Art doesn’t have to be beautiful – it just has to touch you inside.
Shinji Mikami returns to the world of The Evil Within, exploring once more the territory of the mind; an imagined place hosted within a single human brain, inside which scores more people reside. They are plugged in, mentally present in this alternate reality, yet physically asleep (think Inception or The Matrix). And within this so-called STEM technology – commissioned by nefarious corporate figures – things are going badly wrong.
After fighting his way out of STEM the first time, series’ protagonist Sebastian Castellanos doesn’t want to go back in. A perverted dystopia of geometric lunacy and twisted living flesh, it was a waking nightmare. But now his daughter (previously thought to be dead) is stuck there. If he is to save her from the nightmare and the corporation that put her there, he has to go in, pursuing and assisting a special ops team that have so far failed to come back.
As with the original, this set up gives Mikami licence to play fast and loose with reality. His gruesome abstractions bend to his game design, focusing his purist survival horror vision above the interests of coherent world-building. When a room transforms around you, or when you simply appear elsewhere without warning, The Evil Within 2 is telling you it doesn’t have to follow any rules. Unpredictability underpins the horror and undermines the player’s confidence. The effect is unnerving.
Within the game itself, these artistic whims are given their own face. Echoing BioShock’s demented Sander Cohen, a crazed artist has made this world his canvas, creating macabre installations of his subjects / victims. Frozen in the moment of death, a spray of crimson plumes hangs in the air, taunting him to do it again and escalate his murderous aesthetic. As the world fragments and contorts to his will, Sebastian chases him desperately through his grotesque and hostile creations.
That journey takes a different, winding form in this sequel. Flowing from the linear opening moments to a series of open hub worlds (literal fragmented islands in a virtual expanse), The Evil Within 2 does a great job of balancing its moments urgency with sustained suspense. The genre needs this; travelling across hostile, open terrain gives weight to the horror beyond the usual corridor jump scares.
Such exploration is also necessary; like its predecessor, managing resources and crafting ammunition is crucial, while Sebastian’s skill tree is in constant need of feeding via an unpalatable green gel that glops from each fallen creature. With that wider environment comes flexibility of approach, too, lending The Evil Within 2 something of a Metal Gear 5 feel in places. Despite my initial doubts, the pacing of this widening scope with sensibly regular funnelling is beautifully achieved.
Beauty is perception, of course. That which the artist reveres, the rest of us might recoil from. And so it is with The Evil Within 2, which on a technical level is hobbled in numerous ways. From framerate issues to an occasionally egregious draw distance (set scenery will sometimes drop into existence before your eyes), you might say this is an ugly game. Like I said at the beginning though, art doesn’t have to be beautiful. When you enter its world, The Evil Within 2 is affecting and pernicious, delivering on Mikami’s agenda for authentic survival horror. It might look occasionally ugly, yet I can’t help but look.
The Evil Within 2 was provided to us by Xbox/Bethesda via a download code for Xbox One.