The original EVIL WITHIN was Shiniji Mikami’s long-overdue return to the genre he helped popularise (via the original RESIDENT EVIL) and ultimately hit its’ absolute peak (via RESIDENT EVIL 4, ironically). It was a game released in 2014, and along with ALIEN: ISOLATION was proof that you could craft great Survival Horror games for the modern audience, without losing their hardcore edge and still sell copies.
It was no doubt an amazing effort, though a bit polarizing among some of the modern AAA crowd (more on this later). However, with strong sales, word of mouth and an active community, it managed to thrive among the competition. It’s a game that’s stood the test of time and quite frankly, in my humble opinion is a true masterpiece, with so many great touches that it deserves it’s own Half Life 2-esque level design analysis (Maybe I’ll try that at some point).
Long story short, it was a great game and birthed an exciting new horror franchise for twisted, macabre and mentally disturbed people like us to cherish and love. It felt like the love child of some of the most iconic pop culture (J-horror, Stephen King, David Lynch, Dario Argento) and Resident Evil 4, with the Jigsaw from the SAW films as surrogate father.
So the expectations for the sequel are high. Shiniji Mikami may have stepped down as director, but he’s assured fans that he remains heavily involved in the production. The trailers, previews and screens released thus far have all looked fantastic. But does the game live up to the hype? Read on to find out.
The Evil Within 2 is a third-person survival horror video game developed by Tango Gameworks and published by Bethesda Softworks for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The game was released worldwide in October 2017 and is the sequel to the 2014 video game The Evil Within.
The Evil Within 2
Gameplay & Mechanics
Mikami may have stepped back a bit on the sequel, playing producer (instead of director) but his fingerprints are all over every bloody, twisted pixel here; it’s very much a Mikami game through and through. One that takes risks, tries to show player a few new things and (successfully) tinkers with the formula just enough to feel fresh and different than the first.
The biggest change (as has been noted) is in the introduction of a quasi-open world structure that makes the structure of the game a bit different than the predecessor. The world isn’t huge by any stretch of the imagination but it is packed with content. Sebastian can freely explore several areas/houses/hidden rooms to discover ammo, collectibles, crafting items as well as trigger side-quests (yes, there are those) and to survive early on in the game, he’d pretty much need to. This aspect brings a large sense of immersion to the game and it’s left for the player to figure out (with no hand holding), how to get past enemy herds, be it sneaking past, shooting through or thinning the herds by distracting them by throwaway bottles. It feels like aspects of THE LAST OF US, but much better, with tension and risk/reward in the gameplay loop.
Speaking of which, it’s commendable how organic the game makes both the outside exploration and the indoors sections (that are most reminiscent of the previous game). Despite the fact that there is a big open world, multiple objectives and limited resources, the game still feels as relentlessly ‘controlled’ and directed like the first one did. The way it balances between combat, exploration, psychic hallucinations and boss fights, whilst both depleting and raising your ammo and resources, as well as giving you upgrade material is just masterful game design. Whatever formula Mikami and his team at Tango Gameworks have crafted, just hasn’t been replicated anywhere else. Not to my knowledge at least.
For those who’ve forgotten, the original Evil Within was a bloody hard game. In fact, it’s pretty much one of the hardest survival horror games ever made. Even on the normal (survival) difficulty, It made FORBIDDEN SIREN (on the PS3) look like FABLE 2, and thankfully the sequel retains the extremely high level of challenge. Never once will you feel at ease at any point in the campaign. You’ll be constantly under-powered and low on supply and will have to rack your brains at every point in time on how to get past every situation. While you can’t burn bodies with matches like in the first games (strange omission), you just can’t rely on a single weapon to get you through a tough encounter. Most times, you will scramble and use a combination of your weapons, attack bolts, OHKO melee weapons and stomping collapsed bodies on the ground and barely survive the encounter, and it will feel great.
The game starts you massively under-powered at the start and your best option is to sneak past enemies (or engage a limited amount of them) to get through the open world.The curve eventually smoothens a bit in the second half, which in our opinion isn’t as difficult as the first game’s incredibly taxing final stretches (or as good) but it still retains an extremely high, but never insurmountable level of challenge.
The combat remains punchier than ever, with the shotgun being even more satisfying here than in the first game, and the boltcaster crossbow being even more crucial. The weapon handling has improved quite a bit from it’s prequel, and so has the upgrade system, which now gives Sebastian more options for assault, stealth and health/stamina regeneration.
The variety in gameplay is incredible, with plenty of creative hurdles for Sebastian to overcomes and memorable (and very Kafka-esque) boss fights. There are occasions where it even pays cheeky homages to the ‘FPS horror’ games like AMNESIA and great open ended levels (Chapter 7 I’m looking at you) where the game encourages experimental, free form gameplay and plenty of callbacks to the original game (and subsequently setting up plot threads for the next one, I assume), fans of which, will be delighted to see some familiar, memorable (and hideous) faces from it return. No spoilers, of course.
