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The Evil Within 2

Score: 90%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Survival Horror/ Action

Graphics & Sound:

I did not like The Evil Within. I found its story awful, its characters bland and forgettable, its gameplay hilariously unbalanced, and its difficulty spikes incredibly off-putting. Itís one of vanishingly few modern games that Iíve straight up abandoned. 2017 has been an amazing year for video games as a whole, but I think I will personally remember it as the year that saw several good sequels to bad games. Not only is The Evil Within 2 a significant improvement over the original, itís an excellent survival horror game in its own right. It takes elements proven to work, discards the ones that donít, and fuses it all into something that feels fresh and confident. It all constitutes solid forward progress for a genre thatís seen quite a bit of it over the last decade.

The Evil Within 2 is no technical feat, but it knows its priorities and pursues them relentlessly throughout the experience. Lighting effects are generally superb throughout, especially when the gameís environment undergoes its subtle and not-so-subtle changes. Performance is generally good, as well, with very little slowdown getting in the way of you and your continued survival. Naturally, the artistic design is where all your attention belongs. Yes, this is a game that deals with some pretty revolting subject matter, but at the same time, its pervasive science fiction elements are given just as much care. Thereís a consistency in the juxtaposition between the seemingly mundane town of Union, the grotesque menagerie of spectral and body horror monsters that populate it, the visual abstractions that define the mindsets of the characters, and the military-industrial complex vibe that permeates the computer systems; it binds everything together very effectively. Any slack left behind by The Evil Within 2ís storytelling and world-building (and there's a lot of it) is competently picked up by its visuals.

Itís funny how the public domain so often provides an appropriate aural backdrop for horror in media. From A Clockwork Orangeís Alex to The Silence of the Lambsí Hannibal Lecter and even up to Alien franchise megavillain David 8, thereís just something special about the creepy dissonance between psychopathy and classical music. The Evil Within 2 knows this and runs with it. Take, for example, its continued use of "Clair de lune," the instantly-identifiable third movement of Claude Debussyís Suite bergamasque. As in that game, youíll most commonly associate this piece with the act of sitting down in a wheelchair and phasing into another dimension, where a medieval-looking device lowers itself onto your head and appears to sink a series of sharp objects into it, through which new skills are imparted. (Yeah, this is a weird game.) The villainís high-minded psychosis is a great match for more classical music, and the game doesnít skimp. Voice work is superb when it comes to enemies; itís a nightmare mix tape of sickly wails, wheezes, and otherwise horrific vocalizations; itís especially scary because most of these voices donít sound like theyíve been electronically altered. The other voice performances are generally inoffensive and rarely much more. The Evil Within 2's soundtrack is humble and sparing, respectfully deferring to the effects and voice acting most of the time, but powerfully muscling its way to the forefront when sh*t gets real.


Gameplay:

The Evil Within 2 is the next chapter in the sad life of (now former) Krimson City Police Detective Sebastian Castellanos. Heís still reeling from the events at Beacon Mental Hospital and his encounters with Mobius, whose unethical work on a dubious metaphysical experiment resulted in a series of grisly events. On top of this, his daughter Lily has died in a house fire and his wife Myra has disappeared in the aftermath.

The only comfort Seb can find is at the bottom of a bottle, at least until his former partner Kidman reveals to him that not only is Lily alive, but in the hands of Mobius. Apparently, her purity of soul makes her an ideal core for a new STEM system Ė you know, that horrible device that merges minds. All considerations of this domestic atrocity aside, Mobius has lost contact with Lily, and the team sent in after her has gone radio silent. So we have an uneasy truce here between Kidman and Sebastian, who has more than ample reason not to trust her. But he doesnít really have a choice, so he hooks his mind into the STEM and descends into the simulated town of Union, where he soon discovers that all of its inhabitants are dead or worse. From there, itís a matter of finding out what happened to the team and ultimately rescuing Lily from what has become a living nightmare.

The Evil Within 2ís science-fiction horror trappings donít quite lend themselves to the story, but it is a more personal and relatable yarn than the nonsense that preceded it. All that being said, the new setting provides both an interesting series of environments and the potential for some deep, surprisingly flexible survival horror gameplay. Taken as a whole, Union is essentially an open world. You can go wherever you want, provided the circumstances are appropriate. Several of the buildings cannot be accessed, but several of them can; itís a nice balance. And provided youíre well-prepared for whatever the unknown may bring, you usually stand to gain quite a lot for venturing off the beaten path.


Difficulty:

The Evil Within 2 starts out pretty tough, but gets markedly easier as you progress through it. At the beginning, Sebastian is incapable of giving or taking much in the way of physical punishment. Sure, you get a survival knife and a handgun early on, but in a stand-up fight, the odds are heavily against you. Early in the game, youíll likely stumble into an area in which you donít belong. Enemies will notice and mob you, and youíll be dead in two hits. This is not every Resident Evil between 3 and 7. At least, not yet. Even the most unassuming ghoul is more than capable of being a sink for your health and resources. But as you build Sebastianís skills and improve his arsenal, the odds begin to break in your direction. Itís here where The Evil Within 2 proves most satisfying.

Regardless of how you choose to develop Sebastianís passive and active abilities, planning and execution are huge parts of The Evil Within 2ís challenge factor. Picking favorable engagements, using the right tools in the appropriate environment, and quick thinking are really the only skills you need to get through The Evil Within 2, which is more than I could say about its predecessor.

The abstract nature of Union itself occasionally causes some frustration. Without giving too much away, it can sometimes be difficult to even have an idea of where you need to go, much less find your way there. It won't happen too often; the game usually does a good job of keeping you on the right heading.


Game Mechanics:

If youíve played a survival horror game over the last decade or so, youíll likely have a decent idea of how The Evil Within 2 plays. I wouldnít call its perspective "over-the-shoulder," because itís usually far lower than that. When you're exploring, it's generally functional, but during high-tension moments, the camera zooms in to where Sebastian himself takes up far too much of the screen. Itís not a good angle, and you canít really do anything about it. Obscuring the playerís vision feels simply like a cheap way for the developers to build a sense of dread, and itís unnecessary.

The Evil Within 2ís open world may be artificial to both the player and Sebastian himself, but it functions in a way that often bridges the gap between simple waypoint chasing and ambient questing. Heís equipped with a Communicator, a special kind of walkie-talkie that not only communicates with the real world, but picks up signals and investigation leads. Considering the fact that Sebastian doesnít have much in the way of friends, the Communicator never lets him down.

Nor does his constantly-growing arsenal of weaponry. Youíve got your genre staples: handgun, shotgun, knife, etc. But the Warden Crossbow makes a welcome return, complete with variable bolts that can assist with combat, stealth, and anything in-between. Pinned down by an enemy youíre not ready to face? Fire off a smoke bolt and sneak away. Is a mob blocking you from reaching your objective? Open a fire hydrant, shatter a bottle within range of the mass, and fire a shock bolt into the water when they gather to investigate! The Evil Within 2 is replete with opportunities to get creative with the otherwise limited resources at your disposal.

Sebastianís survivability increases as he kills enemies and gathers weapon parts of varying degrees of quality. Green Gel looted from enemy corpses is The Evil Within 2ís form of experience; it can be spent on nodes in a five-tier upgrade tree. Each tier houses a series of passive skills, as well as one or two active skills, and theyíre all designed to accommodate a variety of playstyles. If you want to go guns blazing, youíve got options; if you want to be stealthy, you can go that route too. But the constant here is, if you wish to invest deeper in each tree, youíll have to find some exceedingly rare Red Gel. All of this flexibility makes the initially high difficulty worthwhile in the end; there's a palpable sense of growth and progress throughout the experience.

With The Evil Within 2, industry veteran Shinji Mikami appears to have once again hit his stride and tapped into something special. If you're a fan of this genre, it's a must-play; while none of its individual parts are particularly innovative, they are synthesized and assimilated into a compelling, cohesive whole. That's more than enough to earn a strong recommendation from me.


-FenixDown, GameVortex Communications
AKA Jon Carlos

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