Platforms: PC, Xbox One (reviewed), PS4
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Release: 13th October 2017
! Contains spoilers for The Evil Within 1/2 !
The first Evil Within was one of my most anticipated games of 2014, a survival shooter coming from the mastermind behind the Resident Evil series. Sadly, it suffered from many flaws, like a too frustrating difficulty curve and oversaturation of the same theme. While I enjoyed Sebastian´s journey through STEM it suffered a lot because of its mediocre gameplay. I was therefore more than glad to hear that Tango Gameworks got another chance to deliver their vision of a horror game. The Evil Within 2 surely improves a lot while simultaneously introducing new problems.
After the incidents at Beacon and escaping from both STEM and Mobius, Sebastian Castellanos spent three years searching for Mobius and a way to destroy them once and for all. Yet, it´s Mobius themselves who approach him again in need of someone to once again help them with their STEM machine. Using Sebastian’s daughter Lily, who he believed had died long ago, as a core for their machine, Mobius was able to create a new world within STEM. but when the world starts to collapse Sebastian is the only one able to save Lily, the core and Mobius research. In hope to reunite with his daughter and to find out more about Mobius´s plans, Sebastian delves into the terrifying world of the imaginary town Union.
In contrast to its predecessor, The Evil Within 2 doesn´t center on the mysteries surrounding STEM itself, but more around the human tale of a father who would do anything for his daughter. Whereas the first game had a really fascinating plot around STEM that offered a pretty surprising ending to the game, the second game doesn´t feature a nearly as unique one. A lot of time is spent characterising Sebastian’s relation to his family or the three main villains of the game. However, here lies its biggest problem, the plot and characters are mostly way too predictable.
On the one hand the story around Sebastian´s chase for Lily and Mobius could be predicted by simply putting together all known clichés. With the exception of one twist, the story is a sum of oversaturated clichés. On the other hand the psychopaths encountered in Union seem very fascinating at first glance but eventually develop into one big cliché enhanced with one tiny new detail. When I discovered their past and reasons I thought “is that it?”. Surely the characters can still carry most of the story because Sebastian or the psychopaths are written pretty great and embody this unique “Evil Within” feeling. I loved the photographer as a villain, his style, his writing, everything. Still, compared to the surprise twist of its predecessor The Evil Within 2 lacks this mysterious feeling or needed twists. Mobius´s goals are probably the most predictable things I’ve heard of in a long time.
In exchange the pacing of The Evil Within 2 is far better than the first, which was full of little climaxes that resulted in an unspectacular, weirdly paced experience. The game doesn´t throw new enemies around every corner, it instead relies on a few albeit cleverly used boss monsters to underline certain passages or enhance the climaxes. Overall the whole story can be divided into three acts each with their own introduction and climax, it feels so much better to play and understand, almost like a complete different game. I wished the story was more than average.
While the story is nothing too special carried by the cliché-y but working characters, the one thing Tango Gameworks nailed this time was the world, a little town called Union. The first game mostly played in the same dark, muddy forests or corridors of Beacon with its bland and boring although intimidating environments. This time around, it gets obvious how much they tried to deliver differentiating, captivating environments. From little house districts, to theaters, churches or even claustrophobic dark tunnels. The Evil Within 2 has it all and mixes them perfectly with its pacing, creating environments that go hand in hand with the plot. Throughout the game it embraces the freedom given by STEM, teleporting Sebastian to different dimension, ripping buildings apart or even the world itself.
What happens if this truly great world should be integrated into a Survival Horror game? Little open world passages, apparently, and they´re the best thing ever done to this genre. During the 17 chapters and the about 13 hours long campaign, The Evil Within 2 offers three fairly big open worlds where some of the missions take place. As suggested by the name, the game pretty much let´s the player of the hook, only providing a mission marker and sometimes one or two side missions. In these passages it´s entirely possible to just rush to the marker and ignore the world but I wouldn´t recommend it, exploring the open world is both creeping and deeply rewarding making it the best and biggest gameplay improvement.
