Wot I Think: The Evil Within 2

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The Evil Within 2 begins by wearing its heart on its sleeve; here’s a burning house, and oh no, the protagonist’s daughter is inside it. From the outset, it yells in your face that this is going to be a Tragic Dad story, the most beloved of videogame narrative tropes. And it never really rises above this familiar narrative conceit as Sebastian Castellanos explores a horror world filled with bad science and twisted terrors in pursuit of his kidnapped daughter. It’s predictable. In other hands, it could’ve been trite. But The Evil Within 2 revels in its horror b-movieness. It embraces it, telling a surprisingly heartfelt and sincere tale of a man who just wants the best for his loved ones. Even if he has to descend into actual hell and face off against some of the most hideous monsters ever conceived in order to achieve this.

While The Evil Within 2’s overall plot may be nothing surprising, the devil’s in the details here. The level of environmental and visual storytelling is fantastic. The town of Union, a fictional construct created to achieve perfect human hivemind unity, is crumbling and corrupting under the weight of the evil within (of course). As you traverse the game’s hub worlds and self contained levels, small narrative strands play out; here’s a woman escaping from a horde of Lost (the game’s zombie cyphers) who has a strange tale to tell about how she got here. There’s an empty house, clues to the missing occupant’s fate left behind in both the layout and the various Resonance points that give you flashback style insight into what went on. Details like this litter the game, providing subtle narrative development to the player without ramming it down your throat via exposition.

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While the environment of Union tells an interesting story, it’s the enemies in The Evil Within 2 that provide the most interesting narrative meat. The aforementioned Lost are corrupted denizens of Union, their flesh rupturing and weeping, their appearances changing depending on the area of Union in which they met their demise. Then there’s the other, more significant creatures. The Guardian, who you meet early on, is a powerhouse of feminine anger, a three-headed monstrosity wielding a giant buzzsaw. She’s a creation of the game’s first act villain, an art school reject who uses the imaginary nature of Union to create a living art project celebrating the beauty of death and dismemberment.

Then there’s my personal favourite creature design, the Obscura. She’s a gangly multi-limbed beast with a camera as a head. Every time she takes a step, something in the construction of her body causes her to sexually stimulate herself. So you’re there, trapped in a makeshift darkroom lit by seedy red lights, pursued by a camera-headed woman-thing who orgasms as she scuttles after you, her naked flesh quivering in anticipation for the kill. There’s no overt backstory to Obscura. She’s a creation of the villain, reflecting his vision of art and beauty, something which the game does explore. A psychosexual horror that plays on fears unspoken, turning the game’s fairly simplistic plot into a much deeper, more interesting piece of horror fiction.

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If The Evil Within was a spiritual successor to Resident Evil, then The Evil Within 2 is Tango Gameworks’ answer to Silent Hills being canned. Union isn’t exactly open world, but it features various sections of the town in which you’re free to explore, meeting up with NPCs, doing side quests and scavenging for supplies. Scavenging is key here; like the best survival horror games, you’re presented with very little in the way of ammo or healing items, but unlike some of its forebears, The Evil Within 2 provides plenty of means to go off the beaten track and strengthen your arsenal. It’s a nice balance; the more time you invest into exploring Union, the easier time you’ll have, but at the trade-off of taking risks by venturing into some of the more dangerous areas you could otherwise ignore. An early example involves heading away from the core objective to find parts to fix a sniper rifle. Once at the location, a shrieking acid-dripping Lament stands guard; if she sees you, her scream will summon five or six Lost. There’s a chance you’ll come away worse off than when you started, but if you’re careful, mastering the game’s stealth mechanics, you can end up equipped with a sniper rifle and no worse the wear for it.

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While the game does allow you to play more aggressively, especially on Casual difficulty (which really lives up to its name, if you want an easy ride then Casual lets you basically play as Robocop), playing on Survival or higher is predominantly designed around stealth. I’m not the biggest fan of stealth games, honestly, but The Evil Within 2 offers a fantastic, tense stealth system that leads to some extremely scary moments. The cover system, used here for sneaking rather than combat, is fluid and simple, with Sebastian easily able to pop into cover and circle around enemies, tiptoeing along walls and boxes as foes flail around screaming at any noticed movement.

