The Evil Within was a technical mess with a poorly told story and early 2000’s era voice acting. The Evil Within 2 takes several steps forward.
From the outset, there’s a sense that Bethesda entrusted Tango Gameworks with a larger budget. Visuals are a generational leap over the first game with better performance to boot. Cutscenes are more slickly produced with a level of competence and cinematic flair the first game could only dream of. There are even some clever scene transitions and decent shot compositions. It is a more polished product. With that said, The Evil Within 2‘s most glaring flaw is its lack of soul. In a bid to win over naysayers of The Evil Within, its sequel makes changes that dilute the intellectual property’s identity.
While Shinji Mikami directed the first game, he stepped down as the producer for the second, allowing John Johanas to take the helm. Say what you will about The Evil Within, but it knows what it wants to be – A “hardcore af” survival horror game. It makes no concessions, knowing full well its relentlessness will turn off the casual gamer. A running counter tallies the player’s deaths at the end of each chapter with a total death count given upon the game’s completion. It wants to bring you to your knees. Yes, much of it is due to one hit kill enemies and unfairly telegraphed traps, but it doesn’t budge regardless. The Evil Within revels in spitting on your face and watching you scream “fucking bullshit!” at its bullshit.
By contrast, The Evil Within 2 doesn’t really know what it wants to be. Director John Johanas, as fresh blood, feels like he wanted to emulate everything successful he had seen in other games. Afraid to carve his own creative vision for the franchise, he chose to play it safe with an iterative yet ass backward sequel. This lack of direction and identity stems from two major overhauls:
- Semi-Open World Structure
The Evil Within 2 Wants to Coddle You
Toned down difficulty isn’t an automatic omen. Sometimes games are difficult for the wrong reasons and the first game was difficult for a lot of wrong reasons. Rather than making minor mechanical refinements to balance this inconsistency, Tango Gameworks went too far. Stealth was one of The Evil Within‘s biggest issues. It was a poorly implemented option with inconsistent AI and an unreliable button prompt that wouldn’t always work. The Evil Within 2 was the chance to fix this and make stealth a viable option on more occasions. The end result is tinkering to the point that it is now overpowered. Why waste ammo when I can almost sprint full speed at an enemy from behind and initiate a stealth kill animation with a maxed out stealth tree? Why fear for Sebastian’s life when the newly balanced stealth turns this guy into a less acrobatic, though just as deadly, Sam Fisher? Where’s the tension in that?
The Evil Within 2 also removes the match-burning system of the first game while introducing coffee makers and on-the-field crafting. At safe houses, Sebastian can brew a cup of coffee to completely refill his health. After drinking, more coffee brews automatically. You’ll have to wait until it’s finished, but there is no end to how often this new health source can be abused in the chapters it exists within. On-the-field crafting is self-explanatory. Being able to craft shotgun shells or medical syringes mid-encounter makes Sebastian feel like a one-man army. If bodies can’t get up after they’re dead, stealth is overpowered, and I can craft anything without the need for a bench, how is The Evil Within 2 attempting to be a more refined version of its predecessor? It’s not. It wants to be loved by everybody, but as we all know from Resident Evil 6, nothing can please everyone.
The Evil Within 2 dramatically toned down its difficulty to appeal to the casual or impatient gamers that would have been put off by the first game. Is that such a bad thing? I don’t think so. It’s disappointing to hardcore fans of the original, but an easier game does not equal a worse game or a soulless game. That would have been my sentiment were it not for my discovery deep into chapter 3 that The Evil Within 2 is as homogenized as they come in the triple-A space.
You already know the game has crafting. As you can surmise, the two to four open-world chapters are littered with crafting materials. These sections also contain some of the most basic game structure I’ve seen in years. While you can make a mad dash for the story mission and ignore everything else, you’d only be cheating yourself of crafting materials, weapon parts for upgrading, and green gel for investing in skill trees. Unless you’re playing on the easiest difficulty, you’re going to need a good chunk of that stuff gated behind either exploration or dedicated mission types.
The most significant of these involves investigating distortions. Sebastian can pull out a radio and use it to pick up signals. When the radio detects a distortion, the player goes there, watches a flashback and that’s it. Distortions are usually conveniently placed around useful materials. There is little meat to the open world experience outside of investigating distortions. You can search dedicated corpses for pouches that upgrade ammo capacity for guns, but that’s nearly the extent of it. To be fair, Sebastian will meet characters along the way that give him side missions, but these don’t last long and nearly all of them involve going into The Marrow: a series of interconnected tunnels and hallways that bridge different parts of Stem’s Matrix-like city of Union. The Evil Within 2‘s open world chapters are endless checklists of busy work.
The Evil Within 3 Needs Another Change
While The Evil Within 2 is a good game with more polish than its predecessor, it also lacks soul. My entire time with The Evil Within 2 felt so indistinct from every other triple-A current generation game with zombies/infected. At times, a person could even glance at my screen and ask if I was playing The Last of Us.
It even jumps the shark so hard that an end-game segment sees players controlling Kidman in a brief cover-based shooting section. This scene’s real “genius” is its lack of player agency. Kidman can’t even navigate around her cover. She is a fucking rock, unable to move even a millimeter from her starting location until all enemies in the area are wiped out. At that point, control is relinquished back to the player.
This brand of heavily scripted nonsense typically reserved for homogenized triple-A tripe is the last thing The Evil Within franchise needs if it hopes to have any staying power. Let’s not even get started on the first person mode that was randomly added in a free update months after launch because first person horror is all the rage right now, right!?! The game we’re left with now is a “greatest hits” compilation of what the developers think makes a popular and successful game, afraid to remain faithful to a compromise-free vision.