Either guided by side missions around missing Mobius members or mysterious signals, curiosity or the need to find better equipment, there are plenty of reasons to explore the world Every new discovery is rewarded with ammunition, new weapon parts, new weapons or even sequences centering about Sebastian´s past. The mission design can be best compared to the Batman Arkham series, at least for me. Side missions often require to backtrack quite a bit or main missions begin in already explored areas but all of them manage to deliver neat stories or moments. Even the free roaming itself often managed to surprise me.
For example, I was on my way to a main mission but saw an illuminated house and just went ahead and entered it. Once I saw everything, I wanted to head out but just before the door a giant monster popped out of the ground and chased me through the house. It was amazing and illustrates the pure quality and thought put into this world to make it work in a horror game.
Moments like these are responsible for the creepy, thick atmosphere of The Evil Within 2, it´s a trip full of surprises and smart design, able to both scare with the already known, horrifying creature designs or simple lighting tricks. As a result the open world as well as the more linear chapters feel intimidating and never convey the feeling of being foreseeable. How the game avoids bigger walking sections is also remarkable, not much here is scripted or so linear that it could be called a walking simulator.
The basic gameplay didn´t change much though, The Evil Within 2 is still a very straight forward third person survival shooter. Unfortunately, due to the heavy and justified criticism concerning the frustrating first game, Tango Gameworks and the new director aimed for a more action oriented approach. Stealth or shooting playstyles are still in place along the ammunition shortage in Sebastian´s pockets and upgrade system but the available materials and bullets were highly increased. Because of the open world sections finding materials or bullets isn´t an issue anymore and even spending only a few minutes in them results in a huge oversaturation of them, over time making stealthy approaches less and less necessary. Usually I spent around ~1-2 hours in every open area, completed the side missions and moved on.
At the end of the game I had 400 gunpowder (around 200 pistol bullets) and went into the last boss with full ammunition and I never was much of a sneaky player. The game plays a lot faster, smoother and less frustrating but looses some of its fearsome identity. Even though I had way more fun with the second one, a well executed survival gameplay would´ve fit way better.
The presentation of The Evil Within 2 is as two-sided as the character focused story. Without a doubt it looks a lot better due to the STEM Engine based on Bethesda´s Id Tech 5 but the engine´s focus is clearly different from the predecessor. Instead of delivering dark, terrifying environments enhanced with this slight touch of Resident Evil that symbolized such a unique atmosphere, the STEM Engine has a far better visual quality. At the same time it looses a lot of the initial magic. The world seems brighter, the blood looks a bit more comical, the whole world has this underlying brighter, whiter art direction. Maybe I´m the only one but The Evil Within 2 just looks a bit more like a streamlined version of Mikami´s original vision.
Especially the enemy variation suffered under this newly found identity in combination with the open world. The normal “Lost”-enemies are encountered way too often, nearly the whole game is filled with them while more powerful enemies make rare or late apperances. Even boss enemies are recycled, after they were beaten the first time clones of them tend to appear in the later chapters as patrolling enemies, taking away the horrifying nature of the first encounter. Along the mediocre mission design, consisting of either very classic missions or the obligatory cliché ones, like “stay under this dome”, “defend this door” or “follow this person”. The game doesn´t stop working because of such little flaws but it can leave a somewhat bitter taste in your mouth.
The Evil Within 2 feels like The Evil Within 1´s bigger brother. It has a clearer vision, knows the flaws of his little brother and makes smarter use of his abilities. The Evil Within 1 had these crazy ideas, unsure vision and didn´t quite know how to deliver its message, both in gameplay and writing. Its bigger brother may lack some of the craziness like an oldschool survival gameplay or a huge array of disturbing monsters, however, the way The Evil Within 2 presents itself, plays and improves on its flawed little brother, makes it a way better game.
Some of the initial vision, gameplay and appeal may be lost, exchanged for a more streamlined, smoother experience but that doesn´t mean it’s worse. No, Tango Gameworks delivered a game expanding on Mikami´s initial vision, mixed it with western ideas and turned it into a damn good game, only held back by a too foreseeable story and other minor flaws.
[A Review Copy was provided by Bethesda Softworks]