In 2013 Shinji Mikami returned to the genre he helped define with his spiritual successor to the Resident Evil franchise: The Evil Within. By many accounts, it was a decent enough game, full of scares but with some shortcomings and questionable mechanics. Now three years later we have The Evil Within 2, a game that promises to remedy the issues of the first game and provide a newer, more frightening experience.
One of the biggest improvements over the first game is the plot’s consistency.
The story takes place appropriately enough three years after the last game, with Sebastian Castellanos now a drunk and bitter ex-cop whose mental state never really recovered after Beacon Hospital and his battle with the crazed Ruvik. Despite what the STEM machine did to his brain he agrees to hop back into the bathtub when his former partner Juli Kidman tells him that his presumed dead daughter Lily is actually alive. The catch is that Lily was being used as a STEM Core like Ruvik and suddenly lost control of the system, unleashing a horde of monsters and evil that’s begun killing everyone in the simulated town of Union.
One of the biggest improvements over the first game is the plot’s consistency. While the last title often felt disconnected and disjointed Evil Within 2 stays focused on a single objective and has everything feeding back into that. The writing tends to be somewhat cheesy but in a way that works often evoking the same feelings as a decent enough B-horror film. There’s a lot of environmental storytelling too, including miniature tales of fights gone wrong and desperate escapes from the zombie-like haunted that infest the town. In addition, you can learn more about the village (as well as Mobious the mysterious organization behind STEM) when speaking to survivors and from gathering bits of media scattered across town.The STEM. Like a computer if its processors were people. You’re the antivirus.
By far the biggest change this time around is the more open nature of the game, with the town of Union offering more opportunities to explore and strategize your attacks. Many of these levels do wonders for the stealth and combat, allowing you plenty of ways to avoid or engage enemies. It’s a far cry from a proper open world game, but since open-world horror almost never works, the choice to lean a bit closer to a linear path was a smart move on the part of the developers.
Evil Within 2 also offers plenty of terrifying, encounters ranging from crawling your way through an auto-shop to slogging through the town-hall. For all intents and purposes, these sections act as the game’s “dungeons” and allow the best aspects of the game shine through. This doesn’t just apply to story missions either, as at one point you can absentmindedly come across one of these encounters by simply walking into a house, something you’ll do often while scavenging for supplies.
There’s a smaller increase of focus on combat over the first game, which may not have been the best idea. Controls are floaty and aiming properly, even after supposedly increasing accuracy, is never totally accurate. The tradeoff, however, is that most enemies are somewhat easier to defeat, with common enemies being way less bullet-spongy then the last game. This makes the few sections where combat becomes necessary, somewhat more tolerable, provided you leave enough distance between yourself and whatever is trying to kill you.
Unfortunately, one area the game doesn’t improve on is its stability.Union may look like small-town America, but there’s a lot of weird and horrible hidden around.
There’s now a crafting system to supplement your green-goo upgrades. Weapons can be upgraded using spare, and sometimes rare, parts, slowly unlocking more damage and bigger magazines, as well as unique upgrades. More importantly, crafting ammo and supplies is crucial for survival, and thankfully fairly simple. Bullets can be made from gunpowder drops, with higher powered ammo taking more powder. Meanwhile, health kits are made from bit of flora scattered around town. Finally the crossbow returns with different arrow types like explosive traps and shock bolts cobbled out of bits of debris. The interesting twist is that while everything can be made at a workbench, you also have the option to field craft equipment at the cost of double resource, giving you an interesting choice when you run low on supplies.
Unfortunately one area the game doesn’t improve on is its stability. While the game hasn’t crashed or had any game-breaking issues, there are a myriad of noticeable bugs that really damage immersion. First the reload animation for handguns may be one of the buggiest animations ever made, with the spent magazine often flying around completely detached from reality. There’s also bugs with switching weapons and just moving around can occasionally cause Sebastian to contort in a way similar to the very creatures he’s hunting. By far the most unstable interaction is using the melee attack, which is difficult to aim and is poorly animated.The sick photo-work of the insidious Stefano, evoking memories of Bioshock’s Sander Cohen.
There are other bugs too. Stealth works a bit better this time, but that may just be because the AI is dumb as a post. If you get spotted, avoidance is as easy as rounding a corner and ducking because once you do this, the enemies will immediately stop searching for you (that’s if they don’t just magically loose sight of you for no reason at all). Probably the most annoying issue however, is the inconsistency in enemy reactions. An early strategy is to throw a bottle at an enemy and then land a stealth-kill while they are distracted. The problem is unless the enemy is doing anything but standing stock still, it won’t necessarily work, which can be dangerous and can actually negatively affect gameplay at times.
Unlike its story the graphics of Evil Within 2 are anything but consistent. Character models look fine but their animation is almost hilariously bad. Sebastian skates around like a man bereft of friction half the time, with noticeable lag when his body turns. Enemies look and act better, although there’s not nearly enough variety in enemy models and you’ll find yourself fighting the same four or five zombies over and over. There are some nice minor details, like how Sebastian covers his mouth or pulls his knife dynamically depending on what you’re doing, but most of the time animations outside of cutscenes are just laughable.
Similarly the visuals are all over the place. It’s hard to explain exactly why, but most of the time the first game actually looks better, perhaps due to its linear and more focused nature. Texture work looks good and there’s a lot more colour but the game just doesn’t look like a game released in 2017 and is easily outclassed by other titles released this year like Resident Evil 7, Outlast, or Hellblade. The open town sections look the worst with way too much bright lighting which defuses the horror elements. The linear encounters at least make much better use of lighting and ambiance but overall, it still falls short by most metrics. Bar far the most noticeable issue is the pop-in on smaller objects, and at times it feels as though the world is only barely staying ahead of your movements.
In a year filled with great games, this might just not make the cut.Some sections change up gameplay, like a first person section in the sewers. Change is not always good.
The audio is mostly pretty good across the board. New voice actors have been hired for Sebastian, Kidman, and the mysterious Nurse Tatinana to somewhat mixed results. While the two women both sound good, with Nurse Tatinana’s VO actor perfectly nailing the detached monotone of a woman that may not even exist, the new actor for Sebastian usually just sounds like he’s doing an impression of every other gruff character from the last five years all at once. There’s a little bit of Big Boss, some Geralt, a dash of Joel and a pinch of Adam Jensen mixed together but none of it works well. This makes his delivery of some lines border on hilarious to just barely managing to reign it in and keep things serious. Apart from that, the voice acting is mostly great even it if does come across as campy at times.
Sound effects are much better and do wonders to enhance the experience. Weapons have a decent amount of punch and weight to them, making you feel every shot or hit reminding you that you’re one step closer to running on empty. Meanwhile the enemies are excellently done, with each type having unique audio queues that alert you to their presence. Music is used sparingly, mostly replaced by a discomforting drone that refuses to let you have a moment of peace. When it does creep in the music is appropriately distorted and weird, matching the crumbling sanity of the game perfectly. Overall this is a game that definitely rewards anyone playing with the audio cranked up and headphones on.
Like it’s crumbling and distorted world The Evil Within 2 is somewhat of a hot mess. It is by no means a bad game and it has remained fairly enjoyable so far, but it also never feels as polished as its predecessor or any of its contemporaries. It does manage to provide a genuinely frightening experience and it does address issues present in the first game, but in a year filled with great games this might just not make the cut.
More to come…