There’s something special about marathoning a game series, especially after a sequel is released. It allows you to see first hand how the developers changed their games over time, evolve it’s mechanics (for better or for worse) and take advantage of newer technology or techniques they may have learned over the years. And that is exactly what I did with The Evil Within and it’s sequel.
It was a blast playing through the original, reexamining what I liked and disliked and finding out that it was actually a much better game than I’d remembered. It was also super fun to see how each game contrasted each other in what seemed every way. Video game development, like most software, is all about constant improvement. Looking at what you did in the previous release, scrapping what didn’t work and trying to build a better experience for users, in this case the gamer.
In a lot of ways The Evil Within 2 did just that, it made the overall experience much more pleasant, much more coherent and much more mainstream. But is that a good thing? Did it lose a lot of the character that the original had? Well, my friends there is only one way to find that golden nugget of information and that’s to sit back down in this crusty STEM pod and sink into the warm white goo of this article… eww.
Speaking of warm white goo the one thing that instantly attracts you to The Evil Within 2 is the stellar cover art. Every time it’s splash screen boots up or I come across it’s box I find myself drooling all over it. There is an odd calmness to it’s presentation and the more you examine it the more you find. From the hands clasping at Sebastian, to the faces slowly emerging from the surrounding liquid, to the inky black material polluting the pristine white goo. You keep finding hints of themes you’ll encounter throughout the course of the game. Love it!
Although the overall graphical presentation has improved substantially (no more film grain or flat wrinkly faces!!) much of the environments and characters seem to lack the same hand crafted feel the original had. Characters are agonizingly “ordinary” looking and the environments are much more open and flat where the original felt sculpted and rich. The creatures you encounter don’t seem quite as exciting or as varied either. Honestly, the coolest enemy you encounter is one you only see once or twice throughout the whole game (more on that later)!!
To it’s credit The Evil Within 2 did make Union (the new STEM environment) maintain that “out of this world” feeling where something just seems slightly off. It could be those huge floating chunks of the city in the sky or the deranged and homicidal monsters lurking around every corner but, that’s just me.
Take my statement about these things feeling bland with a grain of salt though. This game is beautiful and very well designed. The openness lends itself well to the more open and less linear gameplay and reflects the real world much more truly. Which makes sense if you want to create a world, insert people into it and make them believe it’s real. Pro tip: realism equals boring, flat and lived in. The second you mess with that formula is when people apparently go crazy, deform into nightmarish creatures and try to eat you… according to The Evil Within at least!
Coming off of the first game and diving directly into the second, The Evil Within kind of set a precedent for the tone of the world. I’m violent, grotesque and in your face with blood and barbed wire it says!! But, it’s sequel is much less of all of that. The game is nowhere near as grotesque or violent as the first. Don’t get me wrong it’s still very violent (it’s a horror game remember) but, a lot of the visuals have been toned down in that sense. It seems like the designers were going for more of a “ghost-story” vibe rather than a “body horror shock-fest”. Think Flatliners vs. Saw. I’m still undecided if I’m on board with that or not.
Something I did forget to mention that remained consistent throughout the series when writing about the original game was it’s sound design. Where the beautiful visuals draw your eye and pull you into the world the fantastically designed sounds keep you there and make it believable. Everything from the cackles and gurgles of distant (or close) monsters to the crack of thunder overhead it all keeps you well immersed and primed for that inevitable jump scare.
True to its name The Evil Within 2 opens with Sebastian Castellanos (the protagonist of the series) fighting his inner demons after being severely scarred and traumatized by the event of the Beacon Hospital incident. Not that Sebastian didn’t already have his fair share of problems before any of this mess, losing your entire family does that to a person. Three whiskey bottles deep we are quickly and abruptly interrupted by, Mobius agent extraordinaire, Kidman who enlists us to travel back into the latest and greatest STEM program, Union. Our mission is to rescue the core which has gone missing and save Union from falling apart.
