The Evil Within 2 Analysis: ‘Dissecting a Lazy Horror’

Last updated on December 3rd, 2017

The following post is this author’s opinion and does not reflect the thoughts and feelings of Fextralife as a whole nor the individual content creators associated with the site. Any link that goes outside of Fextralife are owned by their respective authors. This is BobtheHollow’s analysis of The Evil Within 2, and you can find Lanzen’s previous review of The Evil Within here.


Making a game is undoubtedly hard. Making a horror game is even harder. It’s a tricky recipe to explore, you might be aiming to create the next Psycho  or The Shining,  and end up with Friday the 13th  instead. What a lot of people tend to forget is that, that in itself, is OK. It’s not the same kind of horror, but it’s horror nonetheless. Trashy slashers have always been popular and will probably always be. The thing is, it doesn’t matter what kind of horror you’re making, there’s good and there’s bad horror. This is… lazy horror.

I’m Bob the Hollow and this is the Evil Within 2.

The Evil Within 2 – Retrospection

This is a story about a psychotic father trying to save his psychotic family. We start at Sebastian’s traumatic past event, because of course he has one, and from it we learn that he’s lost his child, that he carries the weight of guilt with him. And we get the feeling this might be a psychological horror/thriller where we must explore his broken psyche and how this trauma affects his life.

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But after a short tutorial on how to use the controller stick to move forward, the game then quickly takes away our ability to move forward and jolts us into a bar where there are two Mobius’ agents; who seem to have taken lessons on how to be secret agents from watching Wachowski movies. During the ensuing cutscene, we get a bad touch, a karate, a ninja pose, and learn that our lost dead daughter isn’t dead anymore. Nope. Forget the psychological horror, it’s a trashy slasher after all.

And this moment of confusion within the first 15 minutes of gameplay, I believe, is a very good example of the big disparity between what the game wants to be and what it ends up actually presenting. It wants to be a deep, dark horror but it’s just a zombie game. It wants me to care about the NPCs, but… I don’t. They’re just generic, expendable, one-dimensional vessels for exposition dumps.

It wants to be story driven but the story makes no goddamn sense. And they told us we don’t have to have played the first game in order to understand the second one, but they keep rubbing it in our faces. Kidman expressly tells me that I need to forget about Beacon, but the game tells me to “never forget.” Can you please make up your goddamn mind about it?

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This Beacon thing could have been an interesting tool for developing  Sebastian’s personality, and his inability to move beyond this past trauma that creeps up during his time within STEM is actually very reasonable; the ghost sections are all about that. But apparently, it’s just marketing for the DLC and this stuff is fucking everywhere.

We need to use the “Mirror” in order to go back to our safe room. Then, we have to go back to Beacon every time we want to upgrade a skill, meaning that the nurse is probably the NPC we interact with the most. And it comes up in our dialogues with Kidman and in the “Slides”… I know it’s a sequel and they can’t quite ignore the first game, but rarely do you see a sequel showcasing its predecessor so far up its own ass that you can see it bursting out its ears.

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The ghost sections are arguably the most interesting and well thought part out in the entire game, it’s too bad they don’t ever explain a thing about the ghost itself but then again, that’s what DLCs are for, right? They push the DLC so shamelessly… I could be wrong, I hope  I’m wrong, but I don’t think I’m wrong… The last slide where Kidman tells you that Joseph is alive, the post-credits cutscene with the old STEM coming back online, as well as the ghost’s message that “You cannot keep me here,” and all the time we spend talking about Beacon in this game… The DLC is in Beacon, right? C’mon.

Back when we played the first game we needed DLCs to understand it and now, if you’re playing the second game without playing the first one, you’ll need DLCs to understand the first one all over again?

Now that would be some EA level of bullshittery.

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Too bad this idea of his subconscious creeping up and messing with things doesn’t come up anywhere else. I mean, his entire arc, if you can call it that, premises around the same concept, his inability to move on, only instead of Beacon, his arc is about his family. But that never creeps up anywhere… except when Theodore reminds him of it, which is just not the same thing.

And by using this mechanic to address one’s past trauma, they kinda set up the expectation that the other, more pertinent one, will be addressed in the same engaging manner, but instead they just delegate that to a cutscene with the campiest dialogue ever produced.

Story

YOU MEAN THE BUNCH OF STUFF HAPPENING IN SUCCESSION?

