I played through the first game that was sitting in my backlog for months and enjoyed it a lot, it was the kind of nonsense horror that I appreciate from Shinji Mikami. The kind of horror where you don’t need to understand in order to understand. The kind of horror where there is not even a rug to be pulled off to begin with.
The Evil Within 2, though, is a very different beast. I picked it up for the low price of 20$, without reading anything about it. I barely knew there was a 2 to begin with. It’s nothing like the first, in fact, it seems like the first game was sacrificed on the altar for the express purpose of propping up this sequel.
It’s so interesting too. The whole point of this sequel relies on one aspect of the tragic background of the main character Sebastian Castellanos in the first game that was the only part about his past that was made known, and had no bearing to the plot. In the sequel, it happens to be the center-piece. It really feels weird how this little characterization from TEW1, of a character that could best be described as a chid lost in a supermarket is spun off towards something that is so much more engaging.
It also backs away from the Resident Evil trappings of characters that are completely unscathed by the nightmare they had to live through. Sebastian has to comes back for another hellish journey, and it is made pretty clear he never recovered from the mental trauma of TEW1. It haunts him everywhere, and his trauma is made visible in gameplay too. It felt weird to me, I totally expected it to walk it off like a Leon Kennedy does, but he doesn’t, and I really felt for him. It also made his quest to find his daughter much more palatable. They put a movie screenwriter for the screenplay and it’s obvious that this is the brand of logic that someone not into game would have, to look back on what happened to someone and realize that this would affect him even on his new journey. I was so used to the opposite that it struck me as unnatural to me that they did that, but I’m glad they did.
It’s impressive how much they made the sequel an emotional journey. I liked the oblivious fella in the first game, but this time I really wanted him to succeed in ways I never expected to feel for him. That they didn’t shy away from his baggage with the gravitas they used to treat it was refreshing. It wasn’t like playing a sequel that is connected only by bits and pieces like so many of them, there was a very real and strong follow-up, and it felt rewarding, engaging. Special mention to how battered Sebastian becomes over the journey, few games takes the time to acknowledge what people goes through physically. Just taking one look at him was heart-wrenching for me.
The Evil Within 2 might be a cliché fest of a Video Game Dad doing everything he can to save his daughter, but what it does is strangely heartwarming. If you told me The Evil Within would make me cry, I wouldn’t believe you. But here I am with tears I cannot get back. It’s also the kind of warmth that you don’t even see enough from VG Dads, from a man who painfully made peace with the idea that he’ll never see his daughter again, to him progressively grasping the surreal idea that she is still alive and has to find her in a surreal world. It’s the kind of honest reaction that you see in a person that cannot just instantly act as if nothing happened after years of separation. It’s an emotion and feeling that needs to grow back, an awkwardness that has to be conquered. The idea of a physical and mental barrier that separates him from his daughter is interesting. I liked that about it, it didn’t feel stale, it didn’t feel Taken, it felt believable.
And it speaks about the kind of horror that we don’t see often. The ones that aren’t about utter despair, the ones that doesn’t forget that it can be about hope, that it can be wholesome. It reminded me about Resident Evil 2 in a way. The kind of characters that you can root for despite their flaws, that you want to see them succeed. I feel like we’ve been too much coddled into this idea of redemption through death, that the only way to make peace for our trauma and/or guilt is to end it (Spoiler Silent Hill 2 this is why it makes me queasy to see that the In Water ending is the most popular among people. I think this romantic attitude has less and less relevance around us, and I’m glad this game is speaking around that, too.
The Evil Within 2 also succeeds in the way it plays. When I realized I could roam around and explore in a semi-open world, I was wary at first. I thought I was going to lose the tight experience that the first game managed to bring. But I am now convinced that one of the greatest fit for open-worlds might be horror games. I realized that being open means that that the designers has complete control over what you will experience, but this time, without the assurance that you will encounter them.
Playing a linear horror game is strangely reassuring in the way that you know that something is going to happen. So you just have to grit your teeth until the next event happens. It’s mechanical. But in an open-world…what do you know what will happen ? How do you know what the designer planned for you when you decide to go to the left instead of right ? Every house is a potential nightmare, every patch of tall grass might be home to a trap, the simple act of standing still can bring something unexpected to you. You are totally powerless, and the designer is the conductor deciding the experience you will live through.
It always felt fresh, every time you expected that you had your bearings on the world, something happened to change it up completely. And now that there safe houses, the game strangely becomes a lot more frightening. Again, in TEW1, you could just grit your teeth, but now that you’ve been given some real respite (and even some coffee!), the tension cranks up again when you go out.
Someone said that TEW2 felt as if Resident Evil 2 was completely about surviving in Raccoon City during its opening sequence. In the non-action way that Resident Evil 3 wasn’t. I agree with it, 2 decades after, TEW2 delighted us with the kind of dream that we used to have for our favorite horror games.
One other thing is that the direction delivers on all fronts. Cutscene direction is among the best of the year among Wolfenstein 2, and it’s very good to see that big budget games are putting the time to make sure that the way they communicate their story visually works well. This is something I’m really iffy about when I feel 95% of AAA games are completely flopping on this area with poor, unimaginative camerawork.
The sound design has been massively polished and I think it plays a huge part of the scariness of this game. In the first game, there were barely any reverb or echo going on, it’s like everyone was talking in a living room. Now it seemed they knew about it and just put big areas just to show the increase of quality when it comes to sound. The growl of enemies made me shiver more often than I’d like to admit.
Art direction is also even better than the first one. Almost painfully so, sometimes it seemed like they were just flexing their muscles to show how good they are in this department. I was starting to get jealous. And all of this despite heavily scaling back on the gore of the first game. I think they did a good job trying to bring up tense and frightening environment while bringing up a cleaner, less blood-splattered presentation. It really manages to be distinct this way.
Anyway, I just wanted to get this off my chest I really liked this game. I think it might be my new favourite game of 2017. It’s the kind of direction that really hits hard into my sensibilities. Horror with meaning. I don’t think I would have played it considering some of the lukewarm reviews, but I’m glad I did. It’s not perfect, but this is not what I look into when it comes to horror games. It was different, and it was great for it.