EVIL WITHIN 2 BRINGS TOGETHER THE BEST PARTS OF THE BEST GAMES I HAVE EVER PLAYED
WARNING: There are a fair bit of spoilers ahead, so if you’d rather not know, don’t read this review just yet.
It’s difficult for games to still terrify me. I’ve grown up through an era of Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Siren, and possibly every horror and exorcism movie you could ever think of. There may be moments where I am caught off guard with fright, then giggle and mumble “Good one”, but I haven’t had a truly terrifying experience in a game since Silent Hill 4 ever again.
So how do I judge the scare factor? I get my wife to watch me play. If she crawls under the sheets or clutches my arm until there are blue marks on them, it is a truly terrifying game. And that she did aplenty in Evil Within 2. But before we get to that, let’s step into my world of in-depth reviews as I break down every facet of this horror game.
A further tip when reading this review: I did not get very far in Evil Within 1. I found the first game very hard to work through and died so often that I just gave up. There were just too many times in the game that I asked “Did they want me to finish this game, or just laugh in my face everytime I die?” So if anything I write in this review makes it look like I know nothing of the first game, that’s because I don’t.
And so we begin with my Initial Gameplay Video.
Sebastian Castellanos is back!! And so are Kidman, Mobius and many other related characters including that lovely nurse Tatiana. In EW2, the story starts with the death / disappearance / kidnapping of your daughter, Lily. It seems like Mobius and the STEM program and up to no good again, and this time it involves Lily, whom you had thought died in a house fire.
And so the scene is set for pretty much the entire game. Even though you discover that someone inside Union, the new playground for the STEM program, is behind Lily’s ‘disappearance’ and causing all Mobius soldiers to be killed, finding your daughter is your prime goal. And Kidman’s, since Lucy has become the CORE of STEM.
As both a screenwriter and an author, I’ve got to give some kudos to an element of writing called Foreshadowing. Even David Trottier, author of the popular Screenwriter’s Bible, would have been proud. There are little hints dropped of what is to come later in the game, or sometimes very soon, that you may not even realise until it’s too late.
The story, and sub-plots, are so well woven together it’s hard at times to tell the difference. There is no side-mission wasted on frivolities that have nothing to do with the main mission. Even finding the dead corpses of Mobius soldiers will yield weaponry you may need, or files with some insight as to what is going on.
As mentioned in the intro, I didn’t play much of EW1. What is so fantastic about the sequel is I didn’t have to in order to enjoy this game. There is plenty of mention of Beacon Hill and what happened in the first game for me to catch up (if not, online wiki’s work fine), but this story sets itself apart from the first game in a way that is as enjoyable as a standalone.
There is a sense of urgency almost lacking in some cases, which I found comforting at times. Here you are as a father, in desperate need to find your daughter, but there are so many collectibles in each area and resonances to discover with your communicator, you can easily get sidetracked if like me you have an obsessive desire to collect and do everything before even touching the main story. I’m not saying this is a bad thing though. There are some serious, heart-pumping moments that really fuel your desire to run rather than fight, so when you have some time to kill collecting items, it is welcoming. I’m sure if Lily knew her dad was running around shooting statues for keys instead of looking for her, though, she would not have been too pleased.
This is just the essence of open world games with no linear movement or action, and does not detract from the game at all, in my opinion.
You play in third person mode, while switching to first person mode in certain parts of the game. I’ve read on GameTyrant that PC players have found a way to play permanently in first person mode, as the game was apparently originally intended. Even though I am sure this would have heightened the terror in this game, I am rather pleased to have the third person view. The communicator attached to your belt has a handy meter to tell you how far you are from a resonance while you are walking about. Also, all that weaponry and gear looks awesome on you.
However, an option to switch between the two views like Skyrim would probably would have worked better and been more in players’ favour. For me, the third person perspective with first person for select screens worked perfectly fine.
Many gameplay features return in EW2, such as stealth kills and hiding in the bushes. There was one very frustrating moment where I was in tall bushes while hiding from a Siren, and I could not see a thing. No matter how I turned my camera, there were bushes blocking my view completely. I had to expose myself out in the open to the Siren just to see where it was.
Here is a video of my very first stealth kill, having done much sneaking around and avoidance before this, realising only afterwards I’d missed out on some Green Gel, that helps you level up your character once again when you meet Nurse Tatiana.
While we’re talking about frustrations, let’s examine something else that really worked on my last cords. There is a scene in the Residential area where I enter a bathroom and knock a chair into it. When I try to escape, I am blocked by the chair. A gameplay mechanic that would have helped here was a button option to pick the object up, move it away and put it down again. Instead, I kicked it around like a pathetic football player that could not strike a ball into the net, even though there were no defenders. Somehow, I could kick it in and not out. The best solution I had was to reload the last quicksave, go back, dribble the chair out of the way and safely enter the bathroom.
If this was a lesson by Bethesda to pay attention to my immediate surroundings, it worked. I made sure never to kick things carelessly around again. Here is the footage of the incident, and judging by Anthony Burton’s comment, he had the same problem with the same bathroom.
We’ll examine some further gameplay elements further in the Comparisons sections down below.
GRAPHICS, SOUND AND ATMOSPHERE
The graphics for this game is absolutely superb, and if this moves over to 4K it is going to be stunning. Even staring off at other areas of the world you will travel to later through The Marrow, the attention to detail is stunning. There are several scenes that would have made Resident Evil 7 proud and is by far a worthy competitor to that title.
