Horror games have been weaving in and out of the bore-er games category that I just made up. I’ve tried running helplessly from enemies, I’ve glanced over the red light, green light games; the newest trends in horror have pushed me further and further from the genre. Waiting is not an acceptable majority activity in a horror game to me. There’s nothing engaging to watching the AI try their best runway model impression into a room or for jump scares to be the only language spoken. Give me something to do in a real way, and you’ve passed my first bar.
Among the few exceptions to the trendy bore-er games was Resident Evil 7, then The Evil Within before that, both of which I loved furiously. The Evil Within 2 had plenty to live up to as a result, and with the lack of buildup to the game’s release, it felt like this could’ve just been an incremental upgrade…or a complete flop. Then again, this is Bethesda who’s been holding their cards closer and closer to their chest so this could’ve been another Doom.
Turns out, The Evil Within 2 is somewhere in the middle, revisiting a concept I absolutely love in the horror world while introducing new elements that…mostly work.
Mister Personality from the first game, Sebastian Castellanos, is back with a more expanded, morose roll to play and a different member of his family to go after. The story takes him back into the shared-mind space called STEM, which was one of my favorite sources of gold from the first game. The physical manifestation of several minds descending into madness, fracturing the levels themselves into multis absorbing environments to traverse but not so much for a story conceit. I didn’t have a nickel to give the story or many of the characters in the first game, but the STEM is used much more smartly to integrate a full story with arced characters into the mix here.
Looking at the other side of STEM’s use, this iteration does take away from some of that jigsaw puzzle level design. Instead, you’ll maneuver Sebastian through fairly large open areas with missions and lots of area to very carefully figure your way through. The first area feels abnormally large compared to the rest of the game but it’s large enough to get lost in for hours to make up for the constriction. The missions can be missed or gained from the remaining population of the STEM city with safe rooms very carefully, and sparsely, made available. The feeling of organic gameplay and mission structures is undeniable within the world, making each entered home or structure tense with potential.
The story inside the madness hops around the cliche gardens pretty carelessly. That’s not to say that Sebastian and others are worse off with their emotional injections. Quite the contrary, their investments lure yours inside with viscous attraction. That IS to say that there’s not much original in the way of storytelling or character tropes.
Fighting against the various undead still retains tension with some smart changes coming in The Evil Within 2. Stealth is still your bread and butter due to a lack of overwhelming ammunition or resources. There is a new gear in massive ammo dumps that point you towards the inevitable gunfights against hordes but these are fairly sparse. Sebastian has his drunken aim more corralled for headshots, which serves to slam the brakes on high-flying grab attempts. The main way enemies take to killing you is the old surround-and-conquer technique with intermittent rushes to keep you off balance. To the credit of gameplay, there is certainly tension with limited resources maintaining a doomsday clock in your head throughout.
The enemy designs are mostly the same hunks of grotesque, dribbling meat sticks with some added attacks. While nothing so interesting as the ideas of the original come through, there are some iridescent gems that do what they can. My favorite is an apparition that has ties to this world and came phase in-and-out of the large space you’re scavenging through. She’s death-in-a-can if caught, and yet, has a full story that’s probably the height of The Evil Within 2 as far as sorrow is concerned.
Bosses in the first game really boiled down to two main character showdowns and a rocket launcher ending, as per the standard Shinji Mikami formula. The Evil Within 2 decided to cut the peak off the mountain, so to speak, and make all the bosses feel equally engaging instead of matching the original’s clear highlights. There’s nothing so memorable as Laura found within said evil, but the various lieutenants and main boss all feel equally well crafted. The first game’s well is not immune to further spelunking, which is a big letdown with the team taking this “equal and fair” approach instead.
With that one design decision, I cast ye this entire game. The Evil Within 2 may well be a better game top to bottom than the original. Without going through the motions or phoning it in, Bethesda has still managed to create an experience that just does not last once you put it down. Maybe it’s their foray into that subpar story while taking away from the jagged level design that sunk this franchise down to a murky, grey science. It’s taken me several attempts to get through this review alone simply because it feels hard to give a creative f*ck.
The Evil Within 2 traded in a lot of identity for stability, and that can be as good as death in this derivative world.
The Evil Within 2 Score: