This was fuckin' *unexpected*, people. So much so that I'm going to let myself rant and go a little long on this one. There's a part of me that's convinced that some time I'll look back and think this was the wrong choice for my top spot, but then I just remember how all around *great* this game is.
Let's not mince words: The first Evil Within was a disappointing game. It was supposed to be a triumphant return to form for Survival Horror as a genre, and instead it- well, I'm not as down on that game as most, but it's fair to say that it set an incredibly low bar for a sequel to clear. I'm shocked and ecstatic to say that The Evil Within 2 is not just a dramatic improvement for the series- I think it sets that new benchmark for the genre that people hoped the original might. I think this is the best game of the type that I've played since Resident Evil 4. In no uncertain terms, I think it's *better* than that game. At the very least I *prefer* it, and I suppose that's what counts here.
As ridiculous as it might sound, that's something I was pretty sure I was never going to need to say or type. There's a reason that RE4 has been released so many times across so many platforms, and is so well regarded. I consider pretty much all of the praise it gets to be well deserved- and I feel like The Evil Within 2 is a more complete, consistent package.
It does well what I expected it to do well- shooting, mostly. That's good, obviously, though not what I'd call a big deal. What I do want to call attention to is how well all of the *other* things in the game work- and there's a *lot* there. This is one of the first games with a stealth system where I never felt confused as to whether or not I was hidden, or seen, or heard, or any combination of those things: at no point did I wonder whether or not I was sneaking successfully. It's presented clearly and worked pretty much flawlessly. That became a running theme throughout the game, and I could keep talking about this for some time- suffice to say that mechanically, it's better than I expected and as good as I wanted.
The places where I feel the game really stood out were places that I frankly expected it to fall flat. The first game toyed with the idea of a shifting, dreamlike reality- but largely focused on gore and violence and brutality. It felt lazy, and the second game seems desperate to make up for lost time- immediately you're thrown into an art gallery that is infinitely more interesting than anything in the first game, and full of surreal changes in layout and scenery as you attempt to make your way through. It feels authentically dreamlike, and this is something they keep up throughout the game's run time- it's pretty impressive on a technical level, as well, but mostly I was glad to see them using the idea of the setting to the fullest.
Among the many failings of the first game was the inability to establish a memorable cast, or even really giving the characters involved depth beyond vague archetypes of "Gruff" or "Mysterious" or "Wears gloves". It's startling, then, that Sebastian Castellanos is my favorite protagonist in a video game this year. More than an interesting character, he became compelling and sympathetic throughout the story, struggling with his own self-loathing and guilt- things turned into very literal barriers to his progress by the mental world of STEM. When the time came for Sebastian to accept and move past his failings, to fight back and actually start to prevail against his tormentors, I was downright *proud* of the man. It felt good, to see him win, because he *deserved* it. It's been a long time since I liked a main character that much.
The entire cast, really, was impressive- Stefano deserves a lot of credit here. He's miles better than anything the first game even dreamed of- a stylish, intriguing villain who is both legitimately scary and surprisingly likable. Well, when he's not turning radical dreamspace murder into radical dreamspace art, or threatening you with knives. He's hands down the best villain the game has to offer, and many of the scenes with him rank as the high points of my experience throughout the game.
Even the supporting cast, mostly comprised of Mobius operatives stuck in Union with you, managed to ingratiate themselves to me by acting fairly realistically- for the minions of a comically evil Illuminati-esque organization, anyways. O'Neal, for a seemingly one-note cowardly tech guy, is actually a fairly reasonable dude who just wants to live through this shit. Hoffman, social awkwardness aside, is intelligent and practical as well as a true believer in Mobius' ideals, and it's interesting to get that perspective. Sykes, on the other side of that coin, is more about the paycheck than the mission. Torres has C4 and machine guns and a legit tragic backstory and motivation. I don't have to tell you how cool she is, but for the record? Pretty cool.
So, yeah. This has already gone on longer than I wanted. It's one of the best games I've ever played. It's got great characters, an interesting world, is legitimately scary, is fantastically paced, has fun boss encounters, and as soon as I finished it I wanted to jump back in and play more. I probably will, once this holiday nonsense has calmed down. It'll be a good way to kick off 2018.