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Yahtzee reviews The Evil Within 2.

Transcript Edit

Like a serial bike thief who lives next door to a pawn shop, history often runs in cycles. The last time a game called The Evil Within came out in mid-October around the same time as a Middle-earth game and a Call of Duty game, it was a survival horror adventure that played out like someone had Google Image-searched the word "horror" and then used that as the fucking storyboard; it had creepy hospitals, zombies, mad scientists, massacres involving chainsaws in places reminiscent of Texas, and was, on the whole, about as cohesive and well-structured as a puddle of monkey vomit. Let's see if it does any better with The Evil Within 2: Still a Bit of Evil in There; Better Run it Through the Dishwasher Again.

Things do seem a touch more focused right off the bat because the plot zeroes in on the main character Sebastian Caste-whatsit and his tragic backstory that the first game only briefly explored. Ha ha! Actually, I was lying there; I don't remember the first game exploring his tragic backstory much at all. But you believed me when I said it did, didn't you? Shows how fucking generic a gritty, cynical, burnt-out detective protagonist he is: I said he's got a tragic backstory, and you all went, "Pfft! Well, obviously!"

Anyway, yes, turns out Sebastian's haunted by his daughter dying in a house fire years ago, but now it turns out she wasn't; actually, she was kidnapped by one of those credibility-pushingly evil mega-corporations that are a signature of Japanese survival horrors because they wanted to use her mind to create a virtual world like the one in the first game. Please note that they didn't do this because Sebastian survived the first game or to get any kind of leverage over him; it's all just a massive coincidence. Long story short, something's going wrong with the virtual world and they send Sebastian in to find his daughter and give her a damn good spanking until it starts working properly again.

So we can add The Evil Within 2 to the stable of "Yummy Hairy Dad Games", in which we play a hairy dad in remarkably good shape protecting and/or saving their child or child surrogate; reference The Last of Us, BioShock Infinite, the upcoming God of War, and so on. Seems to be popular with AAA story games these days, 'cos it's a slightly more PC alternative to rescuing princesses with the tacit understanding that they'll handle our scepter and orbs in gratitude. But if you ask me, this is just swapping one unrealistic fantasy for another; other than the male fantasy of big-titty action ladies, it's the female fantasy of men actually being, you know, responsible and shit.

Last time, my problem with the story was that the world had no physical coherence; you just randomly warped from horrible place to horrible place with no idea of how or if you were getting closer to victory. This complaint appears to have been addressed: it's established that the evil mega-corp has somehow built an entire coherent town in our kid's noggin, but parts of it are being corrupted by psychos. So now we do have a sense that our physical location actually matters, but the plot's still a mess: we establish our main villain, have a boss fight with him, then he goes, "By the way, I'm working for someone else who hasn't been mentioned or established in the slightest, but he's the main villain now. Oh no, I'm dead. Bleh." Also, the relationship between real and virtual worlds confuses me. Everyone in the virtual world has a body in the real world, right? So why is Sebastian the only one we see in the plug-in room? Why doesn't our contact on the outside just go to the bodies of the troublemakers and stick an ice pick up their nose? We help one bloke escape the virtual world, but how did that work? They escaped, woke up in the real world facility, then politely asked the mega-corporation not to immediately shoot them in the face?

Besides the "yummy hairy dad" factor, the glaring change to the Evil Within formula is that it now has some sandbox elements, 'cos AAA gaming these days is like hippopotamus taxidermy: there's always room for more fucking sand! While I say "sandbox", all they do is give you an open-ended map to explore on your way to the next story mission and add precisely one side mission to do. Fair play, though; you can explore a surprisingly large number of houses in town, but that means they all have to contain a little something, and I found that I was never really running low on anything, which makes it not so much "survival horror" as "try-to-stay-awake horror". I only ever used healing items because I was full up on them and had just found a new one lying around. True, you can't hold very many bullets, because Sebastian needs the room in his pockets for Kinder Surprise toys and jars of snot, but you can always craft yourself some more as long as you've got gunpowder. There's no limit on how much gunpowder you can have, and the enemies and environment seem to dispense the stuff the way your bottom dispenses farts during a sensitive evening with the in-laws.

Also, the monsters patrolling the streets don't seem to respond automatically, which, on the one hand, is good because it gives a sense of progress and avoids wasting ammo, but on the other hand, it sucks all the tension out of exploring the neighborhood and turns it into trick-or-treating for fucking scrap metal. Alternatively, don't even bother killing enemies, 'cos they seem to have the visibility range of a Metal Gear Solid guard on a high-smog day and you can just scuttle through the hedgerows like a lost crab.

Having said all that, getting into combat can be a bit difficult early on; sneaking up on monsters for the stealth kill is surprisingly hard 'cos they're always looking around in weird, jerky ways like they just heard a police siren and want to make sure their crystal meth is still there, so it's hard to know what constitutes "behind them". Also, Sebastian is one of those prima donna protagonists who just refuses to do anything while they're still winding down from the previous animation; it's very important that, after he shakes off a grab attack, he slowly return his arms to his sides before he can do anything about that other monster coming up on his flank with an ax and a hard-on. "Yeah, I hear you desperately mashing buttons; there is such a thing as 'decorum'".

If the first Evil Within had a strength, besides color matching very well with a hospital corridor full of rusty farming equipment, it was in the visuals, and the creativity in the monster design and the horror set-pieces. Yeah, it's not a particularly new idea to make a monster out of mashing lots of dead bodies together, but you can't deny it's effective, and while it's, broadly speaking, more "together" as a game and as a story, The Evil Within 2 feels comparatively generic. Let's go through the boss fights to prove my point, 'cos that's where the creativity's supposed to be on display. First, you fight a smashed-together-from-bodies boss with a bit of that "Japanese ghost" thing going on where they're one change of lighting away from being in a shampoo advert - so that's the baseline; that's pH-neutral - but then you fight a bloke in a blue suit. After that, the next main villain's boss fight is just a sample platter of bosses from the last game - which is cheating, so no points there - and finally, giant angry corpse.

Still, what could you expect? The virtual world gave them an excuse for literally infinite creativity, and all they made was a bog-standard Midwestern town. Bad enough the mega-corporation's evil without being boring as well! "Ooh, now we can't make all the buildings out of gingerbread. What would market research say?" They'd say, "Chomp chomp! Yum yum!"

Addenda Edit

  • More hairy than yummy: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Maybe the Last of Us comparison wouldn't have leapt so quickly to mind if Sebastian wasn't cosplaying as the bloke from that game
  • Scuttle scuttle I'm a crab
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