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.
Totem Review – It’s Not Always A Bad Thing To Look Up From The Bottom Level, If You Like That View
Starring Kerris Dorsey, James Tupper, Ahna O’Reilly
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Following the untimely death of a family’s matriarchal figure, a young woman finds out that managing to hold all of the pieces in place becomes increasingly more difficult when otherworldly infiltrators make their presence felt. We’re going to have to work our way up this Totem, as
17 year old Kellie is the leading lady of the home following the passing of her mother Lexy, and with a needy father and tiny tot of a baby sister, she still keeps things in working order, regardless of the rather large hole that’s been left in the dynamic due to the death. Kellie’s dad after a while decides to ask his lady-friend to move in with the family, so that everyone can move onto a more peaceful existence…yeah, because those types of instances always seem to work seamlessly. As fate would have it, Kellie’s sense of pride is now taking a beating with the new woman in the mix, and her little sister’s new “visitor” is even more disturbed by this intruder – only question is, exactly who is this supernatural pal of sorts? Is it the spirit of their dead mother standing by to keep watch over the family, or is it something that’s found its way to this group, and has much more evil intentions at hand?
What works here is the context of something innately malicious that has found its way into the home – there are only a couple moments that come off as unsettling, but the notion of having to weave through more than half the film acting as a sullen-teen drama is rather painful. The presentation of the “broken family” is one that’s been done to death, and with better results overall, and that’s not to say that the movie is a complete loss, it just takes far too much weeding through at times stale performances and even more stagnant pacing to get to a moderately decent late-stage conclusion to the film. Under the direction of Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl), I’d truly hoped for something a bit more along the lines of a disturbing project such as that one, but the only thing disturbing was the time I’d invested in checking this one out. My best advice is to tune into the Lifetime channel if you want a sulky teen-melodrama with a tinge of horror, or you could simply jump into this one and work your way up…but it’s a LONG way to the top.
Sulky, moody, and ridden with teen-angst buried in the middle of a supernatural mystery – SOUNDS like a decent premise, doesn’t it?
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
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