Developed by Tango Gameworks
Published by Bethesda Softworks
Available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One
Rated M for Mature
It’s becoming clear that the horror genre is looking for the next big thing. A genre more than any other defined by its smash hits, titles like Slender, Resident Evil 4, Amnesia: The Dark Descent, and Five Nights at Freddy’s still serve as the fence posts for which all similar games are judged. Sure you have your odd outlying adventure game like Untold Stories or dark RPGs like LISA, but what’s the first thing you think of when you see a new action/horror/3rd person shooter hit the market? It’s the eternal burning question, “How does this game stack up to Resident Evil 4?” It’s of course silly, since in the 12 years since RE4 dropped plenty of games have improved upon the formula, but there’s no denying just how apt the comparison is.
One such game vying for that coveted top action/horror spot was 2014’s The Evil Within. Taking the RE4 action/horror concept and ramping the nightmare creatures and body horror up to 11, it did a great job of being terrifying, tense, and fun to play. The narrative was a bit rocky—with the third act ramping into a literal flying machine gun fight with a giant tentacle monster—but it easily made up for it with the creative nightmare world and unforgettable enemies. Adding on the fantastic DLC that did its best to make the story make sense, and the overall package was well worth a spot in the Horror Gaming Hall of Fame.
That all being said, I’ve only gone back to play it maybe once. While I respect it, the limited and unremarkable arsenal does make the game lack the replay value of something like Dead Space 2. There are also just too many underdeveloped mechanics, like a half-baked stealth system and plenty of “running down hallway” sequences.
Enter today’s new title under my microscope, The Evil Within 2. Continuing the story of Sebastian “This is Not What Detective Work Means” Castellanos, we find out that his dead daughter Lily is not as dead as previously implied. There were hints at this in the first game, and it turns out her nebulous fate was to become the core for an entirely new STEM. For those of you unfamiliar with the first game, STEM is an artificial reality created by the collective minds of the people plugged into it. The core is the baseline, a person whose psyche holds it all together. Because of the intense amount of ego required to keep the core stable with all of the competing personalities, the only people capable of being cores are psychopaths and… apparently children?
Mobius, the Umbrella Corps of The Evil Within universe, contacts Sebastian with this information after Lily goes missing within STEM. So once again, Sebastian is plopped into the STEM to find his daughter. Surprise surprise, this time around the STEM is actually an idyllic landscape free of monsters, and his daughter was just extra busy with cake and presents. Just kidding. It’s another nightmare hellscape.
Actually, I’d define it less as a hellscape and more of a fractured world. While The Evil Within’s Beacon Mental Hospital felt like a hodgepodge of fever dreams sewn together by the whims of a madman, The Evil Within 2’s Union City was once a normal functioning town that someone just took a hammer to. Streets are cut off at odd angles, and sections of the city are floating in the sky. We get much more logic to it this time around, with a substructure called “The Marrow” serving as your stable passage in between the disjointed pieces. When The Marrow itself begins to fracture and break, you know that shit has gotten real bad.
Gameplay wise, The Evil Within 2 brings a lot to the table to improve on The Evil Within. First off, the game is now pseudo-open world. It’s not like the GTA go anywhere at any time model, but for the most part you have far more freedom in how you approach situations. The major set pieces plop you into the middle of a large section of town and let you go about things at your own pace. There’s plenty to discover in these parts, with one of the most terrifying segments of the game requiring you to just stumble across it. Even the linear levels have more variety in how you can approach them, with almost every challenge being stealth-able.
This more open style is complemented by the new crafting and sneaking systems. You now have a Skyrim style eye that tells you how visible you are, and you can execute enemies buy sneaking up on them and pushing the “dead” button. It’s bare bones, but functional. Sebastian’s crouching speed is an absolute nightmare if you don’t invest in the sneak upgrade, but I had all the stealth upgrades by the end of the first major area and was doing fine.
