I picked up The Evil Within 2 on a whim despite not playing the predecessor. I can’t put my finger on why I did it, but it’s not because of Halloween, we hardly celebrate that here. Maybe I needed something to get me out of my comfort zone and what better genre to do that than a survival horror?
The fans get to reprise the role of Sebastian Castellanos, a detective who has lost everything, yet life isn’t done with throwing shit his way with no remorse whatsoever. He lost his little girl in a fire, his wife left him and he’s now haunted by the nightmarish memories of unbelievable past events. But as I said, life isn’t done picking on this guy, maybe because he can take it or maybe because as a sequel, The Evil Within 2 needed him one more time.
The once detective now drowns his sorrow at the bottom of bottles when he is contacted by an old friend. Mobius, an obviously antagonistic corporation, needs him on board for a plan that hardly makes sense. A new active STEM system has gone rogue, which for those like me who didn’t play the first game doesn’t really mean much. Apparently, it’s a device capable of bringing together the mind of multiple people into a virtual environment for scientific and of course, malefic purposes. It’s like a Matrix that doesn’t make all that much sense, but for the sake of immersion I went on ignoring its conceptual flaws. This time around Sebastian is manipulated into going in such a lovely place, a virtual town named Unity (hardly a poetic name considering the situation). Giving an environment for the human mind to fully express does come with its downsides and for that matter Union has taken a turn for the worse. Malformed zombies run rampant on the city’s streets in a spectacle of grotesque behavior masking the bigger cogs that have been set in motions. Mobius has an agenda and the well being of Union’s “citizens” isn’t very high on the list as countless employees are sent pretty much to their deaths into the STEM environment just to save the mind powering it.
With big plot elements uncovered in the previous title (and explained now), The Evil Within 2’s narrative starts on the wrong foot. We have answers before we even have questions and the story’s intrigue requires some emotional involvement that the game’s prologue wasn’t able to project. I’m curious if playing the predecessor would have made this any better, but I highly doubt that would have changed my perception over the plot. With much of the mystery out of the way, the plot revolves around the question of who is behind this mess and to a lesser extent why. The answers come from chasing villains, one more evasive and inefficient as the other, with a climax that didn’t really do anything for me.
I desperately tried to connect with the characters and their emotional struggles, but the writing didn’t feel all that compelling and the rigid voice acting hardly did them any justice. So I ended up not caring about any of them. The story was serviceable despite its major flaws. However, it was constantly held back by a gameplay approach that stuttered the narrative to just fragments of exposition delivered between long moments of trivial tasks.
The town of Union provides a semi open world to explore interspersed with scripted sequences meant to move the story along while providing the atmosphere of an actual horror game. However, the world is filled with side objectives that have little to no meaning for the actual story. Having to constantly strike chores off of a completist’s list is a rather contradictory design for the setting itself that breaks the pace of the narrative more often than it should just to increase the game’s length.
From a gameplay perspective, the level design is pretty good. Each open area is lavished with buildings and aesthetic details providing a good sense of exploration. Safe zones are strategically positioned, helping the player to transition from one area to another while picking up new, more meaningful tasks. But while it can be captivating to discover collectibles, solve small puzzles and gain useful items, the bulk of the map is about killing common enemies and completing some filler tasks.
The combat can be enjoyable taking advantage of the survival horror theme to add some disturbing flavor every now and then. The combination between full out action and stealth segments with just a few quick time events works well, providing the player with options for each situation. You can tackle an enemy straight on, lay down traps to set an ambush or stick to the cover and take down enemies one by one as a true assassin of the malformed. The limited resources on higher difficulties do seem to direct players to the latter, at least from time to time, and the environment does favor some tactical ingenuity. But when the chips are down swapping to a full combat mode requires no effort.
The available arsenal is quite varied starting with a standard handgun and going up to flamethrowers and deadly gadgets with the iconic crossbow being part of the mix. Guns however are not a given and some of the better ones can be obtained only through exploration. Each gun type can be improved through an intricate series of upgrades that significantly changes the way a gun handles and performs in combat. As per usual with these survival games, upgrading the guns can be a bit tiresome yet not an unenjoyable task. Enemies drop a gel that serves as a currency for upgrading weapons and skills with more of the resources required for further upgrades and crafting ammo found scattered throughout the world. The game keeps a tight pace on the action for the trigger-happy players with ammunition being craftable on the fly but at a higher cost. This reduces any limitations when coming to play styles making the gameplay all the more enjoyable for everyone. However, the mix between a somewhat annoying control scheme and some horrendous character animations make some of the fight scenes look like a parody based on a horror movie.
