The Evil Within 2

De­vel­oper Tango Game­works Pub­lisher Bethesda Soft­works For­mat PC, PS4 (tested), Xbox One Re­lease Out now

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS4, Xbox One

The black bars are gone. For some, that’ll be good news: whether you be­lieve it was an artis­tic choice or one en­forced by tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions, the let­ter­boxed pre­sen­ta­tion of The Evil Within left some play­ers feel­ing caged. Enough de­manded a fullscreen op­tion that Bethesda sub­se­quently patched it in, but we weren’t con­vinced the change was for the better, be­liev­ing the 2:35:1 as­pect ra­tio con­trib­uted to the game’s op­pres­sively claus­tro­pho­bic feel. This fol­low-up ex­pands the game’s bound­aries in an­other sense, too, in­cor­po­rat­ing large, open out­door ar­eas be­tween the cramped, fright-filled cor­ri­dors of its in­te­ri­ors. It’s a se­quel that stretches out in ev­ery sense, then, but in do­ing so it ends up spread­ing it­self thin­ner.

At least it doesn’t start so slug­gishly. After his or­deal in the first game, Se­bas­tian Castel­lanos is en­cour­aged to take an­other dip in the VR bath­tubs of the STEM ma­chine by dou­ble-agent Juli Kid­man. His daugh­ter isn’t dead, it tran­spires, but needs res­cu­ing from a world called Union, a sim­u­la­tion of a small­town idyll which doesn’t ex­actly match the brochure. It’s less dis­ori­en­tat­ing than the orig­i­nal’s be­wil­der­ing plot, and fleshes out its uni­verse through doc­u­ments, slides and chewy di­a­logue. In giv­ing us more to go on, though, it loses some of the fear fac­tor: after all, the un­known and the in­ex­pli­ca­ble will al­ways be scarier than the ex­plicit. And if Se­bas­tian’s char­ac­ter was thinly sketched be­fore, turn­ing him into a generic griz­zled ac­tion dad with guilt is­sues isn’t much of an im­prove­ment. There’s a nice line in self-aware hu­mour, how­ever, no­tably when our hero re­alises his al­lies are mostly field tech­ni­cians. “Com­bat isn’t my forte,” says one. “Seems to be a run­ning theme,” is the growled re­sponse.

For­tu­nately, Castel­lanos can han­dle him­self in a fight, though un­til you’ve re­duced the nat­u­ral sway of his aim­ing arm on the up­grade screen once or twice you might have your doubts. Com­bat has the same backed-into-a-cor­ner ten­sion of the first game, but for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. There are no traps to dis­arm and put down, and no matches to burn downed corpses. In­stead, the pace has been stepped up: the mu­tants that pop­u­late Union might seem to suf­fer from se­vere my­opia, but once they do spot you they’ll close the gap with alarm­ing speed, and they’ll of­ten re­quire sev­eral head­shots be­fore they drop. Once they’re grounded, you can stomp them into pulp to save pre­cious rounds. Stag­ger­ing them, oddly, seems to grant them tem­po­rary in­vul­ner­a­bil­ity: you’ll see bul­lets clearly land­ing but hav­ing no ef­fect, forc­ing you to de­lay that fol­low-up shot for a se­cond or so. Not a prob­lem when you’re fac­ing a sin­gle mu­tant, but they don’t tend to come in ones.

The al­ter­na­tive is stealth. This time you can pin your­self to ob­jects by squeez­ing the right bumper, though it tends to be a bad idea, lim­it­ing an al­ready nar­row view even fur­ther, and some­times re­fus­ing to let you ma­noeu­vre prop­erly around the side of an ob­ject, ei­ther flat-out re­sist­ing or sud­denly clip­ping you through it. You’re far better stay­ing close to cover and crouch-walking around it, like a crab with a shot­gun. It’s not al­ways wise, since AI be­hav­iour is as un­pre­dictable as it is dim-wit­ted: the kind where you spend a good while iso­lat­ing and stalk­ing an op­po­nent, un­til, just as the ‘sneak kill’ prompt is about to ap­pear, it turns around sud­denly. Up­grades that quicken crouched move­ment and qui­eten your foot­steps help, but one which lets you rush to­ward un­aware en­e­mies is so ex­pen­sive you’d have to ne­glect the other skill trees for the rest of the game, or re­serve it for New Game+. There are a few oth­ers like this, and the game is more gen­er­ous with the abil­ity-boost­ing green goop on a se­cond playthrough, em­pow­er­ing you to mop up ev­ery­thing you missed with fewer stick­ing points. On your first run, it’s as stingy with sup­plies as the orig­i­nal, which means open­ing ev­ery drawer and smash­ing ev­ery crate you see – at least when you’re out of earshot. Craft­ing is per­func­tory, sim­ply giv­ing you more but­tons to press be­fore you can slide an­other clip into your pis­tol. It does, how­ever, in­tro­duce an in­trigu­ing dilemma when you’re in a tight spot, let­ting you use re­sources on the fly, al­beit at a much higher cost than at a work­bench in Union’s hand­ful of safe houses. Here you’ll find NPCs that send you on side-mis­sions, via a walkie-talkie of sorts that can be tuned to track ob­jec­tive mark­ers, hid­den stashes, and resid­ual sig­nals from re­cent events. In other words, the kind of thing we’ve seen and done plenty of times else­where.

Still, when your com­mu­ni­ca­tor isn’t crack­ling, and Se­bas­tian is left to face a range of hor­rors with­out any help, The Evil Within 2 hits its stride. If the sense of dis­ease and de­cay isn’t quite as pal­pa­ble thanks to a lack of par­ti­cle ef­fects and a brighter pal­ette, its im­agery is con­sis­tently strik­ing. A leer­ing pho­tog­ra­pher-cum-se­rial killer frames corpses at the mo­ment of death in art­fully grisly 3D stills, be­fore send­ing his pet, a gi­ant cam­era bal­anced on butchered body parts, to hunt you down. And, among the groan­ing mon­strosi­ties with too many heads and limbs, one of the scari­est threats is some­thing much sim­pler: a bald woman with a knife, whose blood­cur­dling shrieks are just one way the ex­cep­tional sound de­sign works its macabre magic.

Oth­er­wise, it’s only fit­fully suc­cess­ful. Even its high­lights of­ten riff on the likes of The Last Of Us and Silent Hill, and a third-act reprise of three boss fights from the orig­i­nal sums up the ab­sence of any­thing truly new. For all its flaws, The Evil Within felt like the work of a sin­gu­lar voice. This feels like sev­eral shout­ing at once, even­tu­ally set­tling their dif­fer­ences by com­pro­mise. The black bars are gone; in­stead, it’s con­ven­tion that keeps The Evil Within 2 con­strained.

You’re far better stay­ing close to cover and crouch-walking around it, like a crab with a shot­gun

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