The scariest thing you'll hear in The Evil Within 2 isn't the sound of your very own daughter burning alive, or the paralysing roar of an alerted zombie, or even that witchy refrain through your PS4 controller's speaker as one, especially tenacious apparition shadows you from room to room. It is, in fact, a single dialogue line: "I'll mark its location on the map for you." Another throwback horror escapade from Shinji Mikami, albeit with DLC designer John Johanas in the director's chair, The Evil Within 2 takes cues not just from the legendary Resident Evil titles but also, rather terrifyingly, from open world tactical shooters.
Set in a collapsing, monster-plagued VR simulation of Union, a picturesque American town, the game's 15-20 hour plot includes extended tours of three generously proportioned urban maps - each packed full of crafting resources, upgrades, collectibles and backstory documents, and pegged down by safehouses where you can assemble weapons and ammo, save the game and accept optional missions from conveniently useless side characters. While roaming and foraging you'll call upon a chunky Communicator that lets you track objectives and tune into recordings of past events, in echo of Tom Clancy's The Division. You'll also contend with a greater emphasis on stealth and terrain tactics than in the previous game: there are now AI awareness indicators to help offset the higher risk of ambush, a glowing silhouette effect for when crouching in vegetation, and tacit "base" layouts where you might, for instance, use your trusty crossbow to lay tripmines between parallel crates, or throw bottles to create a distraction.
These are ideas the likes of Ubisoft Montreal have long since bled dry, and initially, their presence here feels abominable - like asking the Babadook to wear a ghillie suit, or handing Freddy Krueger a sniper rifle. Factor in the omission of some of the original's weirder intricacies, such as burning corpses to stop them resurrecting, and it's hard to avoid the suspicion that The Evil Within 2 is an awkward cash-in - a forced reconciliation between Mikami's eccentric vision and a "safer", more callous species of action game. That sense of dismay never entirely dissipates in the course of the story - it doesn't help that the basic zombie/mutant AI is far too braindead to support this kind of open-ended tactical horseplay, peering at its surroundings with pantomime caution as you squat 10 metres away, aiming a flamethrower. But fortunately, the open world parallels only go so far.games