Evil Within 2 Review – Inexplicably Toothless
It’s been three years since the original Evil Within released. Directed by Shinji Mikami, the man who headed the original Resident Evil, the game was intended to be a throwback to the good old days of survival horror that the Resident Evil franchise had abandoned in favor of more bombastic action-style gameplay. However, the game market is different place in 2017 than it was in 2014. Evil Within II not only has a different director (Mikami retains a producer credit), but is now releasing the same year that the very franchise Mikami helped create launched its newest entry, Resident Evil VII: Biohazard, a game which saw the series return to its horror roots.
I only mention this because on paper, and even in execution, Evil Within 2 and Resident Evil VII have a lot of similarities, so it’s difficult not to compare them. The key difference being that VII feels more like a modern version of the original Resident Evil, while Evil Within 2 has more common with forth entry in that series. But the question remains – is Evil Within 2 good enough to carve out its own niche?
Although Evil Within 2 is a horror game, it falls more under the creepy and weird category than frightening; placing more emphasis on combat and resource managing than it does trying to scare you. The same could be said about the original, but this game’s choice of setting, an idyllic small-town called Union, is lacking the atmospheric sense of dread that the original’s Beacon Mental Hospital had going for it and comes off pedestrian. Apart from a certain a questline (trust me, you’ll know it when you come across it), there are few moments in the game that come close to being remotely scary. Are there several moments I would describe as disturbing? Yes, but it’s also nothing any horror buff hasn’t seen before.
Protagonist Sebastian Castellanos returns from the original game, and is as adept at fighting as ever. Though the game only starts you off with a knife, you quickly gain access of firearms and a crossbow, and, after some well executed sleuthing, you’ll soon find yourself sufficiently supplied. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t a superfluous amount of supplies available, but there is no limit on which or how many weapons and crafting materials Sebastian can carry in his inventory, so the only time I really felt worried about being not being properly equipped was early on after I missed the notice that crafting from your inventory cost more resources than it did at the workbench. Of course, this isn’t even taking in account how the game’s liberal use of checkpoints can easily be taken advantage of.
For example, if you decide to engage a horde of foes but get an itchy trigger finger and miss your first couple of shots, you don’t have to worry that you just wasted precious bullets – just let yourself get killed and the game will more likely than not send you back to where you were before you attracted the enemy’s attention with all your ammo returned to you, no penalties. This might sound like par the course, but when a horror game is not going to go out of its way to try to scare you than it should at least make you afraid of dying, otherwise what’s the point?
Despite its failures to deliver reliable tension, Evil Within II’s gameplay is quite fun. Apart from Sebastian having an aiming problem – the reticle may occasionally swerve at the last second by no fault of your own – the controls are adequately functionable; you can switch between weapons fluidly and sneaking past enemies is easy enough to pull off for a non-stealth game. The game also does a good of keeping you on your toes by throwing new types of enemies at you as you progress, though the designs of said enemies are lacking in originality.
Collecting gel and weapons parts to upgrade your skills and arsenal remains a big part of the experience, allowing you to shape Sebastian to fit your own playstyle. Do you want your shotgun to have a larger bullet capacity or a handgun with more firepower? Do you put points into increasing Sebastian’s stamina to allow for easier escapes if you find yourself overwhelmed, or do you improve his health, so you can stick out those same encounters longer? These are just a handful of the decisions I had to make during my 18+ hour playthrough, and was by far the most engaging aspect of my experience.
Whereas the original was a straightforward, linear adventure, Evil Within 2 features small pockets of open world areas to explore in-between the scripted set pieces; featuring a handful of side quests to keep taps on, resources to scavenge, and other collectibles to find. These offerings might pale to your typical open world game – and not to mention the areas themselves aren’t exactly huge – but it still offers a nice respite from the game’s linear moments, which, speaking of, start off strong but become decreasingly less so as already tired environments are continually recycled.
On the other hand, the story is more straightforward than the previous game. One of the better things the original had going for it was the intrigue of figuring out just what the heck was going on. By the end it was revealed the entire game had taken place inside STEM, a virtual world of sorts. In Evil Within 2, however, you are told right from the get-go you are going to be reentering STEM, but now that you’ve peeked behind the curtain the magic is gone. No longer do you need to ponder the reason the mind-bending scenery or question why deformed monsters are roaming about, because you already know the answers.
To make up for the lack of mystery, the writers give you a nice hook in the form of Sebastian’s daughter, who he was formerly led to believe was dead, but turns out to be very much alive and trapped in STEM. Also lurking inside STEM is a deranged artist turned serial killer named Stefano, whom acts as a fantastic foil to Sebastian; he’s easy to loath, yet is charismatic and fascinating to watch develop.
Now, Sebastian’s quest to find his daughter might be a reliable way to gain the player’s investment, but it isn’t strong enough to carry the entire plot. This is mostly due to Sebastian’s cold, gruff portrayal being at odds with his apparent unyielding desperation to save his daughter; many of Sebastian’s discussions with other characters come off as if he is engaging in two separate conversation at once due to how stilted his dialogue and jarring his personality shifts are. Things fall even further apart at the halfway point when the established storyline gets flipped on its head; the only interesting character is written out and replaced by a handful of characters who’ve never been referenced before yet appear to be essential to the plot, only for them also to be yanked out of the story hours later. An controllable amount of cheesiness also begins to spread through the story, however, instead of embracing it, Evil Within 2 continues to keep things straight-faced.
It’s like the script was written by two different groups who didn’t know what the other was planning, or almost as if they took the plots of two different games and combined them into one but cut out large portions of both. Whatever the case, it became apparent the story became saddled with too many storylines to juggle at once, most of which are poorly developed, and the end result is a blatant attempt to wrap them all up in the laziest, most straight out of Hollywood way imaginable.
Evil Within 2’s gameplay is adequate enough for me to call the game fun, it’s just too bad Tango Gameworks and Bethesda fumbled across the board in all the other key areas. By failing to instill the proper fear and dread one comes to expect out of a horror game while also running a decent storyline into the ground with out-of-nowhere and pointless twists, Evil Within 2 is unable to stand above its own averageness.