STAFF REVIEW of Evil Within 2, The (Xbox One)

Friday, October 20, 2017.
by Chad Goodmurphy

Evil Within 2, The Box art There’s no denying that the original The Evil Within was an ambitious effort, but it was undone by frustrating gameplay, clunky controls and a lack of polish. As such, what was supposed to be Shinji Mikami’s triumphant return to the survival horror genre failed to live up to expectations and it was ultimately forgotten by the masses. Now, three years later, the revered producer and his team at Tango Gameworks are back, with a full-fledged sequel, which is aptly dubbed The Evil Within 2.

Set three years after the events of the first game, The Evil Within 2 begins with a bang. It's during this opening segment that former detective Sebastian Castellanos finds himself in darkness, with only the light of flames to guide him. The fire that lights ahead isn’t a campfire though, and is instead a raging inferno engulfed around the home that he shares with his wife Myra and daughter Lily. The former is nowhere to be found while the latter is trapped and needs to be saved.

It’s after the one time cop runs into his burning home and attempts to rescue his young child that it’s revealed that this is nothing but a dream in the head of a booze addled and very depressed forty-something. One who’s been to Hell and back, and has lived to tell the tale, after his stint inside the head of a madman within the first game’s runtime. Those who’ve played that one will likely remember it well, thanks to its violent and disturbing imagery, white knuckled chase scenes and creepy, abandoned mental hospital setting, even if the game as a whole didn’t set the world on fire.

Upon awakening, Sebastian finds that he’s nowhere close to the house he once owned and lived in. Instead, he’s face down on a nondescript bar table, with empties by his side and an old friend unexpectedly sitting across from him. Kidman, that is. She’s come to talk work again, and despite the two being on poor terms she has news that the former detective will want to hear. It regards his daughter, who was presumed, and pronounced dead, but apparently she is still alive and somewhat well.

Kidman hasn’t come as a favour, and is instead seeking help herself. It seems that Lily was screened as a child and found to be the best possible candidate for the role of the core in a new cerebral world that Kidman’s employer, Mobius, has crafted. Going by the name of Union, it’s a hivemind location that has come to be thanks to computer engineering, and it takes the form of your typical American small town. However, despite looking both idyllic, warm and cozy, things are not all well in this neighbourhood. Not at all.

Although it started its digitally crafted life as a safe and secure place, Union has become something sinister. Mobius doesn’t know this at first, but it’s presumed as contact with the town’s operatives has suddenly ceased. Now, it’s up to the former detective to return to the STEM world, in which Union exists, in an attempt to find and save those lost, militarized souls.

Of course, it was the STEM world that Sebastian unwittingly joined during the first Evil Within, and that resulted in him entering the mind of a madman. One whose sick delusions, twisted fantasies and violent thoughts all combined to create one Hell of a nightmarish experience. So much so that it still haunts our protagonist, who has nightmares and visions regarding it (the Beacon Hill Mental Hospital, to be exact) throughout the course of The Evil Within 2’s somewhat creepy twelve to fourteen hours.

After entering Union, by way of a bathtub full of a white liquid, it doesn’t take long for the shit to hit the proverbial fan. That’s because it’s quickly discovered that a new type of maniac is running amuck, with this one being a fan of the artistic side of murder, if there really is such a thing. He’s an artist, you see, and loves to use the STEM world to his advantage, in order to kill, stop time and thus permanently capture his messy work. The splattered blood, fragments of skull, and bits of sinew that are seen exiting and floating around these murdered corpses just add to it all.

Thus begins the first half of the game, wherein players must both explore Union and chase after the murderous photographer at the same time, all while he taunts Sebastian with glimpses of Lily. The thing is though, this is just one part of the game, and the photographer (Stefano Valentini) is not the main adversary. He’s simply the opening attraction before the others come out to play.