The crafting system is a big part of the game, and feels like something that was majorly missing from the first. Instead of finding bullets, a majority of the time you find components that let you cobble together the arsenal that fits you. The cost is high, so don’t expect to just be sitting on a ton of ammo even if you stealth-up a majority of enemies. You have the ability to craft at any time, but the cost is doubled if you aren’t at a workbench, so you’ll want to plan effectively. Overall, while I felt like the game was sometimes becoming a collect-a-thon, I enjoyed having to choose between crafting three more dependable pistol bullets or a single powerful sniper rifle round.
There’s more weapon variety this time around, but unfortunately nothing really stands out. There are four pistols, three shotguns, the multi-purpose crossbow, a sniper rifle, a flamethrower, an assault rifle, and a magnum you get for beating the game. There might be other unlockables, but I haven’t yet tried to beat the game on challenge mode. The guns are all functional, but the crossbow is the only one that lets you get creative.
The Evil Within 2 is functionally an improvement on The Evil Within, and you can definitely see how they are trying to push the genre in a new direction. If The Evil Within was just an attempt to take Resident Evil 4’s top spot, then The Evil Within 2 is an attempt to make an entirely new podium. I do think that a more open survival horror game could work. I just don’t think that The Evil Within 2 is the game that sets the bar.
For starters, the world of Union City just isn’t nearly as frightening as Beacon Mental Hospital was. While Beacon was a non-euclidian mess of tormented minds crashing into eachother, Union is just a normal town that’s now all topsey turvey. There are a few times in the game you flash back to Beacon, and each time I was reminded of just how insane those levels were. It’s telling that the few times you’re brought back to the original game are the most frightening moments in The Evil Within 2.
They try mixing it up by introducing a number of psychopaths that for their time serve the role of Ruvik. Molding their own little bit of Union into a personal nightmare, these segments are the most interesting parts of the game. The first and most memorable foe is Stefano Valentini, a wannabe artist and photographer who is easily the best part of the game. His ghastly creations of flesh and blood are legitimately frightening, yet disturbingly beautiful. He oozes pure madness. The freedom afforded by the STEM is his key to guiltless macabre self-expression. You only ever get hints into his past, brief insights into what drove him to madness.
And then you kill him a third of the way into the game. Okay, time to introduce bad guy number 2! Far less interesting is Father Theodore, a charismatic cult leader whose interior decorator is a cenobite. His motto is that everything should be on fire. This is all getting into spoiler territory, but I will say his actual bossfight was the best. Didn’t care for the character, but a good death can make a story.
I’m creeping into spoiler territory, but I will say that this is where the story really starts to get good. For how little I cared during the first half, the second half does a lot to get you to the emotional level that Sebastian is at. I’d say that from the moment the theater full of heads exploded, I was hooked.
Compared to the first, the emotional core is much more compelling. By the time the credits rolled, I felt like I had really accomplished something. This isn’t the cliffhanger “Ruvik is still out there” cliffhanger of the first (there is a little at the end, but it’s very minor). If they ended the series on this title, I would be satisfied. At the same time, the lack of a strong central villain like Ruvik really hurts the game. There were plenty of intermediate bosses, but from hour one you knew that Ruvik was the bad guy and he was doing some really bad stuff. Horror needs a strong antagonist, and The Evil Within 2 just doesn’t have one.
I’ll wrap up by saying that The Evil Within 2 is a better game than The Evil Within, but it isn’t a better horror game. The first is doubtlessly more memorable and consistently frightening. The more focused and creepy sections of The Evil Within 2 were just segways between the open world scavenger hunt, reminders of the terrifying roots of the genre. I’d have to be pretty crazy not to recommend it, as I think that most gamers are going to like it. But if you’re looking for something that’s going to keep you up at night, I slept like a baby after The Evil Within 2’s credits rolled.
- One-Eye I had the game on the venerable Commodore64 and it was shit. I could just never figure out how to play it and I got killed every time.
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