When Bethesda revealed The Evil Within 2 at the pre-E3 press conference earlier this year, to say that I was surprised would be putting it mildly. Shinji Mikami’s return to the genre he helped pioneer in the Resident Evil series was highly anticipated by many around the world, but once the game was actually in players’ hands, reactions were extremely mixed. Some loved The Evil Within, some hated it, but the result was a compelling-yet-flawed game that seemed like it would be both the beginning and the end of trying to get a new franchise off the ground.
And yet, somehow, we’ve now gotten a sequel in The Evil Within 2.
We catch up to (now ex-detective) Sebastian Castellanos three years after the events of the first game, and he’s definitely the worse for wear. His experience at Beacon Mental Hospital left him a broken man, and since then his daughter Lily died when their family home burned down, and his wife Myra subsequently left him. Things couldn’t seem worse when a familiar face walks back into his life: Juli Kidman, his former partner who was previously revealed to be working for the shadow organization Mobius. Kidman shocks Sebastian when she tells him that Lily isn’t actually dead—instead, she’s being used as the Core for an all-new STEM.
Or, at least, she was being used for that. Something has happened to Lily’s virtual self inside STEM, and Kidman needs help in finding out what’s going on and making sure the young girl is safe. So, once again, Sebastian must step into a world created by linking the consciousness of multiple people together, this time the Mobius-crafted “small town” of Union. Unsurprisingly, things on the inside are far worse than anyone on the outside could have predicted, and it’s up to Sebastian to do what he can to stop the simulation from completely collapsing before he can find and rescue his daughter.
Right from the beginning, The Evil Within 2 feels different from its predecessor. Those changes are small at first, whether they’re in the overall atmosphere, how the game feels, or the conversations taking place between characters, and I couldn’t shake the sense that the team had looked to infuse a little more Western gaming influence this time around.
And then, about an hour or so in, I hit Chapter 3—and every expectation I had needed to be re-evaluated. At that point, the game turned into an open-world horror experience, a far cry from the more focused and linear style of the original. In fact, there were moments that I swore I was playing some sort of later-era Silent Hill game because of how it felt to run around a small American town, exploring and searching and fighting demons, reminding me over and over of games like Silent Hill Downpour.
The Evil Within 2 has some really weird pacing, starting there with Chapter 3. Given my “I need to do everything” nature with horror games of that structure, I wouldn’t let myself move on until I had finished all of the side missions in that section of the game. (Plus, I was having a lot of fun simply exploring the town and seeing what awaited me around every corner.) By the time I finally cleared Chapter 3, I had been playing it for five-and-a-half hours—following that, Chapter 4 took me around 15 minutes. From there, the game wildly swings back and forth, sometimes putting you into situations that can be cleared in record time, while other moments dropping you back into open-world segments of Union.
I really thought I was going to hate The Evil Within 2 at first because of this, but there grew to be something comforting about that uncertainty. While it still falls into the trappings so many other survival horror games also succumb to, the Tango team took some interesting chances here with being more fluid in how things should unfold or how expectations should be met—and it was nice not being able to always predict what was going to happen next. For example, there were a few side missions I undertook where the conditions for what I had to do completely telegraphed that some big monster would show up and muck up the plans. In a lot of other games, that’s exactly what would have happened—but here, there was just calm. Going back to Downpour for a moment, as flawed as that game was, I appreciated how it allowed situations to be presented to the player where simply experiencing what was happening could be enough. There didn’t need to be a monster fight every time, or a jump scare always awaiting in the dark—it was okay to reveal that part of the world without needing to make it be overly dramatic. The Evil Within 2 lets itself have those same kinds of moments, and I’ll argue until the day that I die that horror games that let the player feel safe and comfortable more often end up having the stronger potential for real fear when the time is right.
There’s also—at least from how I understood things in my singular playthrough—a surprising amount of content that players can miss if they don’t go looking for it. I probably could have easily shaved 10 hours off of my 25 hours of playtime had I taken a more direct route through each chapter, but there’s a number of pretty important events or items I know I would have never encountered had I done that. While much of those optional pieces of the story come in the open-world segments, there’s also examples to be found in the game’s more linear chapters—and I give the dev team a lot of credit for being brave enough to make those things optional when it would have been easy to make them part of the required questlines. Even without those side stories, The Evil Within 2 feels like a far more focused and soundly structured game. I understand what the original was trying to accomplish by having location and story jumps feel chaotic, but it didn’t always work in execution; here, you always feel like you’re moving forward, and you know how you’re doing so and why.
