Mobius has populated with mind-wiped people they've kidnapped. Their end goal being to connect enough people for their nefarious purposes. But to do that, they've had to adjust Union in order to not make it obvious how fake it is. There are a bunch of notes strewn about how the've had to expand and include farm land and government buildings in order to provide jobs to keep people busy and maintain the simulation. It paints this obscene picture of human rights violations combined with mundane server maintenance.
Of course, it wouldn't be a horror game if things didn't go to shit. By the time Sebastian arrives, most of Union has become a void and the populace has been zombiefied. I know they're not actually zombies, but shut up, they're actually zombies. From that point on, it's just a matter of finding Lily in spite of the numerous monster-shaped obstacles that block the path. On the whole, the story isn't that special, what you see is what you get. It's very much a standard sorta "save the girl" story. But there's still enough care put into adressing Sebastian's now false guilt over letting Lily die and his trauma from the first game to make it work. Combine that with some good interactions with the poor Mobius members stuck in Union plus exploring the horrors the inhabitats underwent, you get a pretty nice package with a decent emotional pay-off.
The loud and barely working in-your-face attitude of the first game is now gone, making this game more "honest" with its horror material. Simply put, if the game doesn't think it has a good scare, it simply won't bother. A good portion of the game is about as scary as running around a suburban neighbourhood on Halloween looking for candy. And seeing as you spend a lot of time exploring houses for loot, that's a pretty apt comparison.
It goes more for atmosphere over outright dread, but that doesn't mean there aren't some good scares to be found. The few times the game kicks into high gear, it works well. But it is more in the action side of the survival horror genre for sure. I have to criticize the monster designs though, as the big monsters are incredibly similar. Most of them are composed of female body parts arranged in different horrific ways, making them feel samey. There is justification for this in the story for the most part, but they could have at least used a wider colour spectrum. I gave the first game a lot of flack, but the monsters there were at least themed differently.
Instead of having mostly linear chapter progression, EW2 goes for a minimal sandbox as you explore about half of Union, with the other half being linear like the EW1. And when I say minimal, I mean it. In total, the "normal" parts of Union you explore are smaller than Kamurucho in the Yakuza games. That's a good thing mind you, as the buildings you explore are dense with unique assets and nice loot, making it wortwhile to explore everything you can.
I find it really satisfying to set out from a safehouse and go on an exploration trip. There are a bunch of small events to stumble upon, minibosses to fight and some sidequests to do. And even when you do everything, it doesn't kill the pacing since each sandbox area really isn't that big. It's an impressive use of limited assets.
But since enemies stay dead unless you progress the story, Union quickly starts feeling empty and safe as you explore. It's a nice feeling to slowly conquer an area, but it really undermines the horror. That's probably why the sections with heavier atmosphere and horror are relegated to the linear chapters more common to the latter half of the the game and the areas connecting the sandbox environments.
With the loud scares being dialed back and the game being more relaxed, it stands to reason that there isn't as much instant death bullshit either. And that is a correct assessment, making this game so much more enjoyable to play. The few traps you can trigger give you a nice amount of leeway even when you stumble over them, which is very welcome after what the first game put me through.
The basic systems remain, but are either refined slightly, or have been changed to make things easier. First and foremost, the game doesn't run like dogshit and even has a bit less texture pop-in. The loading screens could stand to be a bit shorter, but I'll take any technical improvements I can get over the first game.
But that's not the only rough edge that has been dealt with, as the stealth is also much nicer. There is now a cover system (useless for direct combat, funnily enough) which allows you to round corners, making it much easier to navigate around enemies for stealth kills. You can now carry 5 bottles at a time, which show their range of effect, making it easier to separate enemies from eachother. But the best change is that they count as their own weapon now, so you don't have to throw all your bottles before you can use your guns anymore. The detection marker is also better this time around, as instead of either telling you there are enemies around or that they've seen you, it now shows when they can hear you, when enemies are actively looking for you and when they've found you.
As before, to encourage stealth and smart play, resources are limited, though less so than in the first game. There is a nice selection of guns on display, many of which share upgrade trees, letting you swap between different weapons in the same class depending on the situation. But the roles of the guns aren't as tight as in the first game. I found the sniper rifle and the assault rifle (it ain't no RE4 TMP, that's for sure) to not be as vital as the rest of rest of Sebastian's arsenal. This is in part because there is a bit of overlap between the use cases of some guns and because making ammo for them wasn't really worth the cost.
Tying in with the bigger areas and focus on exploration, there are now a lot of of different resources you can use to craft ammo and healing items. Standard ammo is crafted with the common gunpowder, while the different elemental arrows of the crossbow require specific items as well. This setup makes it much harder to stock up on arrows and abuse their special properties (not to say that you still can't do that, smoke arrows say hi), while also making it easier to get a hold of standard ammo. But even so, you can only pack so many bullets with you, making it important that you use them well.
The game allows you to craft everywhere, but outside of the dedicated benches it'll cost more resources. It's a decent setup, punishing those that that miss or do not prepare without leaving them out to dry. Can't say I was ever tempted to craft on-the-fly on standard though, but that's probably a different story on the higher difficulties. I will say that it was ridiculous just how many healing herbs I managed to amass by the end though. Felt like I could have died 8 health bars worth of healing items before going down.
I do miss matches as a resource, as you can now stomp on enemies to instakill them as much as you want, making the interplay between using more ammo to safely kill something versus putting yourself at risk for a chance to kill multiple enemies at once less interesting. But even so, EW2 is so much nicer to play.
The starting levels of your sprint meter and aiming ability are high enough now that you don't feel crippled without any upgrades. And even if that wasn't the case, Green Gel is plentiful enough that you can actually upgrade yourself enough to feel powerful come endgame. I like the split upgrade systems too, with the Green Gel procured from enemies being used on Sebastian's skills and the weapon parts found during exploration being used for weapon upgrades. It's not as interesting as having everything share the same upgrade resource, but it's a lot more fun.
And that's what playing EW2 versus EW1 is like. It's not as interesting from a design-perspective, but it works much better in practice.