Picking up three years after its predecessor’s conclusion, The Evil With 2 once again sees protagonist Sebastian Castellanos facing a seamlessly endless line-up of nightmare-conjuring creeps.

One of the sequel’s early encounters, in fact, finds the down-on-his-luck detective hightailing it from a threat that appears to be little more than a grotesque amalgamation of misplaced appendages wielding an over-sized buzz-saw.

While Castellanos’ situation hasn’t improved much since the first game, fans are in for a markedly better experience. Forgoing much of the scripted linearity and frustrating gameplay of the original, The Evil Within 2 presents a more polished, balanced, and engaging fright-fest from start to finish.

The game pulls always makes you feel slightly under-powered—and craving those all-important upgrades.

First and foremost, the follow-up gives more power to the player by opening up its environments, as well as Castellanos’ monster-mauling options. A Silent Hill-like hub town provides a compelling sandbox of opportunities, from side quests to resource-gathering. More than just arbitrary distractions, however, these elements pack some of the game’s coolest twists and turns.

On top of expanding the world — both literally and figuratively — Sebastian’s strolls around town feed directly into the game’s addictive, risk-reward progression loop. Upgrades and crafting components are stashed off the beaten path, so exploring yields both juicy narrative nuggets and meaningful rewards.

Of course, taking the road less traveled means facing more flesh-hungry freaks. Because ammo and other supplies are appropriately scarce though, you’ll gladly dance on the dark side for the chance to make Castellanos a more formidable force. It’s a tricky, delicate balance, but the game pulls it off, always making you feel slightly under-powered—and craving those all-important upgrades—but never frustratingly so.

This character-shaping progression is also balanced nicely by the ability to sneak in the shadows when your ammo clips are empty. A much more viable option than it was in the first game, stealth feels like a natural extension of Sebastian’s skill-set rather than a shoehorned tactic that leads to unfair deaths.

The Evil Within 2 does a great job addressing its predecessor’s gameplay weaknesses, but its story and characters are still stuck in the past. The main plot—which sees Castellanos attempting to rescue his believed-to-be-dead daughter—holds potential, but lacks emotional weight due to his generally flat reactions to the events unfolding around him.

While the main character doesn’t seem all that moved by his living nightmare, however, fans will appreciate this survival horror’s blend of goosebump-raising encounters and absorbing gameplay.

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