The Evil Within 2 (PlayStation 4) Review – Twisted, Ever-Changing Terrors

The Evil Within 2 (PlayStation 4) Review - Twisted, Ever-Changing Terrors

The Evil Within 2 weaves a tangible fear—a tightness in the chest that comes from hearing a piercing scream in the night, not knowing where it’s coming from. Knowing if you don’t find its source in seconds, you’ll likely die at the hands of some sickening monstrosity. Counting the handful of shots you’ve scrounged up, wondering if it will be enough. It’s pure, horrifying delight.

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The Evil Within 2 (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Bethesda Softworks

Sebastian, years after the events of the original game at Beacon Hospital, finds himself dragged into a whole new trip into another reality. Now seeking his daughter from a world fabricated within the consciousness, he’ll navigate a winding story that serves as a good enough framework to keep the game moving forward, but is not especially well-written, often plagued with clichés and predictable twists.

Luckily, The Evil Within 2 doesn’t need it, as its ever-shifting fever dream of locales and monstrous stalkers will be enough to keep your attention. Reality is in constant flux here, so players can never be sure what will happen when they turn their back. Opening the front door to a house in town may lead the player down dreary hospital halls, a gently hummed song coming from your PlayStation 4 controller as a cloaked figure stalks you. A corridor in the town hall may open up to a red-tinted room filled with mangled bodies, all reaching for a single door. The world doesn’t follow any rules as to what can happen, changing layouts and displaying horrifying visions with little warning, using the environments to unsettle and leave players uncertain.

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The Evil Within 2 (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Bethesda Softworks

These frightening visions are a beautifully rendered, sickening as they may be. The Evil Within 2’s visuals showcase an eye for darkness, light, and colour that can load the most innocuous space with menace, or turn a scary moment into a truly hellish nightmare. The monster designs are also quite strong, with a flair for the outlandish. A hulking figure made of corpses and heads that wields a huge buzz saw? It may sound a little ridiculous, but in this particular setting, the over-the-top nature of the monsters makes them feel like a natural fit—like creatures born of the same chaos that keeps the world changing.

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The Evil Within 2 (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Bethesda Softworks

It doesn’t hurt that encountering them is raw tension. The Evil Within 2 isn’t big on giving the player ammo for any of their weapons. You’ll often only have a handful of shots you’ve managed to scrounge up—and that’s assuming you searched hard—which means enough to kill one, maybe two basic enemies, typically. This supply goes up and down in places depending on how many enemies the game intends to throw at the player there, but for the most part, players are dealing with constant ammo famine. Not only this, but it really doesn’t take much to put poor Sebastian in the ground. A handful of hits from the most basic enemies can kill him, meaning any kind of large encounter is instantly a cause for alarm.

Not having enough shots sounds like something that would get annoying, but the developers excelled at knowing exactly how much you might conceivably need to get through an area, and giving players the barest minimum. It is doable, but it never feels that way in the moment. Instead, it always feels like you’re one fight from complete disaster. Checkpoints are, thankfully, very generous, although this does erode some of the tension if players are paying attention.

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The Evil Within 2 (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Bethesda Softworks

While it has many excellent, surreal linear locations to fight in, the open world-like areas are still the best part of The Evil Within 2. Their meandering alleys and streets offer tons of places for enemies to hide to surprise players, offering many scares that linear corridors just can’t manage. These moments also create great player-driven moments where their particular choice of route or action leads to some terrifying encounters. That they can do little side quests for extra goodies, get more bits of plot, and basically trigger a terrifying, randomly-appearing haunting, all while under this tense fear of death. Open world horror is here, and stunningly, it works really well.

Players can avoid some of these dangers by being sneaky, but The Evil Within 2’s stealth just isn’t all that great. Many monsters seem to keep very odd patrols, turning around at unpredictable intervals, and there’s often very poor cover between the player and enemy. Even with some stealthy upgrades, it often didn’t feel viable to try to sneak at all, forcing a straight fight for all but the most patient killers.

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The Evil Within 2 (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Bethesda Softworks

A few minor glitches can make this worse. At times, Sebastian had a tendency to warp a few feet ahead when making a melee attack, or he would get stuck in a climbing animation when hopping over something. These appeared infrequently throughout the game, but they were annoying, as they tended to happen when fighting extremely dangerous enemies.

There are tons of items to entice you to make the likely lethal decision to go exploring. All kinds of crafting materials, weapon upgrade parts, and Sebastian-strengthening goo are abundant, which all give that little twinge of happiness at picking up in-game goodies while also drawing players into making poor decisions involving their survival.

That said most of the upgrades don’t seem to offer a great deal of improvement. Many of them offer marginal increases in performance that are hardly noticeable—shotgun upgrades only offering 5% extra damage, sneaking speed increases barely register—although there are a few new moves and decent improvements exist. At least crafting gives players ammo and items at a decent rate.

Still, feeling poorly equipped is when The Evil Within 2’s tension is at its best, and when the horror is at its most compelling. It’s when you don’t have enough shots that the fear really takes hold, making players appreciate the threat of that pile of corpses charging at them with a saw. Players may never feel powerful as they play, but it’s that vulnerability that is the game’s greatest strength, making players ever afraid when death can happen at any moment.