Lilly’s dead and then she isn’t. Stefano’s got her so we kill him. Myra’s gone and then she isn’t, but she’s got Lilly so we kill her, but she isn’t dead, and then she is. And that’s pretty much it. You may have noticed that I skipped Theodore, but that wasn’t an accident. They kinda pull him out of nowhere and set him up to be the main villain but he never gets his hands on Lilly. I don’t even get to kill him, Myra does, and it looks like she could’ve done it anytime she wanted to. Sebastian gets to overcome his guilt regarding his family’s situation during Theodore’s phase of the game, but that was all Myra’s doing again.

She just straight up told Sebastian in a cutscene that he should get over it and… he does. Just like that. The only actual impact Theodore would’ve had in the story would’ve been the deaths of a couple of NPCs but, the plan to kill off all Mobius’ employees would’ve killed them anyway so, what the fuck was the point  of having him in the game at all? I don’t understand. There’s so much about this story that I don’t understand.

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Why wouldn’t Sebastian believe Myra after what he went through? Why wouldn’t Myra tell Sebastian that she had actually found Lilly and get his help to free her? Why would Mobius hire Myra knowing exactly who she was? Did they honestly expect her NOT to turn on them? What was Sebastian’s plan if he actually got Lilly out on his own? He’s in a bathtub and she’s in a locked vat.

What is Mobius’ end game? Do they really want to get everybody into STEM? Why? What’s the point?

Do they realize that every psycho in the world is going to be super-villain? Are they really gonna keep seven billion people alive while they’re connected to their virtual world? How? WHY?

And Myra’s plan isn’t that much better. The game tries to make me care about its Mobius’ operative NPCs, showing that they’re actually good people, with good intentions. Two of them even sacrifice themselves for me. Now we’re going to kill every single Mobius operative there is? What about the good people working for Mobius? What about their families? What about people that are driving? That’s really dangerous. And Mobius is supposed to be huge. How many people did you just kill?

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And the bosses. How did I kill the bosses? Stefano can freeze time. Myra can make the ground kill me. They can both teleport around. While Sebastian can… shoot a gun. How did I kill them?

OK, remember I said this is a game about a psychotic father and his psychotic family? Well, if Sebastian’s a psycho, then he’d have super gun shooting powers, which would explain how he gets to kill the bosses. If Myra’s a psycho, that’d explain how she manages to become the wax queen and why Mobius hired her in the first place, they wanted to study her.

And if Lilly’s a psycho, that would mean her choice as the core isn’t just the universe’s biggest coincidence, psychosis actually runs in the family, and their collective participation was planned all along. Not only would this explain a lot, it would also open up the story for a lot of interesting possibilities. But, alas, it wasn’t meant to be…

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Game Design

A GIANT ZOMBIE TENTACLE MONSTER… HOW QUAINT.

If we’re going to talk about design, then I have to mention the beginning of the game. Just like its predecessor, the beginning is quite misleading: you’re walking around a very atmospheric environment, the first two enemies introduced give you no choice other than to run or hide, it kinda sets you up for a stealthy survival-horror experience but after the first grunt zombie which, truth be told, is creepy  as fuck, caution kinda goes out the window and the game eventually turns into a “keep shooting until they’re dead or we run out of ammo” kind of thing.

The crafting system is… there… I never felt like I needed to craft a lot of ammo or that I’d run out of gunpowder. But at least gunpowder makes for a slightly more interesting resource since it’s used for all types ammo, forcing me to choose more carefully where to spend it. “Gel” and “Gun” parts, on the other hand, are plentiful enough; and the upgrade choices are easy enough, that I had to put very little thought into it at all.

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Controlling Sebastian still feels like driving an ass but, oddly, I still kinda like it. Shooting can still be really aggravating at close range when aiming becomes inexplicably difficult. You’ll definitely miss  some “impossible to miss shots” and sometimes get away with some really weird headshots. There’s no hip-fire for some reason. There’s no choice NOT to use the axe. The A.I. is extremely stupid. And they treat us like we’re stupid too: Capt. Obvious always feels the need to explain everything, and every time I have to find something, it’s probably located three feet from where I’m standing right now.

