Initial Release: 13 October 2017
Editor’s Note: Due to the nature of Bethesda’s pre-release policies regarding review copies, we are posting a Review in Progress based on the first 10 hours of the game, with a preliminary score which will be updated with final impressions when we have completed the game.
Horror games have always been a favourite of mine but even I will admit that they often fall into the same pitfalls time and time again. Crafting a genuinely scary experience usually inherently restricts the game to a linear style of storytelling. After all, everything is scarier when you have as little control as possible. The first The Evil Within stuck to these guidelines strictly, offering up a survival horror experience akin to classic titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill. Its sequel does something a lot, lot more interesting though. By opening up the field of play and giving control and freedom to the player, Tango Gameworks have created a game that is not only better than its predecessor, but one which reinvigorates and revolutionises the genre.
Things start off predictably enough in The Evil Within 2. Detective Sebastian Castellanos is still struggling with the death of his daughter and now has the mental baggage from his last horrifying outing into the abyss but after a brief conversation with an old acquaintance, is thrust right back in. After this initial introduction and a very good, albeit brief encounter with one of the game’s appalling bosses, things take a turn for the strange. The player is dropped into a small yet dense sandbox world in a small town called Union. There’s safe-houses, loot crates and even side missions.
My first reaction to this attempt at an open world was one of despair. After all, I don’t play my horror games to explore an open world and complete side missions. After an hour of sneaking through back alleys, listening to audio logs and scavenging for loot, it all clicked into place. Truth is, I’ve never played a horror game in this way before, but can honestly say the opening hours of The Evil Within 2 are easily as iconic as the opening to Silent Hill or Resident Evil. The mini-sandbox is populated by a series of loosely connected, expertly crafted horror vignettes. One such encounter saw me picking up a signal on my communicator, which alerts you to nearby points of interest, of a woman crying out in terror. On arrival to her house I trawled room to room until I came across a journal.The last message of this supposedly now dead lady described a strange presence in the house. It was then that the game revealed its true nature. The room went ice cold and I was sucked into a stealth section in which I crept desperately around a mass of limbs and flesh which prowled gently around the room humming Claire De Lune (an excellent and chilling throwback to the first game). The sequence lasted no more than 10 minutes before I was put back into the town of Union. The Evil Within 2 is made up of these smaller, curated horror moments and is all the more compelling because of it.
Stealth is imperative in these more open sections. Alerting an enemy can quickly result in death thanks to ammo scarcity and a brutally realistic shooting style. The game slowly teaches the player to move house to house, scavenging and planning, sneak-killing and bottle-throwing, moving towards objectives inch by inch. The game is more Last of Us than Resident Evil in these moments, offering a true survival experience which encourages experimentation and careful planning.
That’s not to say the developers completely threw all conventions out of the window however. As well as the more open sections of the game there are still the more linear and directed ones. These segments of the game are just as good and really help to keep the pacing of the game moving along. The first game was great at these horror corridor moments and the sequel is no exception. One of the main baddies, a psychotic artist who freezes his victims in an infinite loop of the moment they die, is the perfect subject matter for these more focused chapters, his sadistic style and love of theatre making for a real treat for the eyes.
One of the main problems with the first game was the stilted dialogue and meandering plot and unfortunately these still remain somewhat. While the script is generally stronger this time around there are some real doosies in terms of dialogue once again. The over-arching plot too is still as convoluted as ever. The sequel has the benefit of being grounded by the story of a Father trying to rescue his daughter but things still get a little ridiculous towards the later stages of the game.
The Evil Within 2 has some of the most interesting visuals in any game I have ever played. Candle wax creatures bloat and bubble in marble rooms draped by red velvet curtains. The town of Union fractures and distorts as the game progresses with some areas completely folding in on themselves. The sky really is the limit for what is allowed in this universe so it is consistently awe inspiring to see where the game goes next. The enemy designs too feel more visceral this time around, a factor which I put down to the higher prevalence of humanoid enemies in this game.
The Evil Within 2 has managed to do something which hasn’t been done for over a decade now. By boiling the core tenants of the survival horror genre into their most basic parts and then placing them onto a more open and altogether modern skeleton, they have created an experience which is genuinely fresh and one which will no doubt be mimicked by its contemporaries for years to come.
Verdict (If we had to score it now) – 9 Out of 10
We were provided a copy of the game by Bethesda for review purposes