The town of Union can be a place of gameplay immersiveness that makes up for a lot of the underdeveloped aspects of the game. But certain design choices act as constant reminders that this STEM experience is far from real. There is an obvious handholding that shouldn’t be the case for a game that prides itself on being a survival horror. Interactions are highlighted, missions are tracked and everything note worthy is marked on the map, sacrificing immersiveness for the sake of convenience. In all fairness, many HUD elements can be disabled, but I felt they shouldn’t be part of the game to begin with.
For all the imagination power that went into creating and reshaping a place like Union, there’s little enemy variety. The disturbing creatures become common quickly joined even by some of the bosses which return as simple monsters. This makes the action ever more predictable defusing much of the tension.
It’s not hard to pinpoint where The Evil Within 2 stepped wrong because it’s a common mistake of the current generation of games. It’s this attempt to combine too many elements without adding enough depth and making the proper adjustments for the setting. The resulting gameplay experience might be enjoyable but its individual elements lack excellence.
The Evil Within 2’s technical components don’t really go along with the AAA tag put forth by the game’s marketing and price. The graphics are dated, which shouldn’t be such a surprise since most of the games out there aren’t really keeping the pace with the evolution of technology (I wonder why…). But some of these so called AAA still try, while the only attempt The Evil Within 2 makes is meant to conceal its lackluster graphics. Behind the filtering and diluting effects of bloom, motion blur, depth of field, chromatic aberration and for “cinematic” purposes, film grain (this game really uses them all), hide an array of technical deficiencies. Horrendous texture work, a poor play of light and shadows, pre-rendered reflections, extreme pop-ups and clipping textures are mixing up in a rather horrific visual experience that has little to do with the game’s theme. The animations aren’t in a better shape with the FOV blowing down Sebastian’s neck when he goes in spastic episodes while trying to get his gun out.
It’s not all bad though, the cinematics are pretty well done helped in part by some detailed character models and good enough facial animations. The artistic direction is where the game truly shines, projecting on screen creepy environments haunted, sometimes, by truly nightmarish creatures.
Overall, The Evil Within 2’s visuals try to make up for the lackluster technical components through artistic ingenuity, but it doesn’t always succeed. I felt cheated playing this game in 2017 and while many players might tolerate or completely ignore these problems I just couldn’t even if I wanted. The abundant stuttering was a constant reminder of the situation.
The zombie apocalypse thematic of the collapsing Union isn’t all that original or horrifying. So the sound design had to compensate a lot for this and for the most part it did. The tensioned and uneasy moments have much to do with the environmental sounds. The audio rarely gives the player any moments of rest outside the safe zones. Distant screams and ineligible sounds are constant reminders that this isn’t supposed to be just a regular action game. Even when the imagination of the graphic designers comes to life on the screen taking the form of disturbing creatures, the impact wouldn’t be the same without the voicing twisted to the extreme.
The music isn’t anything particularly remarkable and there are many moments when it’s completely turned off having just a hint of vibration on the background. However it does manage to complete this audio ambient meant to feel uncomfortable for the game’s benefits.
I wouldn’t have any complaints with the sound if it wasn’t for the voice acting. It’s not like the actors were given a masterful script to work with. But often they felt passive, cold and even bored, which kept me even more indifferent to their problems even when things went really wrong.
In what seems like a common turn of events for the games of this sub-genre, corners have been cut and compromises have been made to make The Evil Within 2 cater to the needs of a larger audience. I picked the game because I wanted a narrative driven survival horror experience. What I got instead was a hybrid of genres mastering none, something the current market doesn’t lack. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the time spent with the game, some of its gameplay segments were quite savory. But for a title that spends so much time trying to channel a meaningful narrative set in a disturbing setting, The Evil Within 2 falls short at its own game. In the end surprise or disappointment will come based on the expectations. However, I feel that the current price tag makes it hard to overlook the game’s shortcomings or justify gambling with expectations.
+ Artistically gruesome
+ Extremely atmospheric at times
+ A good combination of action and stealth gameplay
+ Sound design
+ Segments of great level design
+ A good sense of progression
– The story is incapable of triggering the emotions it is so desperately trying to convey
– Average graphics with plenty of visual glitches and performance problems
– The semi open world design breaks the immersion of the horror theme
– Uninspired voice acting
– A limited array of enemies
– Underwhelming production value for the price