The Evil Within 2 | Xbox One | Review
2014’s The Evil Within
was renowned game director Shinji Mikami’s spiritual successor to the classic Resident Evil
titles of his creation, so, with the seventh instalment of Capcom’s horror series
successfully returning to its roots earlier this year, The Evil Within 2
needed to evolve to garner attention. Thankfully, that’s exactly what happened: TEW 2
improves and expands on its forebearer in almost every way, making for a great example of a sequel done right.
By handing the reigns over to the younger talent at Tango Gameworks and switching to a more supervisory role, industry veteran Mikami opened the series up to a new generation’s ideas and inspirations, which have helped to produce a more modern, refreshing take on the survival horror genre.
Protagonist Sebastian Castellanos, a downtrodden detective whom you also played in the original, has taken to drink and vendetta following the events of The Evil Within
and the apparent loss of his wife and child. That is until mysterious double agent Julie Kidman offers a glimmer of hope, revealing that Sebastian’s daughter, Lily, is alive and somewhat well, serving as the Core in one of shady corporation Mobius’ STEM machines.
When hooked up to STEM individuals enter an alternate, virtual reality in which the unprotected become part of a hivemind ripe for Mobius’ manipulation. This power proves difficult for the game’s lead antagonist to resist, entering STEM with a plot to kidnap Lily (the Core) and harness her power in order to be revered by all in a world of his shaping. His actions destabilise the simulation however, transforming Union citizens into zombie-like creatures and literally tearing the fictional town apart.
This is where you come in, sent back into the nightmarescape of a failing STEM to save your daughter and put your tortured past to rest. The Evil Within 2
has a heavier focus on story than its predecessor, posing a character-driven narrative that’s full of tropes and cheesy dialogue, but that’s nonetheless engaging thanks to its anchors in intriguing conspiracy and relatable family issues.
Alongside a variety of new characters and enemies are a returning breed that, coupled with further references, manage to nail rewarding fanservice down without feeling pandering or alienating towards newcomers.
The Evil Within 2 improves and expands on its forebearer in almost every way, making for a great example of a sequel done right.
While perhaps a little difficult to wrap your head around initially, STEM’s alternate reality is a fantastic means to remove all barriers and let The Evil Within
’s design run riot. You’re relentlessly shown exciting new visuals, bolstered by HDR compatibility, all of which are so considered in their grotesquery that they achieve a morbid beauty. Just as you wouldn’t generally link beauty and brutality, The Evil Within 2
revels in making further juxtapositions feel natural next to one another, be that in reality-based and abstract settings, affluence and dilapidation, or low and high technologies.
This serves to complement another of the game’s villains, the artist Stefano, a character that has more than a little in common with BioShock
’s fantastic Sander Cohen, complete with his very own Fort Frolic. Using human flesh as his canvas, you’ll bear witness to many of his works, and, somewhat disturbingly, very likely stop to calmly admire them with the fitting accompaniment of an original (and excellent) classical music track.
Having gone quasi-open world, the game’s two truly sandbox areas (one of which is cheekily recycled as a faux third) are, thankfully, packed with exciting and significant optional activities. Compliments for open world design are thin on the ground these days - we, along with many others, have grown tired of the map-filling, tedious brand of busywork many games have come to rely upon. The Evil Within 2
's unique boss encounters, side missions, collectibles and secrets put that issue to rest however, maintaining consistently high quality whilst also serving to fill in the wider narrative and bridge the three-year gap between instalments. This makes scouring the crumbling streets of Union a thoroughly enriching experience, akin to exploring Batman: Arkham City
for the first time.
STEM’s alternate reality is a fantastic means to remove all barriers and let the The Evil Within’s design run riot. You’re relentlessly shown exciting new visuals.
What’s more, especially if you up the difficulty to Nightmare, this nonlinearity sees the survival element begin to shine. You might clamber onto a rooftop and use your sniper scope to scout a location in the distance, spotting a tempting loot pile surrounded by enemies before weighing whether or not it's worth pursuing; perhaps you then make some supplies via the simple new crafting system, these convincing you to head in with stealthy intent. You’re spotted. An unnerving chase begins, more and more enemies emerging from all directions, drawn by the ruckus, as you narrowly avoid an incoming swipe and hurriedly slip into the nearest safehouse, breathing a heavy sigh of relief as you stand, shaken, behind the boundary door. That’s just one example of the many possible, and quite memorable, self-contained stories The Evil Within 2
's emergent gameplay can facilitate, in much the same vein as State of Decay
Frequently breaking away from the open areas for more linear main story segments, as well as trips through a series of tunnels called The Marrow, had us longing to return at times. This feeling isn’t helped by the fact that these sections occasionally force either open combat or stealth on the player, rather than leaving them to choose their own method of approach. Both play styles are at least engaging, with a highly customisable loadout of loud, punchy firearms and a versatile tactical crossbow making up the bulk of your offence, while conventional-but-satisfying hidden melee kills and a slightly dodgy cover system mostly comprise the sneaky side of things.
Having a sizeable arsenal at your disposal unfortunately relieves many of the malformed cast of enemies of their scare factor; provided you’re actively scavenging for resources, you’ll never be in any desperate need for either ammunition or medical supplies, even on the hardest difficulty setting. Throughout a playthrough, which should last around twenty hours, ways to manipulate the dopey AI and reliably spot enemies lying in ambush also become apparent, further tipping the odds in your favour.
Other than some great late game boss encounters, The Evil Within 2
gradually leaks horror until there’s little left to be scared of; this might be either welcome or disappointing, depending on how much you like sitting in your own leakage. Maintaining the first game’s body burning mechanic - which saw enemies have the potential to spring back to life if their corpse wasn’t ousted using a limited supply of matches, à la the Resident Evil
remake - would likely have helped the game remain more engaging on that front, however.
All in all, despite a weaker second act by comparison to the superb first, The Evil Within 2
is a mechanically gripping game. It’s a sophisticated mix of old and new, along with Western and Japanese influences, thanks to its diverse development staff. A considered audiovisual feast that, in a year where Resident Evil 7
convinced us first-person perspectives and VR were the unchallenged future of survival horror, compellingly challenged that notion.Pros
+ Evolves in myriad exciting ways, rather than resting on laurels
+ Rich, open areas packed with significant optional content and emergent gameplay
+ Satisfyingly visceral gunplay and stealth kills
+ Sheds the limitations of reality to allow for some creative visuals
+ Pulls from a wide pool of strong inspirations, implementing their elements seamlesslyCons
- Gets less scary the deeper you delve
- Predictable, manipulable enemy AI
- Cheesy writing and voice performances
- Wonky cover mechanic does as it pleases8/10Achievements:
You'll need to do at least a couple of standard playthroughs to get all of the upgrade related achievements, so feel free to play at your leisure first time around and follow a collectible guide for those achievements on your second. There's an easy and enjoyable 950G on offer here, though the final achievement and 50G are related to finishing Classic Mode, which requires you to play the game on the hardest difficulty without checkpoints or upgrades and just seven manual saves. That said, it's definitely doable with a guide
and a bit of determination.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Originally written for Pass the Controller, a digital copy of the game was provided for the purpose of this review.
You can check out my PlayStation reviews over at TrueTrophies
Thanks for reading!