The Evil Within 2 - Review (PS4)
The Evil Within 2 is a tried and true survival horror experience evoking the one two punch of action and horror of Resident Evil 4, the atmosphere of Silent Hill, and the strange open world endeavors of 2009’s Wolfenstein. I had qualms going into the sequel to Shinji Mikami’s fever dream of a first game since was no longer directing and only serving as producer, though many might see that as a good sign as the first game was a mixed bag to critics and fans. The poor controls and performance issues of The Evil Within drew many players away that were seeking a true successor to RE4 while masochists like myself stayed until the very end and enjoyed the hell out of it even though it had significant issues. The Evil Within 2 makes up for everything that was wrong with its predecessor but loses a little something in the scuffle during the eighteen hour playthrough.
Sebastian Castellanos makes his return as the main protagonist of The Evil Within 2, drinking away his personal demons while trying to find info on the mysterious Mobius organization responsible for the incident at Beacon Hospital, where he was induced into a strange Matrix-like machine called STEM that allows a psycho’s delusional horrors of the mind to come to life. It isn’t until a familiar and betraying face working for Mobius returns to tell Sebastian that his long thought dead daughter is still alive and is being used as the core to one of these STEM machines, playing host to an entire town of other people strapped into STEM, called Union. Mobius makes a deal with Sebastian: Get the girl, wipe away the debt. Nah, that’s from Bioshock: Infinite but it’s basically the same mission with the same predictable plot twists you might expect from a B horror movie. Sebastian needs to enter STEM once again to confront his fears and save his daughter while also trying to stay one step ahead of Mobius.
The story is definitely more coherent than its predecessor and still heavily influenced by the 90s Jennifer Lopez flick The Cell where our protagonists enter a serial killer’s mind using advanced technology only to be hunted by his mental constructs. However, instead of outlandish visuals and high brow metaphors, the execution is just as silly as the concept, especially when the evil organization, Mobius, is basically Umbrella with a worse name. Seriously, they even have the same goals of world domination that Umbrella has. Mobious’s sole intent is to hook everyone into STEM as a singular controllable consciousness because evil organization is evil. Sebastian’s mission to save his daughter is familiar among publisher Bethesda’s repertoire lately but grounds the game enough to warrant this sequel.
The voice acting is well done for the most part and there are some really touching moments in the Third Act that really drive the nail through the heart but most of Sebastain’s dialogue through the first two acts is comprised of “What the….” or “Whaaaaaaat?” There was a chapter close to the beginning where he said “What the” a few times in a row and it’s like ‘Guy, you’ve been through this before and last time was so much worse and messed up. Why are you surprised by any of this, Sebastian?’ Sebastian’s ignorance is almost endearing even if it does wane on me a little bit. The rest of the characters you meet are pretty one note and your typical cardboard cutouts of the standard video game military team. You got the smart guy, the hacker, the psychologist, and the tough guy. The villains are pretty good though and what I like most is that there isn’t a main villain. Each act plays service to its own villian, providing some good variety up until the end.
From the get go, The Evil Within 2’s character movement is immediately better than the first game. Where the first felt sluggish and unresponsive, Sebastian is quicker and responds better to player input this time around. Sebastian’s apparently been working on his cardio as his sprint is much more useful now in that he doesn’t get tired nearly as fast as he did before. Seriously, he ran out of stamina so fast in the first game where it was nearly pointless. The strange thing however is that developer Tango Gameworks still haven’t been able to get the shooting right in either of these games. Something about the shooting just doesn’t feel good and headshots are more frustrating to get right so I often just go for the legs or chest. There were many moments where shots wouldn’t register at all on enemies or interactive objects such as exploding barrels. One vivid instance happened when I unloaded an entire magazine into a barrel and nothing happened so I just let the enemies kill me so I could restart from the last save.
Alternatively, I went for stealth in nearly every situation I could, which is vastly improved this time around with its own skill tree dedicated to enhanced abilities like faster movement while crouching and an awesome ability that allows Sebastian to run straight to an enemy for a timed stealth attack. Of course this same skill tree also enhances your other abilities like shooting and health but I upgraded the stealth as quickly as possible as it makes Sebastian an overpowered beast, which has its downsides because it becomes rather easy to cheese enemies. After a certain amount of time hiding in a bush or behind a wall, they give up and you can just try stealth killing them again. The new cover mechanic is also incredibly wonky and rarely worked like I wanted it to so I had to be patient with it.
The sound design is excellent, however. When a gun fires, you feel that powerful kickback especially with shotguns and sniper rifles, which gets the bass a boomin’ through the headphones or speakers. The groans and screams enemies make while searching for you is stress inducing and there are some enemies whose sounds send a chill up the spine indicating a tough impending fight.
The most interesting aspect of this game is the open world variety they’ve added in the town of Union. Instead of just following a linear path through Union, Sebastian can take on sidequests acquired by talking to various Mobius agents throughout the town and from what I noticed, you can complete these quests at your own pace as long as you don’t proceed further into the story. And the quests aren’t just meaningless either. Completing them will grant you certain weapons or ammo that you’d otherwise not find in the main missions and resource gathering during these side missions allows you to build towards making Sebastian stronger for what lies ahead in the main story. Union also brings back memories of Silent Hill in making the environments around you feel alive and almost claustrophobic, like the town itself is trying to envelope you in its madness.
What I love most about The Evil Within 2 is how it pays homage to the first game, taking special care to make sure that fans would feel right at home. There are so many easter eggs and references to the first game that kept bringing a smile to my face and a Third Act boss rush that had me fist pumping until the end.
Here’s the biggest problem with the game: its aesthetics. The first game was just downright gruesome and gory with insane looking environments and memorable enemies while the second is rather clean and some areas are so brightly lit that you wouldn’t need a flashlight. For a horror game, The Evil Within 2 is rather tame in the horror department and never felt creepy because of its design, only because of its combat. A lot of the enemy design is fantastic and some of the stronger enemies make you want to keep away from engaging them but the environments are so tonally different from the grotesque nature of their inhabitants. The newly developed STEM Engine, powered by id Tech, that Tango Gameworks is using is gorgeous and such a significant step up graphically from its predecessor to where I wish they would remake the first game with the same engine.
At the end of the day, there’s no other survival horror games like The Evil Within 2 these days. It pays close attention to the mistakes of the past while also paving the way for future iterations. If only it had kept some of the unique designs of the first game and improved the combat, The Evil Within 2 could have been possibly have been even better than Resident Evil 4.