01st Nov2017

‘The Evil Within 2′ Review (PS4)

by Matthew Smail

evil-within-2-ps4

Following its release around Halloween (surprisingly enough) of 2014, The Evil Within snagged a reasonable number of fans as a result of its visceral horror and engaging story, not to mention it’s association with Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami. This year, The Evil Within 2 returns to plague long suffering protagonist Sebastian Castellano with yet more nightmarish creatures and torturous situations to fight, crawl and clamber his way out of.

New players are advised to check out the first game (or at least read up on the story) before beginning the sequel, but needless to say, poor Castellano is suffering from a strong case of alcoholism following his experiences at the Beacon Mental Institute. Broken and in search of a saviour, he is visited by Juli Kidman (a mysterious Mobius double agent from the first game) with news of his beloved daughter, whom he had believed was killed in a house fire.

Clinging to this vein hope, he once again agrees to enter the STEM system to save his daughter, rescue a team of Mobius agents and save the hive mind thingamabob that has been tenuously woven into the story. This interesting yet mercifully brief into sequence leads to a fantastic introductory hour or so of shocking exposition, jump scares and thrilling chases. As an intro sequence, it is a fantastic experience that instantly hooked me and introduced all of the key game mechanics. As a means of demonstrating what The Evil Within 2 is all about, it was like eating a delicious bowl of ice cream before being asked to follow up with a bowl of wholesome but somewhat uninspiring porridge.

You see, once through the opening sequence I was surprised to come across a pretty forgettable series of hub worlds set in the town of Union. Moving from a tightly scripted and atmospheric (albeit linear) sequence into an open world isn’t unusual (games like The Last of Us and Tomb Raider do it, as have many more)  but it feels odd in a game that I expected to be more focussed on survival horror and less on combat. This is a problem because The Evil Within 2’s hub worlds are filled with hideous zombie creatures and it took me a while to come to terms with just how often I would need to run and hide from, or fight them.

Armed with the pistol and knife that appear early in the game, traversing can be a chore, though I will say that things do get easier as you progress, although as with any survival horror, ammo and weapons remain fairly scarce throughout. Fighting more than probably two bad guys at once will usually result in big trouble, but when you do squeeze off a headshot, the explosion of bone and brain matter is immediately satisfying thanks to robust sound design and excellent feedback.

Another slightly weird feature of The Evil Within 2 (at least for a survival horror) is the inclusion of upgrade and modification trees for Castellano and his arsenal, along with the associated need to collect just about everything in order to facilitate the advancement of such. Enemies drop slime, medicinal plants grow in hedges and on porches, each of them glinting in an alluring way. Whilst ammo and instantly gratifying items are scarce, the components to craft and upgrade others are ten a penny. I can’t really complain about this from a pure interest perspective, but it did distract me from the business of moving onto the next terrifying encounter.

One thing that does vary both the open world and results in some memorable boss encounters is the presence of Stefano Valentini. Introduced during the opening sequence, Valentini can often be seen setting up macabre scenes for his voyeuristic pleasure, including several of which he intends to include Castellano in. Valentini occasionally changes the world to make Castellano feel confused and to drive him towards a particular enemy, which almost always results in a hectic and terrifying battle. Unfortunately, at least on the medium difficulty, most of the bosses prove to be less deadly than they appear, which breaks the illusion of terror somewhat.

In addition to the excellent sound design and the occasionally variable level designs that keep the player guessing, The Evil Within 2 also looks exceptionally good in its own grimy, appalling way. Character models (from Castellano, Kidman and Valentino to the other more periphery characters) look convincing, with some of the mutant and zombie enemies being particularly creative. The main star of the show is often the lighting however, with every location being exceptionally well lit from both a thematic and progression cue perspective.

As a survival horror in the purist sense of the term, The Evil Within 2 is not as strong as its predecessor or, for example, Resident Evil VII and it is far less terrifying at a psychological level than games like Layers of Fear.  I’m not sure it’s meant to be scary though, because it feels much more like an action adventure in the modern, collect things and power up kind of mould, albeit set in a fairly well imagined horror setting.

Once I accepted this (perhaps initially unwelcome) direction and came to terms with what the game does well, including combat, theme, story, longevity and challenge, I felt much more keen to enjoy it for what it is. There’s a lot of fun to be had with The Evil Within 2, although most of it exists in the brief sections that cuff and collar the less scripted open world sections. As far as games to play around Halloween are concerned, it is far from the worst I could name, but it’s more a gore-fest than a shocking chiller. Overall, fans of the genre should consider it a worthwhile purchase.

***½  3.5/5

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