Survival horror fans were understandably excited when it was announced that Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami would be helming an all new game for Bethesda, who bought out Mikami’s Tango Gameworks studio in 2010. The initial fruit of this union was 2014’s The Evil Within. It provided a familiar survival horror experience for Mikami fans, but suffered from some design quirks and a complicated, non-sensical plot. John Johanas, project lead on the game’s DLC was tapped to oversee the sequel, The Evil Within 2, as Mikami was stepping out of his director's role for the follow up. The result is an improvement that still carries it mid-90s roots, and all the issues they entail.
The 411 on What the Hell is Going On
The Evil Within 2 kicks off a couple of years after the events of the original game and opens in a dream sequence in the mind of the main protagonist, Sebastian Castellanos. Castellanos is haunted by the disappearance of his wife and the passing of his young daughter, Lily, during a blaze that engulfed their home. The game implies that he is reliving this nightmare in his sleep. He is propositioned by his former partner to come help a shadow organization find his daughter, who is presumably alive and was in the care of the organization.
Desperate to see Lily again, he agrees to cooperate, even though this is obviously a bad life choice and will undoubtedly result in pain, suffering, and mental anguish. It appears that Lily is special and is needed to control STEM, a machine that lets minds drift together under the guide of a central consciousness, known as the Core. Castellanos needs to be mindjacked into STEM and is given orders to find Lily and their spec ops team that was sent in to fix this quagmire earlier. Due to Lily’s absence, everything in the STEM world is a thrown into disarray and ripe from manipulation from evil forces.
Better Than Tank Controls, But Not Optimal
As Castellanos, you are dumped into STEM and find yourself in what was once a suburban town called Union. You are tasked with third personing yourself from objective to objective while not being murdered by the nightmare denizens of Union or the collection of side characters who exist to double-cross you or die to keep you on track. Overall player movement and handling is an improvement over the first game, but is still incredibly frustrating to deal with in tense moments, which is almost all the time. The game will auto vault over low obstacles and kick open doors if you are sprinting, which is a welcome addition. Doing anything with an enemy near you is an exercise in pure frustration.
While there is an argument that the unforgiving controls add to the tension, I’m not as willing to give a game a pass for this as I was in 1997. The Resident Evil-esque inventory management system is present here and while it is functional, picking up green herbs and combining items to make ammo is just as off-putting as it’s been in the last 15 Resident Evil games. The weapon wheel from the first game gets a slight cosmetic update, but it no real improvement for working with your guns. Genre-standard puzzles make an appearance and are inoffensive at best. I chose the option to have auto-aim for my combat engagements to minimize frustration with control stick aiming and it’s probably the only reason I stuck it out to the end of the game. Unlike the original Evil Within, the sequel lets your spread out a little into more open environments. A few of the non-mission critical houses and areas offer a welcome diversion to the main story, but little else.
The Awful Acting Within
Like the the first game, The Evil Within 2 features some real offensive voice acting. The biggest offender is protagonist Castellanos, who somehow manages to deliver every line way off kilter. Yeah, bad voice acting is a genre staple, but its continued presence when every other part of the experience has evolved and improved since the 90s strips it of any campy charm.
Every character in this game is named like they are a part of a low-rent telenovela. In the early chapters of the game, Castellanos is pursuing a metrosexual psychopath with an affinity for photography as strong as my affinity for the great American diner breakfast. This guy is wreaking havoc on the fabric that makes up STEM and murdering folks with an increasing brutality and pageantry. One of the few standout narratives that the game provides is the chase for the photographer killer and the cloud of mystery that surrounds his appearances.
When he finally reveals himself to Castellanos, the game direction and musical cues let you know that what is coming is a big deal and then the guy boastfully reveals himself to be the great Stefano Valentini. What could have been a high point of the narrative left me giggling at how stupid this all was. It would have been scarier had the reveal been done in an offensive Italian stereotype accent and at least the name would have made some sense. This is not a very spicy meatball. Lastly, everyone in this world looks like they haven’t washed their hair in 6 months.
Castellanos pushes through the twisted world in the hunt for Lily, encountering new faces, old faces, disgusting nightmare faces, and a semen monster. By the end of it all, I couldn’t remember half of what happened and had no desire to explore STEM for a second time on a higher difficulty. Reducing the amount of bullets is not going to make the experience more compelling.
For the folks wondering about the PC version. It looks pretty good and you can see some clear improvements to the lighting and reflections compared to the first game. It offers a wider variety of graphics settings and does away with the super-wide aspect ratio from the first game. Unlocked framerates are supported for those using high-refresh rate panels. Sadly, I was unable to get steady performance with any combination of settings when aiming for 60fps. Lots of hitching and poor frame pacing marred the experience until I opted to use a 30fps lock. Even then, the game would hitch on almost every camera cut during cutscenes, along with the ever-present id Tech texture pop-in.
The Evil Within 2 is a better game than the original. While I feel that no part of the game close to the excellent opening moments of the chainsaw man chase that opened the first game, the sum of those parts makes for a better overall experience. That said, I did not really fancy any of it. My aforementioned gripes and PC port issues leave me feeling indifferent towards the scattered high points. In classic horror fashion, the game ends with a hint towards another sequel. Hopefully it will try breaking new ground in gameplay systems and offer a more compelling story. 6/10 Green Herbs
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The key was provided by the publisher. The Evil Within 2 was made available for Steam, Xbox One, and PS4 on October 13, for $59.99. The game is rated Mature.