Release date: October 13th, 2017
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed,) PS4, PC
As a lifetime fan of the survival horror genre, starting with its beginnings in Alone in the Dark, Clock Tower, and Resident Evil in the 1990s, the 2010s started out as a pretty bleak time for the genre in my eyes. A new console generation was already in the works by the time 2010 came around and though it seemed like horror gaming saw a bit of a resurgence in the 2000s with the PS3/360/Wii generation, maybe some felt the market had become over-saturated and lost its appeal by that time or was going through some major demographic/interest changes.
In any case, it seemed like newer horror titles were becoming few and far between in the beginning of this generation, maybe because many younger gamers preferring the modern style of horror gaming, which relies more on jump-scares and “walking simulator,” collect-a-thon narrative than actual survival and resource management, and most of these games are small indie titles, nothing with the lush production values and budget of what many 1990s and 2000s horror games had.
Then, 2014 saw the release of the first Evil Within game, being directed and produced by Shinji Mikami, the man responsible for the early Resident Evil games, and it was easily my favorite horror game of the 2010s. Its surreal, old world feel made it feel like stepping into a 1930s silent horror film, full of early European gothic horror elements and more immersive, cinematic style than any other game before it. It was a trip back into real survival horror in every sense of the word.
When the sequel was announced in 2016, you could definitely say I was anticipating the release, and as I do with most games, I tried to keep away from seeing too many trailers or previews, as I’d prefer to experience the game myself instead of having half of the game spoiled by early press coverage. Now that the game is released and I’ve spent plenty of time with it, we can assess if it stands in the shadow of its predecessor or manages to keep the flame of survival horror alive once again.
The Evil Within 2 starts off by establishing that Sebastian, the main character from EW1 is now a sad and tormented drunk after the events of the first game; one of the oldest and most tired narrative elements in modern entertainment stories. Unfortunately, things only go downhill from here, as far as the quality of the story is concerned.
Soon after begins the other most tired narrative in entertainment, with the “my daughter is missing and I have to get her back” story, and Sebastian immediately devolves into a generic, stereotypical, melodramatic “angry tough guy” character and starts yelling at and threatening the antagonists every time he opens his mouth instead of feeling like a real, scared, human character as he did in EW1.
Players of the first game will soon realize that the strongly focused, directed narrative that made the original EW so strong has been abandoned in EW2 in favor of an open world experience, surely meant to please the mainstream gaming market by its addition. In changing this core structure of the game, the narrative has completely fallen apart and has little to no direction. As the opening credits rolled, I noticed that Shinji Mikami was no longer in the role of director this time, and it was quickly becoming very apparent.
EW2 quickly becomes a series of fetch quests that contribute nothing to the main story and leave you going from Point A to Point B, talking to random futuristic military personnel over and over, with them constantly spouting pointless, uninspired sci-fi dialogue, trying to explain to you how The Matrix now exists within the world of a horror game.
Not only do you have to deal with this when you meet these characters in person, but you’re also constantly assaulted by meaningless radio conversations as you’re trying to play the game and explore things, on top of trying to be stealthy, which makes little sense.
Soon after entering The Matrix (called “STEM” in this game,) you’re also introduced to a generic, stereotypical villain that seems more like he comes from a comic book than a horror story, and even more really worn-out tropes are shoved in your face, once again, surely trying to appeal to the mass market of folks who think that modern horror movies and games are important and truly representative of what horror is about.
This basically sets the precedent for the entire story after this point, with one tired trope after another entering the mix with every new area or character you’re introduced to, so there isn’t much else to say about the story from here on.
Now, in regards to the combat and how the game plays, EW2 also begins as a wholly frustrating, unsatisfying experience, when you realize that many of the techniques and mechanics that made the first game so great are now dumbed down, completely missing, or hidden behind a wall of in-game unlocks through leveling up and currency.
This results in the first hours being a chore to play through, with the horrible story pelting you in the face as you struggle to fight even the most basic enemies, since Sebastian mysteriously now has the combat abilities of a baby for no explained reason.
