We’re in the age of games-as-art, which means many gamers feel the need to be immersed in a quasi-cinematic tale to feel moved. It’s no longer enough to have an interesting game mechanically. It needs to be wrapped in an Oscar-caliber story. What happens when the main character to that story is kind of a dumbass?
The Evil Within 2
Developer: Tango Gameworks
Platform: PS4, Xbox One, PC
MonsterVine was supplied with a copy for review
The Evil Within 2 picks up some years after the events of the first game. Sebastian Castellanos sports a Keanu-style beard and Keanu-level angst about his missing daughter. He occupies his time being a washed up cop (sigh) that drinks (sigh) and growls at anyone that comes near (sigh). The good news is she’s not actually dead. The bad news is she’s been kidnapped by the sinister Mobius group and they’re using her mind to host a metaphorical Matrix, a faux-small town called Union. You’re not going to believe this, but she’s gone missing and he’s the only one who can get her back. It’s Silent Hill with the serial numbers filed off.
For a game that is heavily indebted and pays homage to David Lynch, it’s expected that plot is more of a guideline, but Lynchian weirdness requires the characters to be likable or interesting. Sebastian isn’t. He’s kind of an idiot. Game design is going through a guilty daddy phase as fathers in the industry neglect their kids to make video games about good dads that actually spend time with their kids, but it requires some level of engagement beyond “You have a kid, you care deeply about her.” In this case, she’s the Macguffin, the excuse for tossing him through the funhouse mirror.
And what a funhouse mirror it is. Every deficiency in the plotting and writing is made up for by the atmospherics. Survival horror relies on tension, but it also relies on cool creatures. Sure, there’s not going to be anything as iconic as Pyramidhead, but you never quite know what’s going to pop up around the next corner. The Lynchian weirdness adds to the intensity of the situation: If the rules are flexible and the reality is flexible, then escaping isn’t really escaping. It’s buying time.
Sound and light and shadow are effectively used to keep you off-balance and the relative scarcity of ammo and supplies make every fight a calculated decision. There’s also a crafting system and upgrade system, because those are mandatory for some reason. When I’m tossed into a nightmarish hellscape, god knows I’m worried about grinding out experience so I can get Level 2 in gunsmithing or something.
But even then, there are moments of genuine terror when you’re running from a monster, unsure if you’re going to escape or if the world is going to let you escape. There are times you’ll be jumping at a sound you think you heard, and your house making a weird noise may startle you out of your skin. And just when the tension seems unbearable and you can’t take anymore…
Sebastian opens his mouth.
And that’s the real horror.
The Final Word
Play it if you dig a spooky atmosphere and don’t play it if you’re tired of “The Cat’s in the Cradle” in video game form
– MonsterVine Review Score: 4 out of 5 – Good