“No...No…”. My radio is crackling. The sounds of what might be my daughter’s voice echoes in my ears. I feel kind of bad. Not because I stabbed what might have been a caring mother in the face after she force-fed a man to death and then smashed his face to bits on the dining room table. Or even because I witnessed a man being torn apart by rabid citizens in the middle of the street. I feel awful because I’m avoiding my daughter’s cry for help - but I have a good excuse. Instead of sticking to the main storyline I’m exploring the open world of Union, the small and not-so-quiet town at the centre of The Evil Within 2. My search is rewarded with a valuable flashback, which ends up being the bridge between Evil Within and its sequel.
Okay, I’m exaggerating a tiny bit. This one flashback doesn’t explain the entirety of what happened between the two games. Key to uncovering the mystery of the post-Beacon, mentally-messed-up Sebastian are photographic slides. 11 of them, to be precise. Scattered around the STEM world you find yourself in, finding them isn’t a case of simply picking them up when you see something glowing in the distance. Instead you’re sent on a twisted treasure hunt through your memories to find out what the hell those scientists and therapists did to your brain after Sebastian escaped Beacon. Come on, this is The Evil Within 2. What did you expect?
A memory-ridden treasure hunt awaits
It all starts with a case file. Behind me the house is ransacked, with a dead TV and little to no useful items in it. Walking past another closed door, as I near it I assume the house to be some sort of empty set-dressing, made to give the illusion of an open world without actually containing anything worthwhile. I couldn’t have been more wrong. But I don’t know that yet. After flicking through the notes on this file and realising it mentions Sebastian being referred to a mental health ward, I file it away in my inventory. I mentally file it away too, imagining that it’s just a neat little bit of backstory. Then I turn around and stride out of the garage. The closed door is now open. As I near it, it creaks shut again. That was only the beginning.
Throughout my entire time blinking back and forth between the house and the hospital, I’m met with a familiar reminder of the first game. Returning to the top and bottom of the screen are the cinematic bars, hemming Sebastian in as he stumbles down corridors and witness ghost-like apparitions of himself talking to a psychiatrist. Curiously, these markers of the first game disappear when I return to the house. It’s a brilliant bit of self-referential eeriness, going far beyond just using the environment to indicate that you’re back in the past. The Evil Within 2 knows that we’re playing it, to be blunt. It knows the rules, it knows its predecessor, and it’s manipulating both as much as possible.
Time to leave, I think to myself as I make for the front door. It’s locked. It wasn’t before. I start freaking out a little bit. Then I realise the TV has turned on behind me, but when I try to turn it off I instead see momentary glimpses of Sebastian in a wheelchair, murmuring something about Beacon. Perversely, it’s hard to remember precisely what happens next as the entire house at some point shifts to a decrepit hospital corridor. Paint peels off the walls and upturned gurneys litter my path, after wandering for a while I’m pushed back into the house. Knowing full well that something is coming, I patrol the rooms, my finger on the trigger button. Suddenly I think I see a ghoulish enemy, hunched over and silent, and fire without thinking. It disappears. Note, I’m a paranoid mess at this point.
Every single time I think I’m about to be faced with an enemy, I’m instead thrust back into the alternate world. Stumbling down a long corridor makes me think something is either going to start chasing me, and having that door open and close convinces me that something has now entered the house and I need to be ready to shoot. Even when I come up to Sebastian slumped over in a chair and lean in close, you bet I’m expecting the apparition to jerk its head up and have blood streaming from its eyes or something. Thankfully, I’m surprised by something altogether new. From below, hands with horribly long nails pull me down into the blood, and suddenly I’m back in the house - for good this time.
By the time Sebastian found himself lying on the rotting wooden floor, rubbing his head and generally wondering what the hell just happened to him, I was elated. Being back in the nightmarish town of Union was a relief. Even with crowds of deranged townfolk outside, the trip back down memory lane had disturbed me enough to make me think twice about the kind of scares I should expect in The Evil Within 2. Now that I know it's fully conscious of the rules of a horror game and is all too eager to toy with them as it pleases, I can't tell whether I'm excited or scared. Or both. Yeah, let's go with both. For now.