Besides the combat/abilities being dumbed down, the open world is somewhat fun to explore, with items and events being hidden in unsuspecting places, giving you at least some motivation to keep exploring as you go. As an unfortunate side-effect, having mostly the structure of an open world, the ability to create a focused and claustrophobic world to get immersed in is no longer there, and I was very rarely ever actually scared and fearful to continue forward while playing.
This open world format also greatly increases the length of the game to be a little bit longer than the first game, but encounters and locations start to feel repetitive after a little while, so the length seems somewhat artificially inflated to make it feel longer, since all you’re doing is repeating the same kinds of encounters over and over.
The setting of the open world is definitely a change for the worse, forfeiting the wonderfully immersive old-world feel of the first game for a fairly boring, cut-and-paste modern American town, with everything feeling cold and lifeless, and ultimately, not unique at all. Much of EW2 strangely takes place during the day or early evening, with plenty of light illuminating everything you see.
The first EW made itself fairly long by horror game standards by having lots of dark corners to explore, even if the main progression was more linear in nature, and the difficulty of surviving made it take a while longer for most players, as it was easy to fail most encounters in EW1 at least once or twice. The areas of EW2 feel mostly empty and uninteresting visually, even if there are some well-done visual elements every once in a while, they are definitely not as strongly ingrained into the world design as they were in EW1.
Much like another farce of a “horror game” that was released earlier this year (Resident Evil 7,) EW2 awkwardly tries to throw in many tropes and ideas that were simply lifted from another horror property of some kind and pasted un-fittingly into the game, in an apparent attempt to have that same kind of modern “relatability” to a wider audience. Just like in RE7, these end up really taking you out of the experience and making the game feel less unique in the end. But hey, at least they didn’t try to make the game first person as well and jump on that bandwagon.
After getting nearly half way through the game, it finally felt like Sebastian had enough abilities to make combat enjoyable, but it was a tough and un-enjoyable grind to get to this point, and this is a major flaw of the game design. I didn’t truly feel like the gameplay became comfortable and fun until about half way or 2/3 of the way through the game.
The area of combat where the game really shines the most is the stealth mechanics. Evil Within 2 adds a few great improvements to the stealth gameplay compared to EW1, but unfortunately you have to unlock most of these improvements by grinding with in-game currencies that take a while to amass, effectively locking the fun and useful game mechanics behind an in-game upgrade wall.
I’d also be doing a disservice if I didn’t mention how truly unique and terrifying most of the monsters are in EW2. It’s a shame there aren’t more of them to encounter, but every single one of the enemies have a set of great qualities that make you uncomfortable in every way. They look disgusting and yet you can’t look away, they make some of the most unsettling and horrible sounds you’ve ever heard from horror creatures, and have very powerful attacks that make you afraid to engage even the most common enemies. The enemies are one of the most redeeming qualities of the game, and even if most of them are somewhat influenced by the Silent Hill series, they still manage to stand out and be memorable in their own way.
As mentioned before, the latter half of the game starts to feel plodding and inflated, with even most of the combat encounters getting boring and repetitive by about 2/3 of the way through, if not sooner. The pacing slows to a crawl towards the end of the story, with an extraneous flashback scene to accompany almost every actual main story sequence, and it remains highly annoying right up to the end.
The New Game+ mode lets you keep your upgrades and items from the previous playthrough and also adds a few more extra powerful items and bonuses to make the game much more enjoyable the second time through, but you still have to deal with the same fetch quests and the same empty world again, and it’s a shame that you have to spend nearly 20 hours playing through the bloated campaign to get a point where the whole game is fairly enjoyable.
Evil Within 2 is a fairly clear attempt to take a classic survival horror franchise and abandon the survival horror in favor of some more mainstream video game tropes and clichés to try cashing in and pulling in a more mainstream audience.
It feels like everything that The Evil Within did right in 2014, EW2 squandered and threw to the side in order to sell more copies to non-horror fans. The result is an empty, uninspired sequel that feels nothing like the original game that started the series and made it so promising.
It’s hard to recommend this, especially to classic survival horror fans, and though there are some redeeming qualities here and there, most of the game falls completely flat and just barely gives enough motivation to keep playing at all.
If you haven’t played the original Evil Within, I’d say go play that for around $10 or $20 instead of spending $60 on this empty shell of a sequel.
Final Score: 2.75 out of 5