The Evil Within 2 transports you to a world filled with horrors beyond imagination, with death and dismemberment lurking around every corner. But it didn’t start out that way. What began as an idyllic setting has been transformed into a twisted vision of small-town America. That’s because the entire town of Union was built in STEM using a very pure and untainted mind as its foundation (or Core): Sebastian Castellanos’ own daughter, Lily. But when Lily goes missing within STEM, the world loses its Core, and everything starts to go to hell. Now it’s up to Sebastian to find his daughter and get her out before the entire STEM system collapses with both of them inside.
Even today, Sebastian can still see remnants of the original Union: quaint houses lining simple streets, an old-timey diner, an auto body shop, a visitor’s center, a small church, a grocery store… nothing that would be out-of-place in a peaceful little town. But even before Lily went missing, Union was in need of some repair – small fixer-upper projects like paint peeling on the sides of houses. Thanks to Mobius, though, everything about Union is unnervingly intentional, right down to the mild state of disrepair.
“The people who were brought into STEM – the personalities that have been linking in the device – need to be active in order for the device to function,” explains Game Director John Johanas. “So Mobius settled on this Americana theme that’s a little bit rundown. That’s why Union as a whole is not a sparkling, pristine place, even before it starts to collapse. The need for repair is what keeps the people inside the system motivated and active.”
The Mind of a Child
These small details aren’t the only things Mobius considered when they created Union. They also used Lily as the town’s Core precisely because of mistakes they made in the past. Union was once full of people from the real world, all brought together to live within the reality Lily’s mind created – something Mobius now believes only the pure mind of a child could maintain. “Someone with strong psychopathic tendencies would be able to twist and warp the world to suit their own needs and desires,” Johanas says, referring to the world created in the first game. “So the Core of this world needed to be an innocent child, and through the process of trying to find a good candidate, they found Sebastian’s daughter Lily.”
But what happens if people with those “psychopathic tendencies” make their way into STEM on their own? As soon as Lily goes missing and the world is left without its Core, it begins to collapse. And this collapse is precisely what paved the way for people like Stefano and eventually Theodore (who we’ll be talking more about in the coming weeks) to create their own twisted domains using Union as the base.
“You have multiple distinct personalities that Sebastian is going to have to face, and each of these antagonists is strong enough to influence the world,” writer Trent Haaga clarifies. “It takes a very specific kind of person to steal control like that, and they are all vying for power in STEM.”
“Union is sort of a neutral domain that acts as the base of what the world is supposed to be,” Johanas continues. “It was created with Lily’s mind as the Core. Her mind is the pillar holding up this world. Now that she has been removed from that position, the world is breaking apart, piece-by-piece. People like Stefano and Theodore are trying to take advantage of its weakened state, leading to some of the different domains you’ll discover as you play.”
And the world itself isn’t a blank canvas, waiting for the antagonists to paint their stories on. It’s already full of its own stories and mysteries by the time you arrive. Thanks to Sebastian’s Communicator and the larger map sizes, he can actually pick up on moments that took place in the past and use those to learn more about his surroundings, but each of these moments may be tied to a horrific event Sebastian will have to fight or think his way through.
Coming up with the perfect amount of these events to keep players on their toes and constantly driven to learn more about the world was a high priority for the team at Tango. “When you build a world, you have the basic setting for it and you know you want to include events, so you start to place them around the map knowing that going to a certain location will trigger a certain response from the world,” says Executive Producer Shinji Mikami. “Then you have to consider how many of these events is the perfect number to create the right amount of tension in a game like this. You don’t really figure out what the right balance is until you actual do it. It’s a lot of cycles where you make it, you test it, you adjust it and you start all over again.”
Too few of these events and the world may feel empty. Too many and you risk overwhelming the player and creating an experience that is unceasingly tense without any breathing room at all. The balance is necessary to ensure those tense moments feel more impactful. You’re never safe in the world, but these events provide a different kind of tension than what you might feel exploring a darkened alleyway. They often tell a story about the world that you might not otherwise uncover if you choose to ignore them – though that is something you are perfectly able to do if you would prefer to stick to the main path.
“There’s a side quest you can go on pretty early in the game, after you leave your first safe house and really get a chance to check out Union,” says writer Trent Haaga. “You pick up a resonance point on your Communicator that lets you listen in on a past conversation between two soldiers talking about how everything is going wrong. You can follow this signal all over the first map, and it really helps build the backstory for what people were doing right when Union started to collapse. It’s a nice mini-arc that you can follow while you explore the area and pick up new signals.”