The locks are just waste of time, there’s absolutely no challenge involved. At what point does it become basically a Quick Time event without the ‘quick time’? Same with the “follow the glowing light” mechanic. I do like the coffee though… And I did like that they turned the loading screen into an in-game loading screen, even though I think they wasted a good opportunity to use it as a means to explore Sebastian’s subconscious, like they did in the beginning, and also to subvert the safety of that moment. If I had been suddenly dragged out of the loading screen and into a confrontation, that would probably have scared me.

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Admittedly, these are kind of minor complaints. But I do take an issue with some other things, such as the poor character design for both enemies and friendly NPCs. Also, the bad dialogues AND the bad animations during NPC dialogues. I can understand using this generic animation system for games that have a gazillion lines of dialogue, but this is not one of those games, this is just lazy.  Still on the subject of animations, not having an animation manages to be even lazier than having a bad one, such as with the memories that you can find with your communicator. And the stealth kill animations on this game are the least stealthy I have ever seen, second maybe to Deus Ex’s.

But, in my opinion, the place where animations really fuck up in this game are in the moments just before you’re confronted with scripted dangerous situations. They completely remove all sense of dread from the exploration. Every dangerous situation that doesn’t involve an enemy standing out in the open will be preceded by an animation, where Sebastian will most likely duck into cover FOR you. Once you realize that, then there’s no reason NOT to run through all the sections, kicking all the doors, because you know that if anything dangerous is waiting for you, the scripted animation will keep you safe regardless.

Which leads us to my last and biggest complaint: the sandbox.

The Sandbox

AT LEAST WE’RE NOT LIBERATING ZOMBIE TOWERS…

I think a sandbox just doesn’t work with horror. You know what’s NOT scary? Casually walking around, going anywhere you want to. Where you can see danger from a mile away and you choose when and how to engage with it. How is that scary? Sandboxes also have an inherent problem with storytelling: you can’t structure your story if the player can, and probably will, spend ridiculous amounts of time doing everything but move the plot forward. This becomes particularly detrimental when it comes to horror, since so much of its efficacy hinges on the writer’s ability to guide us through the pacing of his story.

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Case in point, Sebastian just found out that his dead daughter is actually alive and about to be dead again, the best lead is literally waiting at the end of the street but he somehow spent hours roaming around town, doing all sort of silly things… Better open world games will work around this problem by offering engaging content, like the many interesting side quests of The Witcher 3,  or systems that are designed to create emergent gameplay storytelling, like the “Nemesis” system of Shadow of War.  The Evil Within 2  has neither.

It has TWO sidequests, one shooting range, and everything -and I do mean EVERYTHING- is scripted. At some point, it becomes clear that the choice to introduce sandbox to the series wasn’t an attempt to improve or experiment, it was just an excuse to be lazy. The A.I. was most definitely NOT optimized for the open setting. Neither were the triggers or the level design. At some point it becomes clear that everything related to the sandbox portion of the game was very carelessly thrown in, it’s meant to buy time and distract us from the lack of polish and planning, and a lack of general content of the game.

Final Thoughts

To be honest, I kinda had some fun with the game. But is this really going to be our AAA standard forever and ever? I mean, c’mon, they are backed by a major publisher, they have the benefit of carrying the name of Shinji Mikami, the original creator of the Resident Evil  series, and this franchise is this studio’s ONLY franchise.

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You’d expect them to put some more work into it. But instead, they ship out this hot flaming lazy mess, slap a full US$60 price tag on it, and actually get some very nice reviews from some major video game news outlets. At the time of writing this article, I still don’t know how sales went, but we can’t keep rewarding this kind of behavior. This is not the only example out there and if we keep buying them at full price, they’ll just keep making them.

Final score: “Lazy horror: don’t buy it until it’s half price also, if the DLC really is in Beacon, just don’t buy it at all.”


For more, you can check out other gaming-related articles and reviews.

Born in Brazil, living in Japan, teaching and writing in English... it's a funny word, isn't it? - Yet another offspring of this extremely lucky generation to have grown alongside the gaming industry, eager to share my experiences, discoveries, points of view, and general recipes of mayhem about that which I love the most... don't tell my wife I said that.