At the same time, The Evil Within 2 also has its share of failings in this department—and although they’re not nearly as impactful as the positive aspects, they also can’t be overlooked. Just like my earlier comments about how it seemed as if I was playing a Silent Hill game instead of an Evil Within one, there were numerous other moments where I swore I was seeing or doing things that I’d encountered in other horror games—be it an enemy, or a location, or a situation, or a narrative beat. While that was a criticism I shared to some degree with The Evil Within, even for everything I thought it got wrong, it still had a level of personality and uniqueness to it that’s sadly been lost in many ways in the sequel.
What it’s gained may be far more important, however: characters. I mean, the original also had characters of course, but they weren’t developed anywhere close to as well as they are here. In my review for The Evil Within, I wrote of its protagonist, “Even after all the time I’d spent with him, I still knew little about Sebastian and cared about him even less.” That couldn’t be further from the truth this time around. I came out of The Evil Within 2 genuinely liking Sebastian as a character and caring for his plight, and the same could be said for nearly the entire supporting cast. While the game’s villains got the job done but weren’t overly exciting, everyone that Sebastian ran into added something tangible to the story, leaving me to genuinely worry about their fates. Giving that depth to the cast substantially raised the narrative of The Evil Within for me—not to mention some of the other horror games I’ve played over the years.
No matter the genre, all of those elements usually succeed or fail depending on the gameplay, and this was another area in which I felt conflicted on The Evil Within 2 at first. I’ve honestly become a little mixed on the proliferation of stealth in horror games, both in the god-awful trend of first-person titles where you’ve got zero recourse for fighting back, or third-person adventures where you’re given a variety of guns but only a limited amount of ammo. Not to name-drop Silent Hill yet again, but that series showed you could have horror games where the player felt at a disadvantage and firearms weren’t always a problem solver, but without making players spend half of the game crouched or hidden behind cover.
The Evil Within 2 definitely does the latter, but I came to terms with that fact over the course of the game. At first, I was totally frustrated with any sort of enemy encounters, because the monsters here tend to be bullet (and damage period) sponges, and I’m not sure the last time I’ve seen a character move slower than this version of Sebastian (those three years must have been hell on his body). While his default movement speed is given no upgrades through the course of the game—seriously Tango Gameworks, what the hell—other unlockable abilities for Sebastian make being less Leon S. Kennedy and more Solid Snake a viable, and actually fun, option for dispatching enemies. When you need to dip into your ammo supplies and engage in more direct combat, however, that frustration can kick back in as you fight against Sebastian’s lumbering nature and the game’s sometimes questionable hit tracking. By The Evil Within’s final hour, both the gunplay and the focus on stealth were elements that I’d come to be (mostly) comfortable with, and neither was negatively affecting my enjoyment of the game. Still, absolutely, I think Sebastian should move faster, weapons should have better accuracy along with more potency, and the reliance on stealth should be toned down a few notches.
At the end of the day, I think The Evil Within 2 is a far better, much more focused game than its predecessor, from execution to storyline to gameplay to characters. In gaining those improvements, however, it’s also lost some of its charm. This is a legitimately good survival horror experience, and I don’t disagree with most of the changes it’s undergone in the hopes that it would be more welcoming and enjoyable for a wider audience of fans. Still, it’s kind of like seeing your eccentric artsy best friend get a haircut, buy a new wardrobe, and find a more “respectable” way of making a living. In the end, you know the change is better for them and for those around them, but you kind of miss the quirkiness they once brought to your life.
|Publisher: Bethesda Softworks • Developer: Tango Gameworks • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 10.13.2017|
Though I never expected to ever see a sequel to The Evil Within, we’ve now gotten one, and I’m rather glad that we did. While The Evil Within 2 isn’t without problems—and I’m not sure it’s the kind of game I’ll ever want to play through a second time—by the time the final credits rolled, I had legitimately enjoyed the adventure I’d just gone on, and the improvements that Tango Gameworks had tried to bring to the series.
|The Good||An overall improved experience over the original with stronger focus, way better characters, and some genuinely interesting twists.|
|The Bad||Combat can be frustrating, Sebastian is slow as s**t, and there’s this constant, nagging feeling that you’ve already experienced numerous elements of the game before.|
|The Ugly||Let’s just say that if you’re currently inside a STEM system, helping out Sebastian is not in your best interests.|
|The Evil Within 2 is available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bethesda for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|