Further stealth abilities (alongside health, combat, etc.) can be upgraded via an upgrade tree, allowing you to kill from behind cover, sprint in for stealth kills, walk more softly, and so on. It was in pouring points into these upgrade paths that I found the most enjoyable way to play. By sneaking through Union’s open streets, taking down Lost before they saw me, avoiding some of the game’s tougher enemies, The Evil Within 2 provided an especially tense horror experience.

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The audio design really contributes to this, too. Enemies let out grunts, rasps and moans which can be heard echoing down corridors and around vast, darkened rooms. Learning the audio cues of each enemy type, I could feel my heart begin to race every time I heard the pained clicking of a knife-wielding Hysteric, or the telltale tapping of the Obscura’s feet. While the visual design is fantastic, the audio design is especially masterful, again turning what could’ve been a generic survival horror title into something especially memorable.

Sometimes though, as stealthy as you’re being, you’re forced to fight, and it’s here that the game slightly dips in quality. While I enjoyed the combat a lot, it can be a little cheap at times; enemies have brief invincibility frames after you shoot them, and occasionally a bullet that should’ve caused damage simply does nothing. It’s far from regular, but on a couple of occasions it was the difference between felling a Lost or taking damage. Likewise, checkpoints are occasionally thoughtlessly placed, with deaths leading to a restart back through a few empty rooms or a cutscene rather than at the beginning of a section with enemies. Checkpoints differ based on difficulty, and it feels like a few of them on Survival anyway weren’t planned that well. Thankfully, in the free-roaming hub sections, retreating to a Safe Room is fairly easy, allowing you to save and heal by drinking coffee.

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The Evil Within 2 is a fairly long game in theory, particularly if you do all the side missions, which are pretty beneficial. Normally with survival horror games I feel like they’re outstaying their welcome after about 12 hours, but I was hooked on The Evil Within 2 for the 30+ hours I spent playing it, and I’m even about 5-6 hours into an NG+ playthrough, something I almost never start immediately after finishing a game once. If you do want a leaner playthrough, it’s perfectly possible to either play on Casual or avoid the optional objectives on Survival or beyond, which will make the game harder but also provide a more streamlined experience. Personally, I found the most joy in The Evil Within 2’s marginalia and minutiae though, with some of the scariest moments coming from unscripted encounters I had while exploring off the beaten track in an effort to find more gunpowder to craft ammo or weapon parts to upgrade my guns.

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The Evil Within 2 feels like something of a departure from the first game, but also an extremely fitting follow-up. Its structure, enemy design, immaculate audio production and constant tension make it one of my favourite survival horror experiences to date, and while it doesn’t push the envelope in terms of providing anything new, it focuses on what it is and attempts to provide a definitive, well-produced classic survival horror experience. It succeeds at this on basically all counts, with the minor combat quibbles doing little to dull the overall experience. The town of Union is one I’ll be happy to revisit regularly, even if the citizens are a little… hostile to outsiders.

The Evil Within 2 [official site] is out now on Windows for £40/$60/€60 via Steam and Humble.

19 Comments

  1. MushyWaffle says:

    Looking forward to playing, but first need to finish Shadow of War and South Park. It will be nice change of pace.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    But no RPS Recommended stamp!

    That said, neat. It looks to me like some kind of third person, open-world Dishonored or Prey, sneaking around monsters and jabbing them when you can.

    Worth keeping an eye on anyway.

  3. N'Al says:

    Really interested in this, primarily to see whether they managed to pull off the survival horror + (semi) open world mash-up.

    I recently played 2008’s Alone in the Dark which tried something similar with its Central Park ‘hub’, but which completely botched the execution – the controls were abysmal, even for a survival horror title.

    The idea was bloody great, though. Anyone else know of any other survival horror open world like titles?

    • Turkey says:

      Have you tried Darkwood? It’s a top-down, crafty, survival-horror game. I only just started playing it yesterday, so I don’t know how open it is, but it doesn’t seem completely linear.

