When The Evil Within was released back in 2014, it was guardedly praised.
This is probably because critics expected a horror game presided over by Shinji Mikami would shoot the lights out. It didn’t. Instead, The Evil Within played like a compilation of the Resident Evil director’s greatest hits.
There’s nothing wrong with that; The Evil Within is good game and – let’s be honest – Mikami’s greatest hits are better than most. But it was a slight disappointment to watch one of survival horror’s most innovative directors circle the wagons rather than blaze a brand new trail.
The Evil Within 2 has the same problem. It’s still standing just outside the presence of greatness. Once again, it’s not a bad game – in fact, it’s a very good one – but given the talent behind this monster, one would expect bigger teeth and more savage bite.
Horror fans will have a ball with The Evil Within 2 and not only because there are moments in this game that are genuinely terrifying. No, rather they’ll have fun spotting all of the references to other horror titles in gaming, movies and TV.
The health ingredients and over-the-shoulder HUD recall Resident Evil. The plot involving a father searching for his daughter in a town isolated by bottomless chasms is a callback to Silent Hill. One sequence involving barbed wire looks like a scene from the first Saw movie. There’s even a creature in this game that isn’t a million miles away from what the demented ‘scientist’ in The Human Centipede wanted to create.
Playing The Evil Within 2 is kind of like watching Kill Bill for horror fans; you’re going to have a lot of fun here, but you’ll enjoy yourself more if you’ve spent a lot of time at the coalface.
Here’s another kickback; like the best examples of Japanese-made horror games, The Evil Within franchise has incredibly convoluted lore, and the fact that it’s taken developer Tango Gameworks a whole two games to throw players sideways is something of an achievement.
The game’s plot involves washed-up ex-cop Sebastian Castellanos (because hey, that right there is an average-sounding name) being tapped up by Mobius – the shady corporation from the first game – to re-enter its consensual hallucination program, STEM. Turns out Sebastian’s daughter, Lily (whom he thought was dead), is now being used as STEM’s cerebral core and thanks to the fact Mobius can’t find her in STEM, Sebastian is the company’s last and best chance of tracking her down.
As was the case with the first game (and if you’re in the dark, here be spoilers), there are a couple of nasty personalities loose in STEM, turning the whole experience into a horror show. Sebastian’s job is to track down Lily and, if he can help it, avoid having his head pulled off. Hilarity ensues.
The developers deserve some serious props for making The Evil Within 2 a genuinely frightening experience. After all, once the information filters in that nothing Sebastian is experiencing is real, how scary can his journey be? The answer is, bloody scary and, in some instances, stomach-churningly sickening.
Admirably, this isn’t down to Tango Gameworks shoving a bunch of jump-scares down the player’s throat, which seems to be the go-to move for horror game developers these days. Rather, the designers have produced creatures that are by turns disturbing and disgusting and enveloped the player’s experience in an atmosphere of crushing dread.
When you’re playing a horror game and you find yourself afraid to open a door, or turning away from a scene that makes you want to gag, you know you’re in the hands of people who know what they’re doing.
Tango Gameworks has also taken note of complaints players made about its first outing. To wit, the game’s stealth mechanics are better implemented, the boss fights aren’t as frustrating and even though the dialogue is still clunkingly bad, the story is better on the whole.
What the developer absolutely nails is the near-the-knuckle tension associated with this genre. Over the game’s 17 Chapters, (well… 15 at any rate), players will constantly feel as though their backs are against the wall. Resources are scarce, the monsters are unrelenting and every pull of the trigger feels like a waste if one bullet isn’t enough to bring an enemy down.
Players can level Sebastian, his weapons and craft ammo and other items on the fly, but as long as they’re playing the game on a level higher than Casual, they’ll never really feel like they’re dominating the proceedings. That’s the silver bullet for survival horror; everything else is just window dressing.
That’s a good thing too, because there’s quite a bit about The Evil Within 2 that doesn’t work at all. The breakneck pace of the second half of the game makes one wonder what the hell happened with the first half.
Sebastian’s non-committal reaction to scenes that would scar others for life seems weird at first and then hilarious. Recycled boss battles from the first game feel lazy – even when there’s a sound reason for them existing in the narrative. And in a game where every bullet counts, enemies who show no signs of damage after the player’s pumped round after round into them feel unfair.
Oh, and those guys who look like moles armed with flamethrowers? They can piss right off!
The Evil Within 2 Review – Verdict
The Evil Within 2 plays like a smorgasbord of horror influences that just about manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Horror fans will likely forgive its weaknesses, but outside that clutch, it’s unlikely to be viewed as essential. We’re all for homage in these parts, but here’s hoping, that if there is a sequel, the developers let themselves off the leash.
- The Evil Within 2 was reviewed on a PS4. A retail code was provided by the publisher.