The first thing you’ll really notice when you arrive in Union is that the gameplay just feels so much better and much more refined than it did in the original. The way Sebastian moves is responsive and the weapons feel solid and fun to use. They have the impact you think they should when picking off small fry enemies. The larger boss type enemies are unholy bullet sponges and take a bit more to take down, but that’s easily remedied by using the game’s weapon and skill upgrade system
Evil Within 2 solved many of the item conservation problems that I found in the first game as well. Ammo doesn’t seem quite as scarce and when you find you are running out you have the ability to craft more using workbenches found throughout the environment. I really appreciate how they took the time to streamline the crafting and leveling systems making it much more intuitive and easy to use. Breaking “physical” skills out into logical groups makes it easier to focus on the play-style you are most comfortable with. Want to sneak around being a middle-aged ninja zombie assassin?! You got it!! Want to go guns blazing?! Well, you could, but I wouldn’t recommend it…
This is all done by collecting jars of green goo, which are used to upgrade your abilities and red goo which unlocks higher tiered skills. As for your weapons you can find various types of crafting materials to create bullets and healing items and weapon parts used to upgrade the weapons themselves. Truthfully the more scarce commodity in the game this time around are the crafting materials! Another great addition is the ability to craft items on the go from your quick menu, it’s more expensive but in a pinch it can save your life. You still end up finding yourself in situations where you have little to no ammo but, I mostly blame that on my apparent inability to aim, luckily it’s much rarer and much less tedious.
It’s great to see so many small quality of life things added to the game that make it all the more pleasant to play. One of my biggest takeaways was that I wanted to keep playing after beating it. Unlike the original there were no sequences or missions that made me wince and hesitate to play again. Or that I found annoying or intimidating. It was just all around fun. As I write this I’m on my second playthrough trying to find all of the collectible and not regretting it for a second!
Aside from the refinements to the gameplay the overall structure of the game has improved as well. Where the original was linear and at times felt like it was all over the place, The Evil Within 2 opens up the world, adds a few sidequests and introduces a much more coherent experience. It certainly doesn’t feel quite as disjointed as the first one did but there are still a few starts and stops that kind of break the flow. You are set up to expect the initial “antagonist” to be your primary goal but, then suddenly and unexpectedly the story changes course. And this happens three times! The coolest arc is the one that you spend the least amount of time with which is a little disappointing. It’s teased near the beginning but then you see nothing of it again until near the end. If they just focused on one of them I think it would have felt much more concise and exciting!
It’s not just the story that did this either, the open world aspects added variety to the game but it also took a bit away from the flow. In my honest opinion this is a flaw that you’ll find in most open world games regardless of how good they are. Although it didn’t do any favors for itself, the story really suffers from these distractions. I find myself occupied by the side quests or just plain wandering around trying to find loot and the impact of many of the key story points begin to dwindle. Many times the game presents a scenario where you are supposed to care about the interactions between the characters but it ends up falling short or I forget why I should care. It’s not that either aspect is bad, in fact both are fun and compelling, but it’s the balance between the two that cause either or both to feel not quite there. In the famous words of Ben Pack from Giant Bomb, “The Evil Within 2 is a game that really, really wants to be good…”, I paraphrase of course but, this is a phrase that echos many of my own opinions.
One thing that I was extremely ecstatic for was the actual, 100% pure, no additives addition of mini-games!! And I’m happy to announce costume and weapon unlockables after you beat the game too! The costumes were there in The Evil Within (OG) but the mini-games were an aspect I sorely missed in the original. Point in fact this was both good and bad though. Good because I absolutely love mini-games and love playing them and bad because I freakin’ love mini-games and will endlessly play them until I unlock everything I am able to unlock!! These mini-games, the chain puzzle game in particular, are fun and challenging and allow you to unlock helpful items (upgrade gel, bullets, weapon parts, etc) that will speed up you upgrades substantially. If you’re willing to put in the time to complete them that is.
The Evil Within 2 was a fun sequel to a series that didn’t get much love in the past. It definitely took a departure from the original for better and for worse but I definitely think it’s worth playing regardless of if you enjoyed the first. To my taste I feel they toned down the horror aspects of it too much but that might be perfect for those that didn’t really like where the previous entry went. Although in all it was a mediocre following up to a hidden survival horror gem I still had a blast and I can’t wait to see what Tango Gameworks comes up with next!!
You can find my review of the original as well right here!!
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