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Review: The Evil Within 2

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Stalking shadows

In one of The Evil Within 2's early chapters, Sebastian Castellanos stumbles onto a familiar scene. As he wanders through darkened corridors, chasing leads in desperate hope of recovering his missing daughter, the former detective enters a room that's best described as a stand-in for Twin Peak's Red Room. Rich, velvety curtains hang in front of him. Black and white patterned tiling spills out beneath his feet, not unlike the Room's chevron flooring. This location is a far cry from his previous surroundings. It's a transient place, existing somewhere between Sebastian's waking world and the shared reality created by connected minds at the center of The Evil Within's fiction.

This allusion defines one aspect of The Evil Within 2. Like its predecessor, the survival horror game can't resist nodding and emulating elements of other franchises. Its DNA is muddy, mixing gameplay systems and tonal stylings with abandon. If you examine it from one angle, The Evil Within 2 is a strange mashup of horror's greatest hits held together by a leash of semi-open exploration. From another, it's a remarkable mood piece that draws players in with familiarity only to subtly shift attention towards something altogether new. There aren't many games like this one, even though it sometimes feels like it's all been done before.

The Evil Within 2 (PC, PS4 [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Released: October 13, 2017
MSRP: $59.99

The Evil Within 2 pulls Sebastian Castellanos back into chaos. He's gone to hell and back before, fighting the mental machinations of a psychopath during the events of the first game. This time around, Castellanos throws himself into STEM -- a bathtub-like device that connects users' minds to create something of a utopia -- for the chance to rescue his kidnapped daughter. He's told, by the very people that took her, that she's gone missing from the dream-like town of Union. Strange events coincide with her disappearance, and so Sebastian must enter Union, figure out what's going on, and bring his daughter home once and for all.

It's not the most novel setup. The Evil Within 2's story never reaches far. Instead, it's a tool to place Sebastian into a series of increasingly terrible situations for fifteen hours. But while the actual story is nothing new, it affords the main character room to explore all the grief, guilt, and trauma that he's buried since surviving the first game and losing his only child.

Despite its basic story structure, The Evil Within 2 has grand gameplay aspirations. Castellanos isn't just stuck stalking through abandoned facilities and blood-soaked rooms this time around. Instead, he's given free reign over swaths of Union's suburban grime. It's a shattered town, literally breaking apart as the game progresses, but the pieces that remain are open and littered with both shambling monsters and valuable resources. 

These open sections encourage exploration and careful planning. Sebastian can hold his own against an enemy or two, but many of Union's poorly lit alleys hide multiple foes. To survive, it's best to approach encounters stealthily. Castellanos can take cover behind objects and use a crossbow to set environmental traps. In combining limited firepower with situational awareness, The Evil Within 2 mixes its horror roots with action gameplay that sometimes feels like it's more trouble than it's worth. Controlling Sebastion feels flighty, especially in cover, and except for a great quick-turn, the grizzled detective moves with the grace of an overturned truck.

Traveling through Union starts as a welcome diversion, but transforms into a chore before too long. I alternated between digging the exploration and barrelling towards my next objective. Though it's a great way to scrounge crafting components and extra ammunition, stalking between buildings feel more like The Last of Us than Silent Hill; tense rather than terrifying. 

Though the open-ended segments are a departure for The Evil Within 2, its narrative-focused chapters are similar to those of the first game. They're linear and claustrophobic; rife with arresting imagery and twisted creatures. One of the game's villains, a tormented artist with a knack for dismemberment, creates installations of his kills. Each one is more shocking than the last, escalating from a soldier's final breath to intricate sculptures built from body parts and roses. They're macabre and grotesque, but strangely intoxicating to behold. Compared to the well-worn suburban settings seen in Union, these interior set pieces are what makes the game tick. Inside this weird mental world, anything seems possible.

And so it starts to feel like The Evil Within 2 is a game divided. The open-world portion clashes with the linearity of its story missions. They're two sides of a single experience that contrast more than they complement. It's not unreasonable to assume that many will get a lot out of the game's looser structure, but after a few hours, I found it tedious.

Still, I can't help but think that this might all be part of some master plan. To be inside STEM is to bend to the will of a collected psyche. The jarring push and pull of two distinct identities -- one a town overrun and ripe for scavenging, the other a frenzied descent into the wicked world of killers -- ensures that Sebastian is never comfortable for too long. The Evil Within 2 often feels uneven, but that's probably the point. Even if it isn't, there's enough blood, guts, and horror to keep your heart racing.

[This review is based on a retail version of the game provided by the publisher]


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The Evil Within 2 reviewed by Ray Porreca

7

GOOD

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
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Ray Porreca
Ray PorrecaContributor   gamer profile

The blogger formerly known as wutangclam. I like strange games and weird people. more + disclosures


 



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