And so the love-hate relationship I have with The Evil Within series comes to an end, for now… My relentless manic frustrations towards the punishing trials of the first game were largely dulled to intermittent temper tantrums in the sequel. While the difficulty level being dropped was a welcome and somewhat liberating addition, I hate to admit it, but it undeniably took away from the overall survival horror experience. The first Evil Within was an uncompromising, imperfect masterpiece. The second is just a good game, nothing more, nothing less.
You once again assume the now washed up ex-Police Officer Sebastian Castellanos. The story takes place 3 years on from the grueling events of the first outing. Sebastian’s only daughter Lily has died in a house fire and his wife Myra, unable to come to terms with this, leaves him. While wallowing in self-pity at a local bar Sebastian is approached by former MOBIUS agent Juli Kidman. She explains that Lily is, in fact, still alive and is being used as the core of a new STEM system to replicate an alternate reality depicting a utopic American Town called Union (it is as ludicrous as it sounds). She has somehow gone missing in this reality and they need Sebastian to enter Union and track her down. Initially he refrains but eventually reluctantly accepts this mission and is hooked up to a machine. This is where the nightmare begins.
Original Director, Shinji Mikami, took a back seat in the making of The Evil Within 2, and this would go a long way in explaining some of the fundamental changes on offer. The most obvious to note is the new semi-open world experience. Gone, to a large degree, are the never ending claustrophobic corridors and impending darkness. In place of this are vast areas for you to investigate and seek out side quests to aid you in the eventual story progression. The horror elements are still on show but they take more of a backseat as an explorative action oriented offering steals the show. Sometimes I felt more like I was playing Unchartered with a story loosely paralleling the Matrix, rather than an Evil Within game. That isn’t to say that this is a negative, just something anyone considering buying should be aware of. With items less scarce I did often relish the chance to blow enemies to smithereens. This shift is especially true of the first half of the game but things do creep back to a grimmer tone as you progress and everything gets a whole lot more reminiscent. There is even a nostalgia section where you revisit some not so welcome enemies from the first game, one after another.
“Sometimes I felt more like I was playing Unchartered with a story loosely paralleling the Matrix, rather than an Evil Within game.”
The monsters were a strong point in The Evil Within 2. This time their movements are much less predictable, even looking left and right before turning, making each encounter significantly more tense. While I didn’t find them particularly frightening once I got the know on how to take each type out, the flamethrower wielding evangelicals certainly took some courage to confront. The bosses were well thought out and still very tricky. I generally enjoyed working out the best strategy to beat them. It was a satisfying feeling not to have to reach for my phone every 5 minutes to look up how to advance to the next section. This is something I most certainly couldn’t say for the first Evil Within. That isn’t to say there weren’t any tear-your-hair-out moments but these were few and far between. Despite all this, I didn’t find the larger foes as daunting or as memorable as I would have hoped.
The leveling up system slightly changed but is enough similar that it does not need any explanation. I loved how you could take your own path early on and choose whether you wanted to be stealthy or gung-ho. There is even the addition of a shooting range in the save area, where you can test your weapons mastery, or in my case, lack of. Crafting ammo and health syringes is another addition and this took a lot away from the survival aspect as I found myself in excess of both.
The dialogue is once again as wooden as ever and I couldn’t help but notice that since these events are supposed to be taking place after the first game, it baffles me how anything could surprise or horrify Sebastian anymore. Nevertheless, even with the pleasure of hindsight he still seems as perplexed by how things unfold as he was before. There are a string of forgettable characters that you meet along the way, each with their own somewhat trivial agenda. However, on a positive note, the storyline was less convoluted and there were even emotive moments, albeit with bad acting. I was generally captivated by the plot this time, in huge part by the fact that it felt a lot more like everything was explained and not left to implausible speculation.
“If you aren’t looking through the lens of its superior predecessor you are far more likely to appreciate its unquestionable qualities.”
I feel a lot like I have had a permanent frown on my face throughout writing this review and that seems to have reflected in my words thus I must say this now. Mark my words, this is a riveting game full of action, horror and good old fashioned blood and guts. If you aren’t looking through the lens of its superior predecessor you are far more likely to appreciate its unquestionable qualities. I may have fallen prey to the expectation that it would be much of the same with just better graphics and more intuitive controls. And in some respects it was this. However, like Stockholm Syndrome, I couldn’t help but find myself yearning for some of the more unrelenting horrors and testing sections of the original. Judging by the poor game sales and lack of DLC since launch I would hedge a bet and say there will be no Evil Within 3. For some fans this may deal a devastating blow but I think it is probably ultimately for the best. It stops this rare gem of a survival horror game from being tainted, if in fact the sequel hasn’t already done this to a small degree.