What results is a bit of an identity crisis, because this opening half plays a lot slower than what follows. During its seven or so chapters, you’ll find yourself skulking through the town, trying to find as many different items as possible (boxes of bullets, hidden weapons, plants, gun pieces and collectibles), while doing your best to hide from the (mostly) humanoid monsters that prowl the streets and alleyways. That’s not always as easy as it sounds though, because any loud movement can cause alert, and sometimes the bastards simply come out of nowhere.

If you take your time here, and don’t skip any side quests, you’ll come away with a decent arsenal. The key to this game is to always be searching, and doing every side quest you come across will aid your cause in great ways. After all, The Evil Within 2 is a survival horror game through and through, meaning that ammunition is limited which makes it a luxury as opposed to a privilege. This is especially true during the nightmarish campaign’s final chapters, where bullets become even more elusive.

Of course most combat encounters can be avoided, so long as you use both stealth and cover to your advantage. Crouch, walk slowly and avoid running unless you’re absolutely sure that there aren’t any deformed monstrosities around. They’ll even hear you walk if you do so normally, without entering into the noticeably slower stealth mode. That is, unless you upgrade your stealth skills quite a bit.

Your goal should always be to stealth kill foes before wasting even one bullet on them. That’s easier said than done though, because enemies will sometimes lunge out of the darkness, or turn and spot you just before you’re about to knife them in the skull. Granted, some more powerful foes, like the lanky and disgusting female witches, are too powerful to be taken out with just a quiet knifing, and will react in anger if you try. For these asshats, and really any enemy you come across with whom you can’t use stealth, it’s best to just aim for the head and fire.

The gunplay mechanics are a tad hit and miss, but the good news is that they hit more than they miss. Aiming is relatively tight, and can be made better through upgrades, like most other skills, including melee and stealth. That said, I couldn’t even start to accurately count the amount of bullets that I lost due to poor hit detection, especially later in the game, when the enemies are faster and come with more ferocity. This was most noticeable during a segment where Sebastian and an ally were walking through a wall of fire, with only a small circle’s worth of room and large enemies coming from both sides.

Needless to say, aiming a seemingly perfect shot just to see it fail for no specific reason is frustrating. That annoyance doubles, or even triples, when you’re low on health or are trying to conserve ammo and end up firing a blank because the game has failed to register that you did, in fact, shoot the ugly creature in the head.

It’s also worth noting that there is a delay when it comes to healing. You’re able to pause the game, so to speak, by holding the left shoulder button and entering a quick select menu. You can also set your favourite items to the d-pad. However, even though you heal by going to this menu and selecting a medkit or a needle (which offers a fraction of the health regeneration a full kit does), there’s still a brief wait in-between the time when the game resumes and when Sebastian sticks himself to heal. It may be more realistic this way – even if nothing else about this game is – but it’s terribly annoying, because foes can kill Sebastian during those brief moments before the health kicks in.

The odd boss can also one hit kill you, but thankfully these are few and far between. Truth be told though, most of the game’s bosses are also pretty ho-hum. They look cool, especially the badass-looking final boss, but they don’t offer much in the way of unique battle mechanics. Thus, most of the game’s bosses boil down to running around an environment, avoiding being hit and then waiting for the right time to line up a few good headshots.

A few bosses from the first game actually make an appearance during a vignette of bosses that comes up in one of the final chapters. It’s a nice nod to where things all began, and it fits the narrative well. The battles themselves though are more frustrating than they are engaging.

The best thing about The Evil Within 2 is actually Union itself. Stealthily stalking one’s way throughout the town, by way of its alleys and overgrown yards, can be pretty exhilarating and awfully immersive. I also enjoyed sneaking through some of its more prominent buildings in search of items, crafting materials and collectibles, especially the statues that housed locker keys. Then again, I have a hard time not checking almost every corner and crevasse in just about every game I play. It can be tough to find everything here though, as doing so will require one to search every inch of the town, which few will have the patience for.