    • indigochill says:

      Dying Light’s open world and has a lot of “collect stuff to make stuff”. The parkour’s pretty neat, too (frequently you’ll want to run and leap across rooftops to avoid zombies). It’s more a zombie game than a proper Silent Hill-type horror game, but it still has some tense moments especially from the human antagonists.

      • phenom_x8 says:

        Yeah, agree, I Loved Dying Light very much. I just recently watching the walking dead from the first season till the last season. And I feel the Walking Dead vibe are so strong in this game.

        • vahnn says:

          Dying Light was fantastic! I’m just returning to it for the first time in over a year because a friend picked it up. There are still tons of people playing, both coop partners (though you’d rather play privately with a friend) and zombie invaders (though you can disable these invasions–I recommend you don’t!) It has some pretty boring main quest writing and the worst final encounter of all time, but many of the side quests are entertaining. The main draw for me is the atmosphere, tension, and believability of the world.

          And after 3 years, the devs are still releasing free content for it! I believe the end of this month will see the first of 10 free DLCs, one per month.

          Definitely a must-play.

    • BockoPower says:

      Played “State of Decay” already? If not it’s a good zombie survivor game where you play as player who also manages a handful of survivors. Find a good place for a shelter base, upgrade and defend it from the zombies, scavenge for supplies and weapons or send some of your people do it, build structures in your base. Every survivor you find has different talents and specialization etc. There are of course different types of zombies though without bosses. It’s not as hard as The Evil Within or Resident Evil but it’s one of the best open world survival games.

      • N'Al says:

        Hey, thanks for all the suggestions, guys.

        State of Decay, in particular, is interesting since I recently played the first five minutes, so it should’ve come to my mind straight away, really.

        Instead, I’ve been thinking of the first Dead Rising, although that is probably played too much for laughs to truly be considered horror.

        • poliovaccine says:

          State of Decay is my personal favorite out of the ones suggested already. Dead Rising strikes me as much more of an action game than survival horror, though it has some of those elements, but State of Decay is flat-out survival horror in an open world, and with pleasing degrees of simulation to it. For instance: if you run across more supplies than you can carry, you can radio for someone else from the safehouse to come get em – when they do, they physically leave the safehouse and you can see their route on your map in real-time – and even though the AI doesnt typically need babysitting, sometimes they can be overwhelmed out there, and will need your assistance, or else you’ll need to go pick up the supplies they dropped when they died (and also bringing back some of their stuff is worth a morale boost, which is important to keep up lest everyone get cranky and start leaving or killing each other).

          I mean, as far as open-world/survival-horror mashup goes, State of Decay is exactly that. It seems divsive from what I hear, but for me it’s been one of the best open world games of the past decade, and absolutely one of the best fuggin zombie games. Zombies actually deter me a bit for being so overdone – it’s only that State of Decay has such cool systems that makes me like it so much. Every time I sit down to play it I wind up playing a lot longer than I meant to, which is maybe the best recommendation I can give.

          But if you want fragile health, limited inventory of flawed, breakable weapons, thin supplies only growing thinner as time goes on, forcing you further and further afield, deep into danger, to find a few precious rations? That’s the game. If that’s what you’re after, I cant recommend it enough. Also, I picked it up about a year after release and I didnt find any of the bugs people complained about at launch, so I assume the Year One edition is the way to go. Anyway, that version also gives you the pure-open-world expansion Breakdown, in case you just want an endless sandbox game without the plot.

  4. Daymare says:

    I’ve just made it to Chapter 5 on Nightmare difficulty and here’s Wot I Think So Far:

    Gosh I’m so frustrated.

    Saving: The game saves before some unskippable cutscenes, while there are other skippable scenes AFTER which it saves. Watching them again and again after each failed attempt is truly a Nightmare. Also long (10 sec) unskippable repeated animations, like drinking coffee.
    Some save points are absolutely random. Doing literally anything — such as picking up a crafting item — might save your game. Or maybe not! So sometimes the game throws you back for 10 minutes, sometimes it doesn’t. Crafting stations save your game, but only if you craft something. Logic!

