The Evil Within 2 takes place several years after the original game where we see our leading man Sebastian has become a shell of his former self. Sebastian has resorted to heavy drinking in order to cope with the traumatization left by the events at the Beacon Mental Hospital. But there's other traumas that haunt him, namely the lose of his daughter Lilly who he believed died in a house fire. However a visit from his old friend and former partner Julie Kidman, reveals that his daughter is alive. Lilly was kidnapped and taken by the shadowy organisation Mobius and is now trapped within a new Stem machine. It’s up to Sebastian to find out what’s happened inside the new Stem and to find redemption once and for all.

What the original Evil Within suffered from was having a main cast that lacked genuine emotion and substance. Sebastian and the crew were bland, stilted and had reactions that didn’t seem to have any emotional backing as they witnessed the horrors before them. The Evil Within 2 is quick to establish an emotional connection between the player, Sebastian and the supporting cast. This works well to a degree but is held back bare bones dialogue and underwhelming plot. There are some compelling concepts within the narrative and the villains are very interesting. Overall the plot feels overly formulated and predictable, relying too much on typical sequel tropes we’ve seen before. Plus Sebastian never shuts up, everything you discover is always followed by “what the hell!?” or “what the!?”

However our characters are more established with Sebastian being more relatable, understandable and with a human aspect that makes him quite endearing at times. He may have the voice of Clint Eastwood but his suffering and determination hold a great deal of gravitas. The end of the game is particularly heartfelt and it’s difficult not to feel touched by it.

What The Evil Within 2 does well is to strengthen the core aspects of the original’s design and expand further into new and thrilling territories. The framework remains largely the same with Sebastian tackling various objectives while managing resources and battling monstrous horrors in order to survive. Players can approach any situation with either stealth and cunning or brute force and fire power. There have been major improvements both in presentation and mechanically with several aspects being heavily refined for greater comfort and impact. Stealth feels more fluent thanks to an adjustment in controls which also lends into handling firearms much more confidently as well.

There have been other tweaks in The Evil Within 2 to allow greater freedom in gameplay overall. The upgrading system branches in more detail this time with different playstyles receiving more advancements to invest in. Ensuring you can upgrade your capabilities in stealth, health and combat without compromising other skills. This allows you to focus on enhancing your style of play whether it be using stealth, firearms or a mixture of both methods.

The Evil Within 2 has stripped down the stealth mechanics to bare bones but there’s much more comfort in sneaking and carrying out executions. You can still hide in bushes and around corners but don't expect to hide under a bed or in a closest. I personally preferred facing encounters head on as the refinements in using firearms make the experience more enjoyable than before. Combat blends intensity and tension with satisfying gunplay that ensures each encounter will be utterly gripping. The Evil Within 2 is masterful in engaging you with uncertainly and creates tension and suspense through dynamic shifts of tone and pacing. Managing your resources becomes a major factor in survival as enemies are relentless and challenging. There’s a good variation of encounters including ambushes, roaming mobs and onslaughts with different enemy types who each have their own tactics. Players will be gripped no matter what, unless you break their line of sight as most enemies will give up chase easily if this is done.

Those who are keen to explore will be rewarded with powerful weaponry and resources but it can come at a cost of resources and hardship. I will admit there was no greater feeling than finding the shotgun for the first time and having to defeat some powerful enemies along the way made it even better. What makes exploration even more wholesome is that The Evil Within 2 incorporates sandbox style levels that maintain a healthy amount of resistance to fight against along with side quests and secrets to discover. For the first 50% of the game, this open world nature is pretty well established and areas are vastly detailed meaning you can explore inside various buildings and safe houses to obtain new loot and find out more of the backstory. On my second play-through, I discovered much more to the world including new encounters and loot I had missed before.

There’s a new feature including a weapons upgrading system crafting mechanic which allows you to create ammo, health and even some weapons. This helps out during tougher situations and only re-enforces your desire to go and explore for gunpowder, gun-parts and new weapon parts which can only be obtained through side quests or beating mini-bosses. The impact of traps that the last game had is lessened which is a shame as this dynamic hazard for the environment has been mostly removed rather than improved upon.

These advancements are a blessing and for a large portion of the game I was pleasantly surprised at the dramatic and dynamic turn they had created for the sequel. But you can see about half way through the campaign the influence of Shinji Mikami comes in as the game then takes more of a linear approach to the level design. This is not a bad thing as the set pieces are still impressive and the pacing remains relentless. However I was hoping to see a further expansion of Stem including more vastly detailed open world areas to explore. The ending is also quite heavily cinematic with a sub-par final boss. In other terms, it goes a little too Resident Evil for my liking.

Aside from this shift in tone and heavily scripted moments at the end, The Evil Within is highly engaging throughout. There are plenty of secrets to discover while the core of the game allows players to engage each and every situation with their own preference. Weapons such as the Crossbow have a great variation of bolts which explode, electrocute and freeze components allowing different tactics to be developed and used. Side missions have a great amount of depth to them and I only wished there were more.

In classic fashion there’s the delight of a new game plus mode once you finished the main. This is awesome as you can revisit the whole campaign with your upgraded weapons and skills and continue on. This is also a great chance to find any items, locations and secrets you might’ve missed. Overall my experience lasted 18 hours and this was playing on the standard difficulty. While the game is tough to begin with, being often relentless with tougher enemies than the original game. I personally recommend veterans of the survival horror genre to go straight to the hard mode. Those who are keen explorers and maintain their resource well will have no trouble on the normal difficulty.

The Evil Within 2 is a refined and exciting sequel that will please old fans as it’s improves the original formula while adding in some dynamic twists to the gameplay. This is a high recommendation from me.

++ Intense survival gameplay with plenty of freedom
+ Open world style level design with plenty of depth
+ Rewarding, challenging and gripping gameplay
+ Looks and sounds beautiful
- Underwhelming script and plot for the most part
- Needed more open world locations

An Xbox One copy of The Evil Within 2 was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review