Note: This review is part of my reviews which I publish directly onto my Facebook Page, and are intended to be quick-fire projects.
I’ve spent much of the past few weeks hiding in bushes and dirty basements. No, Mr. Parole Officer, I haven't been taking up voyeurism again. But I have been catching up with some of last year's horror video games. Games which I was too cheap to buy at full price. First up, the survival horror The Evil Within 2.
The first The Evil Within (released in 2014) played out as though it were one of those 'Choose Your Own Adventure' gamebooks, being read out as a normal book. One minute you were doing the Amnesia-style hunter-prey thing in an abandoned mental hospital. Then you were fighting zombie villagers in a peasant village; trapped doing proper survival horror in a spooky Medieval castle; or gunning down armies of the undead in a ruined city.
Admittedly, the whole game did take entirely place in the imagination of a delusional, psychotic killer. An excuse which doesn't sit right with me. Sure, it made for some absolutely grotesque and horrifying set pieces. But if the game's world was indeed the mind of a serial killer, surely we'd be more likely to see him finger the dismembered corpse of a prostitute with a rusty shiv. As he wanked himself off to old photos of his mum.
It seems that Tango Gameworks realised that stringing together Shinji Mikami's best horror set pieces is like trying to form a stand-up comedy routine out of jokes from Christmas crackers. And is probably not the best approach game design. The Evil Within 2, consequently, is a far more stable beast than its predecessor. It's prettier, gameplay's tighter, and the story is more focused. The game takes place in yet another hive mind, sure. But this one features three psychotic and dangerous individuals. Innovation! These individuals seeming cancel each other out, however, as the setting is now simply a normal American Midwestern town. Only with considerably more violence.
Three years at the events of the first one, detective Sebastian Castellanos is still suffering trauma from the mind-screwing events. Which is understandable really. The guy was flung headfirst into more blood and gore than a gynaecologist who only works on rag week. At the start of this one, he has become a depressed washed-out alcoholic (when you're a gruff trench coat wearing cop, they call that a promotion). He is found in a bar by his former protégé and sometime betrayer, Juli Kidman. Kidman tells Sebastain that ‘lol-joke’, his dead kid isn’t actually dead, but rather she’s hooked up to the serial killer hive mind and needs Sebastian to go in and save her. He needs to go deeper.
Right off the bat the horror feels a bit tamer. It’s like a top shagger who has settled down with a wife and kids. Sure, there’s that multiple-headed chainsaw zombie woman, a very Silent Hill living camera-mangled woman hybrid, a giant eldritch eye, and a Japanese Ghost. Some of the levels are dreamy, Twin Peaks-style sets (with mood lighting and flowing red curtains from nowhere). But the vast majority of the game is spent fighting slightly fucked-up humanoids in fairly unremarkable urban settings. That’s my average weekend, game! Where’s the rivers of blood? The worlds made of brains and flesh? Bah.
The first thing to note about The Evil Within 2 is that it's semi-open world with side quests. Rather than parading its protagonist through a conga line of terror and humiliation, this game plonks the player in a sandbox and gives them a destination. "You need to get to this place," the game declares, "and if you get molested along the way, it's your own fault for wearing that skirt. Whore." This results in gameplay best described as 'organic' survival horror; moment-to-moment encounters which evoke a fight-or-flight response. Do you sneak around, and avoid enemies entirely? Or do you waste your precious ammunition and electric/explosive bolts?
It's also hard as balls. Early on, I died more times than Sean Bean has in his film career. Sneaking is vital. You're under-stocked on everything, lacking in upgrades, and the enemies can tear you a new one no problem. Only once you explore the sandbox maps, stock up on supplies and craft better weapons do the odds even out. Even then, the enemies can mob you and give you the bum's rush. But that’s the nature of the survival horror beast, really. Survival horror should be harder than hard, and this is harder than getting citizenship in post-Windrush Britain.
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