What’s kind of odd is that The Evil Within 2 features discoverable pouches that increase the amount of bullets Sebastian can carry for specific weapons, like his pistol, shotgun and assault rifle, for example. It’s strange, because it can be rare to have more than 3 bullets for each one at any given time.

It is possible to craft things, be it health packs, bullets, bolts (for the crossbow that is rewarded for completing an early side quest) and weapons (a sniper rifle being one, if you can find it). This is done using gunpowder and other miscellaneous items that are found throughout Union and the underground tunnels that connect it. Safe houses offer crafting benches, as do some garages, but you can always find one in Sebastian’s safe room, which is once again accessed through mirrors that act as portals. The nurse is there again too, and she’s even gone so far as to open up a rather fun little shooting gallery for you to practice in and earn things from.

It’s this safe area, which now resembles a detective’s office, where you can go to save, look at slides (which are hard to find, narrative-based collectibles), craft, open lockers and upgrade your hero. Upgrading is once again handled by collecting and using green goo, with red goo unlocking locked routes within each of the game’s several skill trees (stealth, athleticism, combat, health and survival). Most downed enemies will liquidate into green goo, and sometimes you’ll simply find it laying around in jars. Burning downed enemies also isn’t necessary anymore, as matches have been removed.

Upgrades can reduce aiming sway, increase your health, limit the amount of time it takes to regenerate part of your health when you’re in a near death state, and make your footsteps quieter. It’s also possible to make it so that a health syringe is automatically used every time a normal enemy comes close to killing you, and you can also unlock a dodge option, though that mechanic never really worked well for me. Guns themselves are upgraded separately while using crafting tables, and you’ll use gun parts for that.

Be aware of the fact that it is possible to craft when you’re on the go. The only problem with crafting on the fly is that it uses more materials, and they’re usually pretty limited. Alas, it’s sometimes necessary, and it may well save your ass on at least one occasion.

For the most part, The Evil Within 2 is your standard survival horror game, albeit one with semi-open world mechanics and a couple of side quests. Sure, it’s not common for them to have safe houses where you can talk to allies, drink coffee to heal, craft and save, but this is a Shinji Mikami game and the quirks that come with that are welcome. Hell, there are even Easter eggs that pay homage to games like Skyrim and Wolfenstein.

It is a bit strange however, that the first half of the game is all about one antagonist while the second half, which is shorter, and more frustrating because of its occasionally cheap difficulty spikes and very limited ammunition, relates to two others. The narrative remains relatively interesting throughout though, which is the important thing, even if it’s not the deepest or most creative story ever told in horror. Some of the dialogue and voice acting can be pretty cheesy, but it is what it is. Sebastian has never been the most personable or well spoken main character, and that continues here with some cheesy comments and complaints that can take you out of the moment. On the plus side, the orchestral soundtrack is really good, though.

Those who played any of the first game will surely go in expecting a very dark, dingy, and gritty visual experience, filled with more than its fair share of blood, guts and decrepit creatures. While a lot of that fills The Evil Within 2, its visuals aren’t as scummy or as worn as they were the last time around. Union presents a cleaner look than the mind of the madman did, and some may not like that as much. It’s also more colourful, and brighter than what came before it.

Textures can look kind of waxy, especially when it comes to character models, leaving them feeling like they’re missing some detail. As I progressed towards the credits, I also started to notice more blurry textures within the environments and on the items that I was picking up. At times, it seemed like certain ones failed to fully load in, but the game does have a bit of a blurry look to it in general. It’s definitely not as sharp as it could be, and isn’t without occasional glitches, including whatever caused it to crash on me during one of the campaign’s most difficult segments.

Overall, The Evil Within 2 is a marked improvement over its predecessor in almost every way. It’s cleaner, more user friendly and also more enjoyable, though frustration does seep in, mostly during the endgame where ammunition is far too scarce. This is a good game though, albeit one whose first half is markedly better than its second. Thus, it’s an easy choice for Halloween playtime.

Overall: 7.9 / 10
Gameplay: 7.9 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 8.4 / 10


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