Recently, I played The Evil Within 2 on Kotaku US' Twitch channel. I expected a linear series of monsters and scares but instead found a loose, semi-open world structure that made me feel anxious and helpless. It's a chaotic, freeform take on horror that make every encounter unique and scary.
The Evil Within 2 follows former detective Sebastian Castellanos as he searches for his daughter in a subconscious dream realm called Union. Once an idyllic place, Union has been overrun by dangerous monsters and murderers. The first Evil Within was directed by Shinji Mikami, the mind behind Resident Evil, and it played much like Resident Evil 4. At first, The Evil Within 2 feels like it will follow a similar path, with an emphasis on exciting set pieces and chase sequences outrunning buzzsaw-wielding foes. These sequences mix transforming corridors and dreamlike set design with familiar, action-based gameplay.
Thankfully, the game doesn't stick with this format for too long. The third chapter expands into a large neighbourhood block fulls of enemies to fight, houses to explore, and side quests to complete. In freeing up the world, the game evokes semi-open world spaces such as Wolfenstein 2009's Isenstadt and gives players a true sense of how dangerous Union is. The main streets are packed with enemies, and side paths between and behind houses present a constant threat of ambush while hiding useful items.
The Evil Within 2 is stingy with ammunition; I spent a large portion of my initial time with the game scrounging for gunpowder to craft my own bullets. I never had a full magazine. As a result, I took extra care to find alternate paths through the neighbourhood, nervously exploring houses for supplies and slowly making my way towards objectives. Where more linear horror games can sometimes feel like theme park haunted houses, The Evil Within 2's world is alive and deviously fun to navigate.
Granting the player multiple pathways and potential options for dealing with enemies fundamentally alters the nature of the game's horror. While Resident Evil 7's tight corridors create a sense of claustrophobia, they also funnel enemies towards the player to form a shooting gallery. The Evil Within 2's navigation, fuelled by scarce resources and numerous potential routes, creates a wonderful sense of uncertainty that makes choosing a path towards your objective a daunting task.
In one instance, I spotted a lone enemy blocking my path towards a house on a hill. As I approached, nearby corpses rose and created more hazards. Exploring for a new pathway might have put me in worse danger, so I decided to sneak by way past, slinking from bush to bush and making my way up the hill. I had no ammo and no means to defend myself besides a knife. At times, I was inches away from enemies that could bash my brains into a goopy paste. I could have found another way, but because The Evil Within 2 never constrained me, I made an active decision to face my fears. I felt like a champion when I finally made it through the sea of monsters.
The Evil Within 2 occasionally returns to more linear hallways and boss fights, but in the moments when it allows players to explore Union and experience its horrors with less guidance, the game eschews jumpscares for an overwhelming sense of dread that sets it apart from other horror experiences.