    Glitches: There were visual glitches looking like I couldn’t pass through a part of the level when I could just walk through it.
    Animations sometimes glitch out during stuff, especially if you’re trying to do x while the game snags controls from you.
    Some menu buttons work only if the mouse is right in the middle, made harder to navigate by laggy menus.

    Backtracking: 10 min backtracking just to get to a teleporter PC.
    Read that line again.
    Backtracking is fine if you build your levels around it. If you don’t, it just … kinda sucks.

    Story & Characters: The first character I meet outside the simulation is a woman whom Sebastian obviously dislikes. The first character I meet inside the simulation is a douchebag who has three different animations (point left, shrug, shake head) that he loops through. There’s also a psychotic murderer who kills because it’s art, which would’ve been unique if The Joker and Sander Cohen hadn’t done it before, among others.
    The whole game is a story inside a simulation, but if you die inside, you DIE FOR REAL. The game’s already fictional, this second layer of fiction just makes me care even less. So these monsters aren’t even real within the fictional universe?

    So the company that claims to have kidnapped Sebastian’s daughter and made him think she was dead needs his help because (they claim) she’s actually inside a computer? Sebastian obliges, follows her tracks and is suddenly really stressed out as if she were really close by, even though he has no idea when any of the events leading to her escape took place, or if it’s even real.
    Then he looks for the second part of his broken sniper rifle for thirty minutes.
    And while there’s tons of stuff hidden in Nightmare difficulty, it’s always 2 bullets, 3 gun powders. I made it inside some hidden armory to get 15 broken weapons parts, two shotgun shells and one syringe. I’d rather there was less stuff to find, but when you do, it were much, much more significant.

    In the end, I feel like Resident Evil 7 was the answer to Silent Hills that I needed. I had a blast playing that through on whatever highest difficulty was available at the start. I loved its visuals, how grimy and disgusting everything was, the creepy lighting effects, how full of character the antagonists were. I’m really hoping The Evil Within 2 is picking up at some point. Right now I’m playing it mostly because it sorta feels like S.T.A.L.K.E.R.
    And yeah, Cam Girl and Buzzsaw Girl are pretty cool.

    • Daymare says:

      Sorry if that was TL;DR. It’s just so frustrating, I really liked what I played of the first one (until Chap. 7) and I was so up to a good survival horror game.

      Oh and you can enter some parts of a map only after you progressed far enough into the story, your character refusing to react to his environment, only to pry away the wooden blockage no problem an hour later.

      • Premium User Badge

        john_silence says:

        Not tl;dr at all, but pointed criticisms that provide interesting companion observations to the review. It’s good that you get into the specifics of your frustrations with the game, and I feel like I would share many of them if I played it.

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      DelrueOfDetroit says:

      I’ve played a couple hours on Nightmare and I think I am going to tone it down because all it seems to be accomplishing is me doing the same thing over and over again.

  5. Vandelay says:

    Just this weekend given up on the first game, after a few frustrating encounters that were coming one after the other across chapter 9-10. Just too many insta-kill enemies or obstacles.

    The opening couple of chapters looked to offer something a bit more open that would let you take different approaches to get passed enemies, with stealth being very viable. This just became narrow corridors where you were normally either forced to fight or run (the latter normally being for those frustrating one hit kill enemies.)

    Which is a pity, as I did enjoy parts of the game. The tone was definitely grindhousey rather than real horror, but they still managed to created some great grotesque creatures.

    Seems like this one strikes a better balance between having things open, but without going down the open world unfocused route.

  6. thekelvingreen says:

    So the first one was Resident Evil, and this one is Silent Hill; the third one will probably have you running around the woods taking pictures of ghosts.

  7. phenom_x8 says:

    Hey the RPS reccomended tags appear now, I saw it appear on my RSS reader but not in the article, I guest its just a typo

  8. ggggggggggg says:

    if you are like me and on the fence because of all the open world elements i’d still give this game a shot. I beat it yesterday and basically skipped over all of the tiny quests/crafting/etc and the game was very happy to oblige. it took about 12 hours. you only go through each hub area a total of once over the course of the campaign, and by the end its basically just resident evil 4 style challenge puzzle rooms.

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    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    Does anyone know how to unlock the Cinematic Mode (letterboxes) without beating the game first?

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