Review | The Evil Within 2

January 17, 2018 (Last updated: January 19, 2018)

The Evil Within 2

Developer Tango Gameworks
Publisher Bethesda
Release Date October 13. 2017
Format(s) PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One

What’s this?

A sequel to the 2014 survival horror third-person shooter directed by Resident Evil maestro Shinji Mikami. And the heir apparent to the seminal every-system-ever-classic Resident Evil 4. More specifically it’s a semi-open world, over-the-shoulder action game. It tasks you with the rampant murdering of dead folks and Japanese-subconscious monsters while managing your damage intake and resources.

That sounds exciting! I love Resident Evil 4. It’s my favorite ga-

Yes yes, it’s a wonderful game. Everyone loves it. And if you liked that, there’s a fair chance you’ll like this. It’s a clear evolution of the crowd management style of gameplay perfected in Resident Evil 4. Merged with the more Twitch-friendly mobility of survival shooters post-Dead Space.

The narrative is likewise told with the same familiar B-movie aplomb and enthusiasm found in Capcom’s flagship series. It details the superhuman efforts of drunk ex-cop-cum-drifter Sebastian Castellanos, who enters the nightmarish virtual reality town of Union to retrieve his presumed-dead daughter. It’s an endearing, albeit messy, cross up between Tarsem Singh’s The Cell and Christopher Nolan’s Inception, only with half the intelligence and a big, meaty heart that ultimately proves emotionally satisfying in ways its predecessor didn’t. Union itself is a fairly interesting take on mom and pop Americana. If only because the town floats in crumbling pieces over some ill defined shared consciousness version of limbo.

So the story’s good in The Evil Within 2?

Yes and no. It’s a definite improvement over the first game. It actually has a beginning, middle, and end, rather than just a premise. But it shares its predecessor’s fast and loose storytelling, confusing jargon and MacGuffins with depth and emotion. I’m still not entirely sure why everything went t**s up in Union. The developers don’t seem that interested in making sure that I do. That being said, the narrative is more than an excuse to shoot things. Occasionally it’ll stumble across something interesting to say about mental health, guilt, and chainsaws. The ending, in particular, is one of the most satisfying I’ve seen in a game of this length since The Last Guardian. Thankfully offering closure instead of sequel assurance.

While the narrative itself is a definite improvement it has lost some of the grime and ballsiness of the original, which traded compellingly in strange brutality. This second iteration continues the borderline hilarious pathos of Mr. Castellanos with a noticeable amount of restraint that undermines the game’s horror identity. I remember several instances in the first game when I was so uncomfortable with what happened to poor Sebastian that I had to cover my eyes. Each failure so forcefully beamed into my retinas that the possibility of death felt dangerous and punishing. And something to be avoided at all costs. I’m not saying I need to see Sebastian’s face displaced by a hammer to have a good time. But the potential of such is an important factor in manufacturing dread.

So The Evil Within 2 is not scary?

Not really. These moments of brutality are still present in The Evil Within 2 but never at the expense of the player. A deliberate choice that firmly pushes the title in the direction of action and away from survival-horror. That being said, the imagery and art direction are once again fabulous, treating the player to various creative monstrosities ranging from sky-filling tentacled camera-monsters to yard-tall viscous worms the color of glue.

There is the occasional effective jump scare which, as far as I’m concerned, is the narrative equivalent of being slapped in the face, but nothing that could qualify as stressful or unsettling. What we have, ultimately, is a horror shooter built upon the player feeling resourceful and powerful, a sequence of challenges to be overcome rather than survived. On the default difficulty ammunition, health, and crafting resources (because every game requires you to be able to make bullets from paper clips and talcum powder) are abundant to the point of obsessive-compulsive annoyance, making what is already a forgiving experience far too inviting. These issues are somewhat mitigated on higher difficulties, although the hard setting is the definite sweet spot.

Alright. I’m a little disappointed. How does it play?

Excellently. It basically takes the core gameplay of its predecessor and expertly grafts every successful mechanic from current action games (crafting, weapon upgrades, style of play upgrades) right on top of it resulting in fluid, choice-driven gameplay. Want to sneak past the horde of strange babbling zombies? Go right ahead. Would you like to shoot them till their heads pop? You can do that. Fancy herding them to a shallow pool of water and electrocuting them with a crossbow bolt you built? Done, you rascal you.

Most, if not all, of the challenges in The Evil Within 2 can be solved with this level of latitude. It’s not quite Metal Gear Solid 5 but it is a novel take on a genre that can be pretty limited in regards to problem-solving. On a nuts and bolts level, the overall mechanics are as tight as you’d expect in a Bethesda product. Shooting is chunky and loud with useful dismemberment physics and the camera always feels like it’s on your side.

Fantastic! I love electrocution!

Me too! “I wouldn’t mind if I could find/ A little electrocution.” Sorry. Anyhow it gets better! The dearth of gameplay options is further expanded by the inclusion of semi-open world environments replete with side quests and squirrelled away resources hidden in places that make no sense. One day, when we’re long gone, the aliens are going to think we kept all our med kits in tire fires.

Did you say side-quests!? Because I would literally starve my children for side-quests.

Yes! The Evil Within 2 is at its strongest when it allows the player room and time to explore these somewhat vast environments, stumbling upon both the unexpected and helpful. None of the gameplay is truly emergent but the game’s most effective storytelling moments come from such exploration. One quest, in particular, finds Sebastian flashing back to his previous misadventures in the Beacon Mental hospital. Providing not only the game’s best scares but also a valuable back story for newcomers to the series.

So it’s a good sequel?

Yes. While it does make Bethesda-type sacrifices to broaden its appeal, The Evil Within 2 is a superior game in every way other than tone and setting. I personally find the first game to be one of the current gen’s under appreciated gems, so, while the sequel is a little too sanitized for my taste, I am happy to see the series getting a shot at more visibility, even if it comes at the expense of Mikami’s mad touch.

Okay, so do you recommend I go to Union?

If this is a style of game you enjoy than absolutely. It’s the best survival-horror game since Resident Evil 7. And it could perhaps be considered the best Resident Evil since Resident Evil 4. It’s a confident, well developed game that expands on its predecessor’s ideas without totally erasing what made that game a positive experience to begin with. It saddens me to see this type of game slowly fading in favor of the more polarizing experience of horror simulators. But if you want something that exists in the middle of fight or flight look no further.

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