Games Review: The Evil Within 2 (PS4, 2017): Great survival horror that fights through its flaws

The Evil Within 2 is an interesting sequel of sorts. If falls into a weird mix of fun, frustrating, wonderfully weird and scary all at the same time. While it’s not a bad game by any means, but for every positive, there’s a negative. Presenting players with a sequel that attempts to carry on an already ridiculous plot, you would think there’s no reason to come back to this franchise. But you would be surprised, as I found it managed to keep me coming back for more.

The Evil Within 2 puts players in shoes of Sebastian Castellanos once again, as we find him piss drunk in a bar, three years after the events of the first game. Still struggling with the loss of his daughter, Kidman, an old detective friend of Castellanos’, tracks him down in order to let him know that his daughter is not dead, but in fact being held by the Mobius corporation (from the first game) in a virtual world named STEM, similar to that of the Matrix. The world of STEM is much smaller however, and has taken the shape of a typical American town called Union. As Castellanos, you must go into STEM in order to find and rescue your daughter. While I don’t want to give any more away than that, the story, as hokey as it seems at first, actually presents a genuinely intriguing mystery that builds up quite evenly as you progress through the campaign.

Firstly, the games presentation is on the plus side, but still offers mixed emotions. While the graphics aren’t terrible, the game doesn’t appear to be an improvement of sorts from the first title, and in some parts, worse. Facial animation is decent when it comes to main characters, but some lesser known side characters look like mannequins. It just pulls you out for a while when some faces look quite detailed, and others don’t. The world itself is nicely detailed however, and is particularly enhanced by some decent and creepy lighting effects, which is a ‘must’ in any good horror experience. While it all looks fine, it still didn’t manage to blow me away, given the first one looks just as good, and in some parts, better. To top it all off, voice acting is painfully average across the board, with Castellanos sounding either hilariously uninterested or hilariously overboard with no in between.

The game controls equally well. While it’s perfectly functional for the most part, it just looks weird at times. Castellanos moves like a robot, especially when sprinting. Letting go of the sprint button causes Sebastian to stop dead in his tracks so quickly, it was laughable. His posture is also awkward, as there’s no better way to explain it simply that he looks like he’s running with a stick up his ass. Now while this doesn’t affect the controls per say, being exposed to these jarring movement animations for 20+ hours wore thin quicker than I’d like to admit. Thankfully, combat was much better.

Offering you a surprisingly wide and creative array of weapons, gunplay is smooth and functional, and I’m glad horror games have adapted a more traditional third person action take. (Thanks Resident Evil 4; Not you Resident Evil 6, you went too far) it allows for you to feel like you’re actually capable against enemies instead of fumbling around like you just sustained a major concussion. However, while the gunplay is good, stealth is much less of an enjoyable experience. While functional, it just seems rigid. Kill animations are some times cool but other times they just look awkward. This is no Metal Gear Solid after all, but attempting to kill an enemy only to be left out in the open, for Sebastian to awkwardly turn like a turret and dash back to cover is just baffling to watch. Once again, it doesn’t break the game, but the rigid feel it offers does these segments and sections no favours. Melee combat falls victim to the same rigidness, as attacks cannot be chained together. You’ll find yourself spamming the same button, only for Sebastian to swipe his weapon the same way. Every time. To sum it up, it looks and feels weird.

The newest aspect that The Evil Within 2 offers is an open world. While it’s not your typical massive city, the town of Union is nice enough, promoting small patches of exploration and unexpected terror. Within this town, you can also take up various side missions from the town’s residents, and to be quite honest, lots of these missions were average. But what blows my mind is that a select few of these missions were campaign worthy. I just couldn’t believe that these missions were optional and not necessary, as if you missed these, I feel bad for you. That being said, the game doesn’t force you to partake in these side missions and you can blaze through the main story if you wish. In that respect, it can be seen as a positive, as the main story itself is nothing to flinch at. Without going into spoiler territory, The Evil Within 2 offers up a relatively scary experience, through personally I didn’t find it as scary as the original, but also manages to throw in some heartfelt moments and some brutally uncomfortable moments (you’ll see in chapter 1) that blend together quite well, always making the player feel that they can smell success, but never see it. Needless to say, it kept me invested almost the entire way through.

As a horror game it does succeed however, putting players through some particularly tense action packed moments, but never forgetting it’s roots as a ‘survival horror’ experience. If you played on the normal difficulty like I did, you’ll still find yourself rationing ammo and health packs and using each very sparingly. A nice touch is that using your ammo sparingly allows you to experience every weapon. Not a lot of games balance weapon variety, but I found that each weapon was fun to use and kept things feeling fresh. Upgrades also make a return in both character and weapon form, offering up a similar platter we saw in the original title. Upgrading toughness, agility, defence and stealth adds to its depth, but some categories like stealth just felt pointless. Green gel acts as currency for these upgrades and while I had no trouble finding it, I felt I was upgrading a reactively even pace. Gun upgrades are also interesting enough, allowing you to upgrade firepower, reload speeds and ammo capacity for each weapon, which is something we’ve seen a thousand times, but adds depth nonetheless. Weapon parts are required for these upgrades and felt a little harder to come by, but thankfully not too hard. Crafting adds itself on as a necessary mechanic, allowing you to use parts to craft ammo, and health. After all, this is a survival horror game.

Overall, The Evil Within 2 is a great game that offers up subtle psychological survival horror, but is marred by odd animations and stiff controls. While these issues decreased my enjoyment of the game, they only did so to a surprisingly minimal degree, as I found myself intrigued by its over the top story and open world game design. While I enjoyed the narrow corridors and linear design of the original, I respect new additions and changes (not you, Resident Evil 6) that attempt to take the series in a different direction while remembering at its core what made it great in the first place. The Evil Within 2 didn’t blow me away, but most definitely left me with a positive impression.

Score: 8.0 out of 10
Highlights: Interesting story, functional combat controls, tense moment to moment gameplay.
Lowlights: Jarring animations, hilariously inconsistent voice acting.
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows PC
Available: Now

Reviewed on PlayStation 4