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7 comments on “The Evil Within 2 Analysis: ‘Dissecting a Lazy Horror’”

  1. Avatar eremHaNeoN says:

    I have not played either Evil Within games, but I did see a ton of praise for the sequel as opposed to the more "eh"-received original. Anyway a while ago Otzdarva did a funny video sarcastically praising The Evil Within 2’s "qualities":

    [BBvideo:7rk0px6u]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZA5kGEhVaA[/BBvideo:7rk0px6u]

    The footage was taken from his livestream of the game and the middle of the video displays a very significant flaw with how it handles its "open-ended" world design, that goes back to what you talk about in how it tries to juggle sandbox design with it being a scripted story-based game. You’ll know it when you see it, heh.

  2. Avatar BobTheHollow says:


    Yes, that illustrates my point perfectly (you do mean the part where he tries to break the plank blocking the path only to give up then come back later and realize the plank could not be broken until he’d met an arbitrary point of the story, right?). A bunch of other people and I had that same problem, it’s infuriating. And thanks for pointing me to this video, his stuff is always funny.

    I’ve seen that as well, I mentioned these positive reviews at the end of the video but didn’t want to mention the sites by name. I think gaming journalism needs some serious improvement if it wants to be taken seriously. Well, like I said, don’t buy it at full price but if you ever get a chance to play it, lemme know how it goes. =]

  3. Avatar eremHaNeoN says:

    Yep that plank part is what I was hinting at, heh. The other dumb stuff shown in the video I probably could put up with but something like that plank is grade-a awful game design. What’s worse is that it’s nothing particularly unique to this game. It’s the kind of thing seen in all sorts of AAA games. The sort of thing discouraging exploration like "nuh uh you cannot go off the chosen path we laid out until you do arbitrary thing we said!" Sticks out even more sorely when it’s a game that purports to be open-ended. In their attempts to hold players by the hand they somehow make it more confusing and muddled for the player in the process. Hearkens back to some bad designs in old adventure games, whether parser or p’n’cs, where you couldn’t solve a puzzle or pick up an item without triggering some event somewhere else in the game that you’d have no idea that you needed to go back to in order to trigger.

    Yeah definitely not something I’ll be getting at full price (then again very rarely do I pay full price for "AAA" games – in this era of amazing discounts/sales for digital gaming it’s rarely necessary). And I want to play the first Evil Within before going into this one anyway (a game that’s been out long enough that I do see it receive pretty good discounts on Steam during their numerous sales). If/when I get to play any of these I’ll definitely try and share my thoughts on the experiences afterwards. ^_^

  4. Bonaduce80 says:

    This is not related to these games, but relevant nonetheless. I remember playing old JRPGs when I was a kid and even if possibly I didn’t get all the nuances of them with my poorer Ebglish back then, I think I’d understand what I had to do next but didn’t know how to trigger it. More often than not, it’d involve leaving the room/house so one of the party members would utter a sentence and *then* be allowed to do what you knew needed to be done. Of course one can be more forgiving with games of 20-25 years ago than with multimillion behemoths of today….

  5. Avatar eremHaNeoN says:

    JRPGs are also, generally speaking, fairly linear games. These "you need to trigger arbitrary thing to progress" while not good design in most any game are usually more forgivable in linear experiences. Games that purport to be more open-ended that try to pull that on the other hand… well you can read what I think above. :P

  6. Avatar BobTheHollow says:

    In both examples, old adventure games and JRPGs, the common factors are being old and linear. Like eremHaNeoN pointed out, it feels cheaper in supposedly open-ended games and like Bonaduce80 pointed out it feels worse in new AAA games. I’d just like to add that, in both cases, not having this kind of problem should’ve been a natural consequence of evolution. Seeing that we still have such problems, one can’t help but assume that gaming hasn’t, to some extent, evolved at all.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I have to disagree. I started playing the game this weak. Horror is my favourite genre though, so I guess I’m more forgiving. Yes, the plot isn’t great, nor is the dialogue, but the open world is fantastic, in my opinion. How on earth you didn’t find it tense I don’t know.. Especially the trip back to the business district, when you have to contend with the flamethrower guys. I did start on nightmare mode though. I think it probably makes for a better experience! I have to take it slow or I’ll die (the tension is very real in that mode), plus resources are scarce which encourages exploration. It doesn’t feel strange to have Sebastian waste hours exploring instead of looking for his daughter. He needs to find items in order to stay alive! I think that the Evil Within series is a better experience the harder it is. I can’t wait to try classic mode in first person next. By the way, I’ve not finished the game yet, so I skimmed your story criticism. I will return when I’m done.

    Cheers

    Matt


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