The original The Evil Within was viewed by many as a solid new entry in the somewhat underserved genre of survival horror. The game was far from perfect, but fans of tension-filled gameplay certainly found their share of it in the first game. The Evil Within 2, by comparison, does what we've come to expect from most game sequels, giving us more of what we loved, the tension, while tightening up much of what needed fixing the first time around.
The Evil Within 2 returns us to the life of Sebastian Castellanos. Sebastian is haunted by the death of his daughter and has found his only refuge in the bottom of a bottle, when he discovers that, in actuality, his daughter Lily isn't dead after all. Instead, she was taken in order to be used as the central figure in STEM, a program which creates a sort of shared artificial reality that multiple people can be attached to. Lily has become somehow lost in the simulation, and so Sebastian is being brought in to go inside the mental realm and get her back.
The premise is certainly ridiculous, but it also allows The Evil Within 2 to take the gloves off to a large degree. Since nothing inside the town of Union is technically real, that means that anything can happen, and anything largely does. The best parts of the game are when reality gets bent, when a door from one area opens on something utterly unexpected.
Combat is fairly standard third-person shooting. Sebastian has access to your standard firepower options like handguns, shotguns, and rifles. He also has access to a crossbow and multiple bolt types which can be used to set environmental traps for the zombie enemies. This, combined with stealth, is the order of the day.
Many standard enemies can be one-hit killed if you sneak up on them, but will require a lot more firepower to take down if they know you're there. This ends up creating an almost puzzle element to the encounters. There will likely be too many bad guys to simply shoot to death with your precious ammo, but avoiding them isn't really an option either, as the only way to upgrade your abilities is with the ooze they drop after you kill them. This means figuring out how to approach a group of shamblers in a way that will let you take them all out without getting yourself eaten.
The biggest change to The Evil Within formula is the addition of a vaguely open world. The town of Union is open to you to explore to your heart's content. Numerous side missions exist to give you a reason to explore the town, and they often yield new weapons or other reasons to complete them. Still, I have the same problem with this that I do with many open world games that also try to have a strong narrative. If Sebastian's daughter, who he already thought was dead, is in danger, why in the world would he make the decision to follow some random radio signal? The narrative conflicts with the environment to a degree.
The other issue with the open world is that the need for stealth means you'll probably be exploring much of it in a crouch while moving very slowly. This isn't the most fun way to be exploring any large open map.
Of course, what makes and breaks a survival horror game is the tension, and The Evil Within 2 has that in spades. There's never really a point in which you feel completely safe. That fact that you're encouraged to kill as many monsters as possible means that you're unlikely to build a particularly strong stockpile of weapons. Even a single enemy can do significant damage to you if you let it get too close, which means you're always wondering what's around the next corner.
I found the controls to be a bit rough overall. Sebastian isn't the most nimble of characters, and while that certainly adds to the game's overall tension, Making the controls difficult to maneuver is not an acceptable way to increase difficulty.
As the game progresses creature types become more varied and significantly more strange. I'd call some of them even beautiful if they weren't so grotesque.
If The Evil Within was a more modern take on the original Resident Evil, what with its exploration of a spooky residence full of disturbing monsters, then this new sequel follows in the footsteps of Resident Evil 2. The scope has been widened, and most everything has been improved. Still, the basic elements are the same ones that have been part of survival horror games almost as long as the genre has had a name.
In the final analysis, The Evil Within 2 is exactly what survival horror fans are looking for. Though it likely won't win any converts among those who aren't attracted to the genre already, people looking for a good Halloween scare will find plenty to make their skin crawl.