Game Reviews

‘The Evil Within 2’ Review: A Gruesome Nightmare

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Quick Take: Some of the most intense and draining moments I’ve had as a gamer occurred during the 15-20 hour runtime of this horror sequel. Gruesome enemies help bring life to a generic story, and strong exploration is weighed down by clumsy stealth mechanics. Despite these flaws, The Evil Within 2 should be on every gamer’s radar.

Early 2017 saw the return of Resident Evil, and while it wasn’t a perfect game, it set the bar high for the rest of the year. Enter, The Evil Within 2. Critically and commercially, The Evil Within wasn’t overwhelming, but it stood on it’s own feet. After all, it was a return for survival horror legend Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, Vanquish.) The Evil Within 2 isn’t perfect either, but it is a much more cohesive title than it’s 2014 predecessor, and fixes a lot of the problems players had with the first title.

Immediately noticeable when Sebastian starts on his journey is the improved frame rate. The frame rate on the original The Evil Within was horrid right from the beginning of the game. Not just in areas with high particle counts or where there was a lot of action, but even in the slower parts of the game. The improved frame rate of The Evil Within 2 helped suck me in immediately, and was the first thing I was looking for when booting it up.

Improved frame rate means nothing though if the game itself doesn’t hold up. The Evil Within 2 struggles to find itself, but everything it does, it does with such finesse that it’s easily one of the best experiences I’ve had with gaming this year. One of the genre defining staples of survival horror are the carefully designed set pieces, drawing player’s attention to specific parts of the screen in an attempt to get the scares each game tries to earn. The Evil Within 2 subverts these expectations by creating a quasi-open world title that builds and builds tension until it snaps with intense scenes filled with horrific monsters.

As The Evil Within 2 begins, Sebastian Castellanos is forced to confront his past. Years before, he believed he lost his daughter, until a familiar face from his past tells him otherwise. The Evil Within 2 doesn’t require gamers to have played the first title, but in order to appreciate a few characters and references, I would recommend it. For those going in fresh, however, collectible files and photographic slides help fill in some of the blanks for newcomers to the series. Sebastian must enter the world of STEM, a nightmarish hive mind system that can be twisted and changed to the whim of the people inhabiting it. Inside STEM is his daughter, and some of the most gruesome monsters I’ve ever seen in a horror game. A shadowy organization has created a world inside of STEM called Union, which Sebastian lovingly calls everytown, USA. Honestly, this is the most apt description of Union, because the whole town is pretty unremarkable.

The story is pretty generic too, with an ending that players can predict around the halfway mark. The main characters, antagonists included, are also forgettable. The most unique part of each enemy is the character design, which is great because their dialogue isn’t strong. Stefano is a photographer serial killer, twisting his kills into gruesome pieces of art. Theodore is a priest, who wants to rule Union with fire. The generic dialogue doesn’t just fall on our leading enemies though, because nobody has a good script in The Evil Within 2. Sebastian has the stereotypical ex-cop tropes, and the technician players will encounter has a nerdy coward vibe. The most interesting character in The Evil Within 2 is Yukiko Hoffman, a psychologist sent in to study Stefano and Theodore and try to learn the way they think in order to defeat them.

My biggest problem with The Evil Within was how scripted each area felt. I still don’t know how Tango Gameworks has managed to build an open world that seamlessly blends into a linear stretch of story driven content that doesn’t take away from the freedom I felt just minutes before. Union is yours to explore, and exploring is the scariest part. The Evil Within 2 isn’t as scary as we’ve seen from other horror titles in the past, but the tense open world that Sebastian explores sees some of the most pulse pounding sections of gameplay I’ve seen in a while.

When he sets out, Sebastian doesn’t have much at his disposal other than a handgun and a knife. Any basic enemy can easily kill him. Scattered around Union are various items that he can use to craft additional ammunition or upgrade your weapons. This is the reason that I can’t stop thinking about The Evil Within 2. Most of Union is explorable, there are garages to loot, hotels, diners, auto shops, and each one is being guarded by enemies. As players explore, they begin to notice a unique risk/reward to thoroughly exploring each area. Players can choose to go in guns blazing or by using stealth. The Evil Within 2 offers players choices about how they want to approach every encounter, even if stealth is basically required to maintain any amount of ammunition or health items. I never felt as though I had enough of anything in The Evil Within 2, and I often found myself crafting singular bullets with the scarce resources I had just so I could put another bullet in the chamber.

Despite the emphasis on the stealth aspects, The Evil Within 2 fumbles with clumsy stealth mechanics. More often than not, Sebastian would accidentally stumble into view of an enemy while trying to swap to another piece of cover, putting me right into the midst of another encounter I was trying to avoid.

It almost felt like Tango Gameworks had a checklist of things it was trying to fix from the original The Evil Within, because everything that felt weak about the original wasn’t present in this sequel. Players stumbled from room to room dumping bullets into enemies in the first title. The Evil Within 2’s trades this out for the freely explorable area. After clearing an area in Union for the first time, traversing back to another building, I found myself stumbling across enemies I missed, creating some truly tense and startling moments during a time I wasn’t expecting to do battle. Not just that, but The Evil Within 2 often throws stronger enemies into a newly cleared area, forcing players to reevaluate approaches and paths to get to their destination. I often found myself taking the long way around an area just to avoid wasting my precious resources.

After a certain point, Sebastian can upgrade his combat and stealth prowess. Some upgrades make him move quieter while crouched, or can steady his aim and recoil. The Evil Within 2 does it’s best to never make Sebastian anything more than capable, but by the end of the game he can become a powerhouse. This means nothing without the resources though, which is why the risk of exploring full areas kept bringing me back for more and more even if I wasn’t progressing the story.

The Evil Within 2 honestly feels like a cross between The Last of Us and Silent Hill 2. It struggles to identify as a unique horror title. However, some of the most intense and draining moments I’ve had as a gamer occurred during the 15-20 hour runtime of this horror sequel. Gruesome enemies help bring life to a generic story, and strong exploration is weighed down by clumsy stealth mechanics. Despite these flaws, The Evil Within 2 should be on every gamer’s radar going into the busy holiday season, especially fans of the survival horror genre.

The Evil Within 2 is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on a Playstation 4 copy provided by the publisher.

SCORE: 4.5 out of 5

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