Also, the available difficulty levels seem to slightly readjusted from the original (Just like Gears of war 2). The Nightmare mode ( aka the ‘hard’ difficulty) is recommended for “players who liked the original games’ difficulty” (which would be Normal/Survival) but is much more unforgiving than that games’ Nightmare/hard mode. The survival mode (which would be normal) here is a bit easier than the similar mode in the first game. If you’re new to the series, you’re better off sticking to that one. It’s still really hard and remains fun throughout, as opposed to the ‘Nightmare’ mode here, which often becomes hard and occasionally, not fun. The ‘Nightmare’ mode in recommended for only those who completed/mastered the first game.
Graphics & Sound
The Evil Within 2 is a damn, fine looking game from start to finish. A stellar example of a title that’s both technically proficient and artistically exceptional. Thanks to ID Tech 5 based STEM Engine (yep, that is a reference to the STEM system), the game features increased graphical fidelity this time (and also due to not being a cross gen title); this truly brings every macabre, industrial, twisted, surreal, hallucinatory corner to life. The game has an incredible sense of atmosphere that it maintains throughout it’s lengthy 20 hour or so campaign (even longer if you decide to complete every side-quest and gawk around).
The already fantastically twisted art design of the original is intact, with the game sticking the out middle finger to most AAA titles. Just like in the first games, everything looks and feels completely demented, deranged and decidedly not-focus tested. In an age where games have started to look like DTV movies, this one is like water in the desert. You can spot tons of references to horror movies, books and even other survival horror titles (including Mikami’s own games) and things remain fun throughout.
The audio in the game is also bloody terrifying and is smartly integrated into the main campaign nigh perfectly. Even when played on higher difficulties (minus the detection cue), you can sort of ascertain how much trouble you’re in by the pulsating (and finally tempering down) sinister musical score, not to mention the enemy grunts, shrieks and bellows, that often make every encounter a bloody nerve-wracking ordeal. In closer areas, the sound is more compressed and I’ve always been impressed with this franchise more so that others, on how clearly you can hear water droplets dripping far off in grimy, moist, isolated areas. I haven’t heard any other game that accomplishes it so well.
Story & Narrative
The original Evil Within told it’s plot through a variety of devices (in-game text, hallucinations, symbolism etc), whilst keeping Sebastian mostly silent (as a mark of player avatar). It was a good plot that was unfairly criticized for being incoherent, when it actually wasn’t. It was a very good psychological romp inside a twisted serial killer named Ruvik’s sub-consciousness and the player was guided through the journey whilst trapped inside it. Eventually the player would come across both Ruvik’s dark, twisted history and learn a bit more about Sebastian’s own tortured family life. It was a solid ride that piqued player curiosity, whilst keeping the nature of some characters open ended.
That same subplot here is explored a bit further, as Sebastian steps back inside the twisted world of STEM when he’s given the news that his long-believed dead daughter may not actually be so. Julie Kidman from the original returns, and the dealings of the Mobius corporation are brought in more clarity. Overall, it’s a surprisingly well-told story that improves upon the original. Sebastian has more dialogue and is more well developed than he was in the first game, and is easy to sympathize with. Ruvik is nowhere to be found (I’m guessing they’re setting him up for future installments) but this one has its’ own version of an ‘eccentric psychopath’ in Stefano, a photographer who also likes to decapitate people as a hobby.
Some of the voice acting can be a bit mediocre, in my opinion. The voice acting for some of the side characters (like Yukiko Hoffman, for example) seems phoned in, and occasionally you can catch some of the actors sleeping through their lines if you squint hard enough. While it’s mostly a (minor) issue and the overall performances are strong, it is very noticeable.
Just like the original, the game has plenty of eccentric touches that make the world feel alive. Sebastian can transport into his ‘room’ at save points, where he can watch projector reels (and interact with Kidman) and there’s a mysterious pet cat lying around, who you can’t pet (as noted by every other media outlet) but one that gives you green gel, every time you watch a reel. There’s also a RE4 style ‘in-joke’ shooting gallery, in which you can grind a bit for a few more weapon parts. It’s amusing and fun to goof off, and doesn’t distract from the main tone.
We’re very firm on the fact that the original Evil Within is a masterpiece (and one of the top games this generation) and the Evil Within 2 is in every way a worthy follow up. Like all good sequels, it takes what worked in the original and fine tunes it, whilst broadening the scope. It’s a great effort that stays true to the spirit of the original, and whilst it doesn’t quite surpass it (how could it?), it keeps the flag flying high on representing everything that was great about it, whilst trying some new things of it’s own.
If you’re someone who was repelled by the original game, then this won’t change your mind. For everyone else, Sebastian Castellanos second sustained nightmare is another unforgettable blast from the survival horror days of past. Let’s hope Mikami (and team) return soon with a third one.