Review: The Evil Within 2
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC
Genre: Survival Horror
There’s a lot to like about the Evil Within 2, but I don’t think it feels wholly unique as much as it feels like a combination of all its influences.
2014’s The Evil Within was a game that I desperately wanted to love, but ultimately couldn’t. It even came from the brilliant mind of Shinji Mikami, one of the creators of Resident Evil. Unfortunately, it fell flat in many ways. The story was confusing and poorly-delivered, the camera seemed glued to annoying angles so as to obscure your view ahead, the game’s pace was off from the start, and a lot of the experience simply didn’t make sense – and not in an intriguing Twin Peaks way.
I joked earlier on the CritCast (CritDMG’s live podcast) that The Evil Within 2 is the best Resident Evil 4 game since Resident Evil 4, and I stand by that statement. There’s a lot to like about the Evil Within 2, but I don’t think it feels wholly unique as much as it feels like a combination of all its influences.
The game takes place three years after the events of the previous game. Sebastian Castellanos is haunted by the events that took place at Beacon Hospital, as well as the disappearance of his wife Myra, and the death of his daughter, Lily. One night while drowning his sorrows in whiskey, Sebastian is approached by Kidman, his former partner and agent of Mobius. Kidman reveals to Sebastian that Lily is very much alive, and that Mobius have her. Sebastian understandably freaks out, with Kidman sedating him and taking him to Mobius’ lab.
When he awakens, Sebastian learns that Lily has been hooked up to a new STEM system and is acting as its core, simulating a town called Union. Mobius have lost contact with Lily’s mind and need Sebastian to connect with the STEM system, enter Lily’s mind, regain control of Union and escape with Lily.
If it all sounds absolutely crazy, it is. Imagine being told your daughter isn’t dead but is instead hooked up to some hive-mind machine that feed off her subconscious. I’m a fair way into the game and I still don’t understand the actual point of the STEM machine apart from it setting up the game’s narrative. Regardless, things only get weirder from here.
Evil Within 2‘s story isn’t exactly engaging, it meanders at times and feels as though it has been padded out. I found that I wanted it to focus more on how Union became so twisted, given that is connected to Sebastian’s daughter’s mind. Instead, there is a focus on the artful serial killer which doesn’t resolve itself in a rewarding or satisfactory way, and comes with a annoying and predictable plot twist. Don’t expect anything here that does little more than set up the game itself.
Gameplay is a definite improvement over the first Evil Within game, as it is a good deal more varied. Early in the game, players will be slowly creeping through dark corridors and building interiors, with some truly mind-warping moments. A serial killer with a penchant for grisly murder photography is hunting down members of the Mobius team, leaving their bodies stuck in gory timeloops. He approaches each kill as though it is art, and the early moments involving him are eerily impressive.
Soon after, the gameplay changes pace, opting for a more open-environment experience. Instead of exploring corridors and dreading what might lie at each turn, players will be sneaking around larger areas and avoiding conflict with the monsters that inhabit Union. Being a survival horror title strongly influenced by Resident Evil (both series were created by Shinji Mikami), Evil Within 2 forces players to choose their fights carefully, lest they run out of ammunition for their weapons or find themselves overrun by hordes of gruesome baddies. Playing on Casual difficulty, you can relax when it comes to ammunition, but go in guns blazing and you’ll quickly find yourself an ex-ex-detective.
When you’re not running for your life or gunning down the supernatural depending on your ammo situation, you’re probably completing one of the game’s many side-missions. These usually consist of tracking a mysterious radio signal to some location, and then completing an investigation on a corpse or residual energy to earn some ammo or information about the events that have taken place in Union. The problem is that after the first few, these side-missions become quite tedious. I consider myself a completionist with games, always wanting to get the full experience. With The Evil Within 2 though, side-missions feel like never-ending chores.
In my review of the original The Evil Within, I stated that the camera was unbelievably frustrating. It followed you too closely, was quite often at a bizarre height and felt as though the game was deliberately trying to limit the amount of things you could see. The camera has improved in The Evil Within 2, though it still manages to irritate on occasion.
Given that the game is a survival-horror, one would expect there to be some scares thrown into the mix of occasional puzzles and ‘sploding heads. I’m not sure if I’ve built up an immunity to video game scares, but The Evil Within 2 has not made me jump once. I play horror games in a bizarrely willingly way to see if a developer can make me, a grown man, soil himself. To see if someone can make me tap out of playing a game, or at the very least, take a break when things get too intense and return to game after a hot milo and some Tim Tams. In this regard, the game disappoints.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are moments of dread. Times where I don’t want to open a specific door, or I don’t want to know what that noise was, but those are more feelings of dread, and when I predict what’s going to happen, I’ve never been wrong. This might also be because the game borrows so much from other horror sources. The STEM system feels like the VR coma machine from the horror movie The Cell, and one ghost is so ridiculously similar to the ghost in Mama that the internet has even nicknamed her the “Mama Ghost”. Sprinkle in a lot of Resident Evil 4 and you have a game that whilst fun to play, feels uninspired.
The Evil Within 2 manages to improve the original game’s formula, though by the end of my time with it I just wanted it to be over. Despite the main story overstaying its welcome, it’s still a survival horror fans of the genre should check out – just don’t feel obligated to complete every side-mission.