The graphics definitely add to the sense of gore that is needed for a horror game like this. There are some really obscene and grotesque moments that make me parrot Sebastian when he says “Who the f%ck comes up with this sh$t?”
The artwork that is demonstrated by the antagonist are sheer masterpieces. Looking past his psychological issues, the moments where victims of death are captured by photographic moments are a pure pleasure to behold in a sickening sweet way. The detail by which some of the huge creatures are portrayed make them even more terrifying that even I was cautioned from getting too close.
And these are complemented by the game’s’ sounds and music. Even the sound has a way of foreshadowing events to come in a way that makes you rethink about heading to your objective. As if staying in the area would somehow make it go away. One truly remarkable way that sound was integrated with the game design was with the Sirens. These beautifully horrifying creatures made sounds to detect where you are, almost like echolocation. Get caught in the sound waves, and you are basically dead unless you can find a way to hide again. Also, their sound waves allow you to know which wall they are about to pass through.
I haven’t seen a game that has integrated graphics and sound so well into their mechanics as well as Evil Within 2, with maybe the possible exception of Resident Evil 7. Yet EW2 does it so well in so many different ways for so many different reasons that I believe it has surpassed RE7 completely in this regard.
To start off with, here’s a video of me running from the first Guardian I encounter.
I love the creatures in Evil Within 2. There’s a mixture of beauty, mystery and horror in them that cannot be defined properly in words. Whomever worked on creature development really put a lot of work and possibly love into them. They have more creatures and variations than RE7, and the expectations I’d had for the Silent Hill: Downpour open street areas were met by EW2. Again, I echoed Sebastian whenever he said “What the f$ck is that???”
There was only one thing that would have made this better. A Bestiary. I love me a bestiary. Diablo 3 was pleasant with the notes on each creature discovered and a description for each of them, and Witcher 3 blew that out of the water with their high end graphical representation of each creature killed, along with their weak points. In the same manner that each weapon, file and item is noted in the inventory, it would have been great if Sebastian kept notes of each one. Even better, if he nabbed one of the million cameras lying around and took a photo of each.
I know many games these days can be compared to each other, since they use similar elements to one another. Yet, there were so many moments and scenes that reminded me of games I’ve played, I could not do this review without mentioning them. If you enjoyed these games, you will love EW2.
First off, the Assassins Creed factor. Any game with stealth hiding in bushes and corner stealth kills instantly takes me back to AC. It was the first series of games I played that had this element to it, and any game that has stealth bushes, stealth kills and ‘eagle vision’, like Tomb Raider and Shadow of Mordor, gets the AC factor label from me.
Then there are the workbenches, with crafting and weapon upgrades, while allowing for on-the-fly crafting. While I know Skyrim was my first true love for this mechanism, this felt more like Fallout 4, both of course Bethesda products. The workbench looks so similar to that in Fallout 4, as does Sebastian standing there with weapons strapped to his back, it’s hard not to draw this comparison every time you upgrade.
There was also a Silent Hill: Downpour essence to this, even though there were many other Silent Hill touches. Of course, Silent Hill 1, the search for a daughter, is too obvious a comparison. But running around the streets of the residential and business areas had the same feel as Downpour. With many of the grotesque scenes and disturbing settings, one could almost forgive me for feeling like I was running around the streets of Silent Hill. EW2 did a great job of making me miss what Silent Hill once was.
Maybe on of the best comparisons I have is Resident Evil, as mentioned a few times in this review. Yes, RE7 when comparing the graphics and atmosphere, but maybe more RE4 for everything else. There’s the off-shoulder view, but more so the save points. Ok, so it’s not a typewriter, but the communicator saves feel very much similar, and I could easily have replaced Sebastian with Leon Kennedy and gotten the same feel. That first scene into union, with the bodies being piled and creatures milling about, reminds me so much of the first scene Leon stumbles upon when reaching the small village at the start.
This brings me to one more thing I felt could have been improved. You have a communicator, and you have a digital map. In Silent Hill, when you find maps, you can use them to investigate the streets and buildings. Even in Resident Evil, your maps are updated and can open up all the areas available. In EW2, you find large maps on walls in sewers and tunnels that show the areas in that facility, but somehow your own digital map does not get updated. Ok, sure, that is probably more realistic, but yet again taking a photo lasts longer. I would have enjoyed having this element added to the game, but does in no way reduce the review score in any way.
When my wife ducks under the blanket and begs me to switch off a game, you know it is truly terrifying. That didn’t stop her from asking me to play it again the next day (when the sun was out), as EW2 is just so damn enjoyable. You quickly become torn between searching for collectibles, killing every enemy for their green or red gel, and continuing your quest to finish the story.
There were parts that truly terrified me too, the quick jump causing my wife to hit me on my arm for startling her. It’s those small moments, waiting for something to happen, the building suspense, and then complete opposite happening to what I had expected.
Evil Within 2 brings together the best parts of the best games I have ever played, and melds them into one beautiful masterpiece of art, sound and atmosphere. It was worth being too impatient to wait for a review code and spending some hard-earned cash on a physical copy. It’s a game I will replay again and again whenever I feel the need to have a good startle.
It’s really hard for me to give any game a perfect 10 score, since that means a game has no room for improvement. And judging by the few niggly things I had about EW2, I would be hard pressed to give it a perfect score. However, a full point cannot be lost for such a fantastic game that I really enjoyed, so I am giving it well-deserved 9.5 /10.