The Evil Within 2
An Underappreciated Gem
October 2014 had fans of the survival horror genre lined up for what many hoped would be a return to form for the genre. Famed video game director, Shinji Mikami (Resident Evil, Vanquish) was to reprise his directorial role with newly founded Tango Gameworks. All the stars seemed to be aligned. Unfortunately, The Evil Within left many disappointed by the sorry technical performance and incoherent story.
The future of the series remained uncertain until eventually, a sequel would be released in October 2017 that many agreed redeemed the shortcomings of the shaky original. For this attempt, John Johanas would be given directorial duties while Mikami would serve as producer.
When I first sat down with The Evil Within 2, I was immediately impressed with it’s daring opening. We’re shown the moments that started it all for protagonist Sebastien Castellanos, a horrifying series of events that culminate with his daughter dying in a house fire. These events send our hero into an understandable downward spiral. More details about the fire are drip fed to the player as the game progresses, but I was intrigued by the willingness of the writers to give us a main character that is clearly fallible and vulnerable. Many survival horror games give us a kind of blank slate for a main character, even the best examples in the industry often fail to elicit an emotional connection between character and player. The Evil Within 2 doesn’t succeed in everything it attempts to do, but in it’s endeavor to create a relatable protagonist it shines from beginning to end.
Gameplay is comfortably reminiscent of horror classics such as Resident Evil 4 and similar to the more recent Capcom remakes of RE2 and RE3. Fans of the genre will appreciate the slightly confined POV and dialed back movement mechanics that make the aforementioned games such a delightful terror to play. What is perhaps more daring is how you are tasked with exploring the world. Some sections remain linear with an occasional diversion for additional supplies or weapons, but large chunks of the game are open ended. You’ll use a hand radio to track down SOS beacons of fellow Mobius agents and often be drawn to areas with less clear objectives. At times you’ll simply be following the sounds of screams of terror which makes exploration a tense affair. Admittedly, I was worried about this formula early on, we’ve seen it fail many times in other games. But while we can forgive Assassin’s Creed for occasionally devolving into an interactive open world checklist, this can be the kiss of death for a horror game striving for immersion. The Evil Within 2 straddles the line between open world tedium and tense horror with splendid ease. Impressively, most of what you’re doing in the open world however mundane, from collecting valuable ammo to solving a mystery in an abandoned home connects to Sebastien in some way. You are seldom left wondering if what you’re doing has anything to do with story as a whole.
Story pacing is an area that The Evil Within 2 struggles with a bit. The early chapters do a respectable job of setting a sense of atmosphere and establishing a villain. I should elaborate, this is a villain whose perverse sense of artistry and voyeurism permeate the world you’re exploring. So much so that at a point the night sky is replaced by a massive camera lens, furthering the sense that you are always being watched, and death could find you at any point. Curiously, near halfway through much of this is dropped for a new villain and atmosphere that feels a little clumsy. There are still interesting story implications with new villain, but it could have been used in a DLC where the tension didn’t have to be abruptly broken.
In summary, The Evil Within 2 stands out as a survival horror game that made interesting strides in the development of it’s lead character. It also made some innovative steps in semi-open world horror design which we do not see enough. Still, despite generally favorable reviews across the board, The Evil Within 2 failed to generate the enthusiasm in fans and critics necessary to spawn future additions to the series. I’m genuinely saddened by this; we need more daring games that are happy to shake things up. Regardless, Tango Gameworks is a talented studio and I’m thrilled to see what they have in store for us with GhostWire: Tokyo.
Thanks for taking the time to read this piece, for better or worse I poured my heart into it’s creation. Please feel free to comment or ask me questions, I’d enjoy hearing what you’re doing to battle the encroaching darkness, what are you listening to, playing, reading? My love of music, video games, art, and writing are serendipitously beginning to coalesce. My intentions are unclear to me at this point, but extolling these things I find lovely provides some solace. As I carve a path forward, I’ll discuss video games I’m interested in, old and new, as well as anything else I find fascinating. I’ll try my hand at more traditional reviews if readers take kindly to that format as well. I’d certainly like suggestions and constructive criticism from readers as nothing worth doing has been done in total solitude. If you’d like to donate to my Patreon so I can keep doing this I’d greatly appreciate it. https://www.patreon.com/keonieckinger