Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within was considered pretty terrible, despite the directors fame. A confusing narrative coupled with poor gameplay and game breaking glitches, it would take a lot of effort to rekindle fans’ interest in the sequel. The Evil Within 2 is a welcome improvement from the original, but it is still haunted by a number of issues. Glitches and strange design choices negatively impact an otherwise really fun game.
The Evil Within 2 takes place after the events of the first game, where a scarred Sebastian Castellanos has lost his wife and child. Kidman, the sidekick from the previous game, tells him that his daughter is alive and is stuck in the newest STEM unit, the artificial system from the first game. Sebastian decides to go into the new STEM system to save his daughter and confront the horrors that have surfaced once again. The system is modelled after a town called Unity, and the main game takes place there. Sebastian must hide and sneak around the enemies that have grown within the system, while scavenging for resources and any info on where his daughter could be.
The main gameplay of the series has improved significantly from the first installment. Unity is roughly the size of the town in Silent Hill, maybe a bit bigger, and there are tons of areas explore and secrets to find. Most of the game has Sebastian sneaking around finding resources in order to kill or evade enemies, but you’ll definitely want to get into as few fights as possible since they’re pretty rare, at least in the early game. There are actually a number of side missions that you can find as well. Some of these are simple, such as getting an upgrade for a weapon, but others can be really interesting. You may go look for a new weapon, but suddenly you’re trapped in a house with a new monster and all sorts of crazy stuff starts happening. You use a device similar to a walking talkie, but it can pick up a number of various signals. These usually lead you towards special equipment, collectibles, and even new areas to explore. It’s really fun and it actually feels like I’m exploring and discovering something. Sneaking around, crafting, and exploring are all really fun and tense aspects of the game, but unfortunately there are a couple of problems when you actually encounter enemies.
Enemies roam in what seems like scripted areas, but it can sometimes be hard to tell because the AI acts in very erratic ways. During the early stages of the game, as I was exploring the world around me, I would encounter groups of 3 or 4 enemies. Naturally I tried to sneak past them but evidently failed. As they all turned to face me, I readied my weapon only to find out that the enemies who were about 10 meters away had suddenly slid along the ground until they’re body was clipped through my weapon. I tried to fire but it was too late, as I had been grappled and killed. This kind of thing happened to me a lot in the early game until I learned to just stay away from the enemies, yet some of them took ages to notice me even when I was standing directly in front of them. Understanding and engaging with the AI during the first few hours of the game wasn’t so much scary as it was confusing, but as the enemy types changed and I got better equipment, this becomes a fairly trivial issue. Also, since the game is open world, there are a number of times where encounters with certain monsters can make your game react in strange ways. One session, a monster who transforms the world into an icy wasteland appeared, and I was forced to hide from it. That would be fine, but I was right in the middle of a puzzle and the game locked me out of interacting with anything until the encounter stopped. Because the AI acts in such a way, it really messes with the players perception of the enemies and it makes the general combat more annoying than scary.
Combat with enemies is discouraged as you will need all the firepower you can muster when fighting the bosses. I’m personally against boss fights in horror games, but every one of these encounters impressed me. 90% of them are designed in interesting ways and it’s always generally pretty easy to figure out what to do to kill them. The tough part is actually managing your resources so you can maximise the most amount of damage to them. I do think that some of them could have used a few extra moves or done a bit more damage, but they each had their own unique style. My personal favourite was this particular monster who could manipulate time, and would do so in order to stop a generator from activating. The main purpose of the fight is to distract and stop the monster from stopping time in order for the count down to finish. You need to balance between distracting the monster and hiding so it doesn’t constantly annihilate you, and managing to outwit the monster was incredibly satisfying.
The Evil Within 2’s story was what I found most surprising about the game. While admittedly I don’t remember much of the story from the first game, I found it really lucky that the second game barely relies on knowledge of the first. All that you really need to know is that Mobius created a device that connects human consciousness together, in order to live in a world inside someones mind. Sebastian’s daughter is the core of the STEM world, and he must venture into the nightmare to save his daughter. At first Sebastian felt like a cookie cutter protagonist, but as the game continues, I began to have a lot of sympathy for his character and I believe it’s one of the better character arcs from a AAA title. His motivation is simple but lacks the ability to achieve it, which causes him grief and sadness which he must overcome, lest the STEM system uses his inner fears to defeat him. The antagonists are a little generic, but that can be forgiven because their purpose is to goad and manipulate Sebastian, adding a fair amount of depth to his character. The story follows a pretty simple path, and nothing is done without purpose. It’s nothing extravagant, but it certainly does the job, and there’s nothing wrong with a good old fashioned story.
The design of the first game is what really drew attention to it, and the same is true for the sequel. The Evil Within 2 features some absolutely fantastic use of imagery, enemy design, and manipulation of levels. While not as extreme as something like DmC: Devil May Cry, the layouts of the level twist and turn as you desperately try to navigate an ever changing landscape. Corridors shift and move, rooms phase in and out, and there’s an entire sequence of back end systems that connect to different locations in Unity. It’s absolutely mesmerizing to wander around the world, and just soak in all of the crazy things happening all around you. My personal favourite is the use of a time manipulation technique which is prevalent during Sebastian’s initial travel into STEM. Inside an art gallery, instead of a sculpture in the middle, there is a transparent blue square, and inside is a body replaying its death. When you enter the square, the entire room shimmers with a blue hue, and a light musical tune starts to play as the body is perpetually blasted backwards from a gunshot wound to the head. The game is full of these crazy little details that I absolutely adore.
Despite my enjoyment of The Evil Within 2, the game is incredibly broken. Keep in mind that I did play this game on PC, so I’m unaware if these problems are platform exclusive. Every single cut scene I watched had the same audio issue. The visuals for the cut scene moved faster than the audio, so the two were de-synced. Sebastian would often try to climb over something and perpetually get stuck in a state of limbo for a few seconds as he decides whether or not he actually wanted to climb over it. I once even had an enemy spawn on top of me, which was the scariest part of the game.
This is the other issue I have with the game. The Evil Within 2 forgoes any kind of terror, and instead just feels more like a survival-action game. I will applaud the developers for not relying on cheap jump-scares, but because of the way the enemies worked (or didnt work) I felt like anything could happen and I wasn’t surprised or scared when something inevitably did. There’s no building of tension or mystery, as the overload of enemies and visual stimulation throws any subtlety out the window.
I had a lot of fun with The Evil Within 2. From the design, to the gameplay, and even the surprisingly heartfelt story, it could very well have been a fantastic game. Unfortunately, as is the case with many Bethesda games, it’s incredibly difficult to access the game due to its glitchy nature. If you endure and work around the bugs and stick to the game, The Evil Within 2 offers something genuinely fun. It was good enough for me, the question is whether it’s good enough for you.