The Evil Within 2 (Xbox One)
People often categorise horror through different means of implementation, be it jump scares, psychological anguish, emotional distress or even gratuitous gore. A truly great horror game will accomplish all of the above with little reserve for the player’s sanity, but not all games hit the sweet spot between spooky and traumatising. The Evil Within done just that. But with video games evolving at a steady rate, it’s only natural that the horror genre ought to change too. And here we are with The Evil Within 2.
From the off, players are greeted with a nightmare from our frail-minded, once proud detective Sebastian Castellanos. The horrific memory of his daughter burning to death in a house fire still torments our troubled hero to this very day. Set three years after the events of the first game — the Beacon Mental Hospital incident — Sebastian Castellanos gets word that his daughter never died in that house fire. In fact, she is very much alive, but in the hands of those responsible for the Beacon Mental Hospital. This forces Sebastian to confront the horrors he had once fled to retrieve his daughter.
While Tango Gameworks have stated that it’s not imperative to have played The Evil Within prior to its successor, I’d heartily disagree. Those who have not dipped their shaky toes into the blood stained waters of The Evil Within, a playthrough does add much needed context to the history, characters, and organisations that really shape The Evil Within 2. Sure, there’s the current plot of Sebastian’s daughter being alive and the journey to find her, but each step of the way we are constantly reminded of Sebastian’s need to wallow and grieve for his past mistakes and unforgettable encounters. This will leave many players who’ve never played the original frustrated and wanting to understand what’s actually transpired in Sebastian’s past to get a better grip on the story.
Especially since Sebastian wallows in self-pity so much that it tends to become annoying. Even once he has found some resolve, the slightest inconvenience or hiccup will send him spiralling back down the hole of self-loathing, so far that it hurts.
Traditional horror games — and by traditional I mean old school Resident Evil horror — would pack all of its atmosphere into eerily dark corridors, rotten tapestries and scarily bad camera angles to help create the vibe, accompanied by an array of monsters. Shinji Mikami returned to the director’s chair in the making of The Evil Within to re-birth the genre. His genre. However, Shinji Mikami took a bit of a back seat in the making of The Evil Within 2 and you can tell as many design choices oppose the original’s vision: heavy emphasis on open world space as opposed to tight corridors; less oppressive looking enemies in place of blandly generic monstrosities; plenty of ammo to run a mock as compared to ammo scarcity in the original. Just to name a few, although the changes do bode well from a gameplay perspective. While it does tone back the survival horror approach, it does a great job of creating an adrenaline fuelled combat sequences and stealth sections. The comparable differences is what Resident Evil is to Resident Evil 4. Both great games, but divisive in their fan base.
Corridor horrors are becoming things of the past and being replaced with the ever popular “open world” concept. Now Sebastian has to tremble his grief-stricken self around Union, an artificial construct of a modern suburban society, with all manners of horrific scenery; mutilated corpses, mad psychopaths and old CRT televisions. Even though this freedom changes the dynamic of the horror experience, it does offer The Evil Within 2 greater reach for stealth gameplay, a rather underrated mechanic of the first game. Sebastian tends to have a rather poor time aiming his gun, so he must utilise the use of his handy knife whenever he can. Sneaking up behind foes is enjoyably satisfying and easy to do. Too easy in fact. Even if Sebastian’s plans are foiled by an eagle-eyed zombie, all he has to do is run to a nearby bush and wait for the A.I. to get bored and return to their normal routine, allowing Sebastian to have another go at giving them a good scalping. Although stealth isn’t always possible.
From time to time you will be forced into unforgivable combat encounters. All that time stealth killing hasn’t really paid off as your skills with a gun are still laughable. It’s in these encounters where The Evil Within 2 fails where its older brother excelled. These confrontations usually happen in small confined spaces, usually over encumbering the player with tens of enemies at once with not a hope in hell of winning. Mostly due to the controls as Sebastian’s handles… like an old man, I guess. His movements are sluggish and his animations are wobbly. Often times he gets stuck on scenery and animations just cancel or don’t fully commit. Now, this is all forgivable in its open world areas where there is enough room for Sebastian to shake his keister and hide. But when you’re confronted by faster, more merciless enemies, surviving proves problematic. Players have the aid of Sebastian’s personal traps and explosives to help counteract this problem, but it’s never enough, leading to a trial and error approach to taking enemies out, pressing the retry button when offered.
It’s often in these times that you’d wish you could save your game on a dime but The Evil Within 2 only offers up specific save locations via sporadic safe zones. Sometimes you’ll be lucky/unlucky to get a random autosave to help you out but they are very inconsistent. Most of the time, players will be forced to backtrack 10 minutes upon death, but other times will save in the midst of a battle. It’s a roll of the dice really.
As I mentioned earlier, the developers have done a U-turn on the importance of ammo scarcity and its need to help emphasise the nature of survival horror. Instead Sebastian is now able to craft/construct bullets and bombs at a workbench or on the go; like if Bob the Builder was an anarchist. And use them as he sees fit. He can also come by Weapon Parts by raiding bins and going through people’s houses and stealing their stuff. Theses precious resources are used to upgrade all of Sebastian’s equipment. Things like damage, clip size and reload speed can all be enhanced as well as adding a few modifiers to make them more dangerous. So you’re sure to never been in a rut for firepower and ammunition.
Returning from the first game is the grisly-looking torture chair from which Sebastian upgrades his very being; granting more health, upping his stamina and so on. To administer these upgrades, Sebastian will need to gather Green Gel, which is more or less zombie innards. Gather enough and you’ll be a fit as fiddle. While Weapon Parts and Green Gel are the building blocks of Sebastian’s mortality rate, there are other tidbits that can help Sebastian travel throughout Union. Locker Keys, for one, are an in-game collectable that can be used to unlock one of thirty two doors in Sebastian’s office (safe zone) which will reward a random piece of loot upon opening (ammo, gel, health). Files can also be collected to give some backstory on enemies and environments that Sebastian will be up against.
The Evil Within 2 works as well as it should, but tries to be something it’s not by trying to be something it should be. Get me? It plays out more like an action game than a survival horror. All the elements that it has in place take away from the restrictive close confines of traditional horror games and broadens the spectrum but lessens the atmosphere and impact a survival horror game should have. I’m certainly not trying to bash The Evil Within 2, quite the opposite, I rather enjoyed it. Its stealth mechanics are on point and lends well to the open world design with its supporting characters within Union adding greatly the ever expanding narrative. Union is a treat to explore and offers plenty to do in terms of side quests. Often leading players to obscure areas revealing whole new side stories. It does get let down by some dodgy control features and some poor save functions but other than that The Evil Within 2 has a fun time to be had. Not a spooky one mind you, but a fun one.