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The Evil Within 2 (PlayStation 4) – gameplay image via Bethesda Softworks

The Evil Within 2 was reviewed using “retail” PlayStation 4 download codes provided by Bethesda Softworks. You can find additional information about CGMagazine’s ethics and review policies and procedures here.

Liked this article and want to read more like it? You’ll like Brendan Quinn’s interview with The Evil Within’s Director Shinji Mikami, and The Evil Within 2’s Director and Lead Writers John Johanas, and Trent Haaga!

Check out more by Joel Couture, like his review of Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, or his review of the cyberpunk thriller, Ruiner!

Want to see more videos? Subscribe to our YouTube channel and check out The First 15: Marvel vs. Capcom: Infinite, The Evil Within 2, and Cuphead!

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Resident Evil 4 (PS4) Review

Resident Evil 4 (PS4) Review

Resident Evil 4 always slides into “best of all time” gaming lists, and for good reasons. The landmark 2005 title reinvented not only survival horror, but the modern gaming landscape in general. Its influence can still be felt on titles coming out in 2016, and I suspect that’ll continue to be the case for a while to come. Not only that, but it represented a “peak” moment for Capcom’s flagship franchise as a whole, which has taken a series of questionable turns in the decade since. With the new entry, Resident Evil VII, right around the corner, now seems like a great time to revisit the series’ crowning achievement—with apologies to Resident Evil 2.

Resident Evil 4 (PS4) Review 7Capcom’s made that revisit a bit easier with a new version, available on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Of course, these versions aren’t actually “new.” They’re based on the second PC port, which is itself based on the PS3 and 360 ports, which themselves draw from the Wii version, which was a combo of the Gamecube original and the PlayStation 2 port. Basically, this is a game that can be had on almost every console since two generations ago.

So why buy this version? For starters, if your PC is a literal toaster, this new version lets you experience Resident Evil 4 at 60 FPS, which is a nice perk. Everything runs at a consistently fast and reliable clip, as one would expect from a port of an 11-year-old game. It also boasts trophy and achievement support, although the trophy sets are actually just rips of the PS3 and 360’s (I checked.) Also, it’s worth noting that this version goes for a bargain bin price, and what you’re getting is more than worth it.

Because, frankly, Resident Evil 4 remains one of the medium’s finest experiences. If this was just a review of the base game, I’d practically be forced to give it a perfect score. Almost no game since Mikami’s masterpiece has performed such an admirable tightrope walk in terms of mechanics and tone. Cinematic action blends seamlessly with dread-inspiring horror; panic-inducing survival segments give way to some of gaming’s most empowering firefights. That’s not even touching the narrative, which is an endearingly bonkers mixture of chopsocky cinema, slapstick humor, and absurd sociopolitical thriller a la Metal Gear. Tying it all together are a variety of ways to play, god-knows-how-many collectibles, easter eggs, additional difficulty modes… there’s a lot to do, a lot to see, and all sorts of secrets to uncover. In fact, playing Resident Evil 4 in 2016 made me realize how few modern games, all these years later, even remotely hold a candle to it. It’s still that good.

Resident Evil 4 (PS4) Review 4This all comes, however, with the caveat of “maybe don’t play this version.” Because, unfortunately, some games weren’t meant to be seen upscaled, and Resident Evil 4 is very much one of them. Backgrounds that should be imposing look comically flat, losing their luster immediately. An improved draw distance actually hurts the game, as there were a few immersion-smashing instances of being able to see two Merchant locations at once. As weird as this may sound, I just don’t think this game was intended to be looked at this resolution.

Also, I ran into a few weird performance bugs. Namely, the aiming mechanic is overly sensitive and prone to lag, jerking me in directions I’d stopped aiming a split second before. This leads to having to think ahead in a cumbersome way, and in the game’s tense firefights that can spell the difference between life and death. People who’ve had their head lobbed off with a one-hit kill chainsaw know exactly what I’m talking about. This is something, as someone who’s played every version of this title at least once, that I’ve never encountered, and it really irks me. When you manage to mess up a game that’s over a decade old, that’s kind of sad. While this isn’t a gaff on the level of, say, the entire Silent Hill HD Collection, it’s still not great.
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So, yes, Resident Evil 4 still holds up. In spite of the issues, I still had a blast playing through this game for the umpteenth time. It remains one of gaming’s most triumphant moments.

But will I play this version again? Nah.

As someone who’s easily lost several dozen hours to this game, 2007’s Wii version remains the best one of the bunch. Despite the speediness of later ports, I feel that 30 FPS, overall dimmer lighting, and lower resolution is the best way to experience this game. On top of that, the Wii version has some of the system’s best usage of motion control, adding a level of immersion simply not present in the others. I realize that tech-minded people might disagree with this assessment, and it’s definitely a deeply subjective one. But for my money, Resident Evil 4 is best experienced around the time it came out, with the added bonus of motion control and basically the same technical specifications it launched with.

So if you only have a PS4 or One, and you’ve never played Resident Evil 4 before, try it out. But if you have a Wii U, or heck, can spent a combined total of 40-60 bucks for a Wii and a copy of that port, maybe consider that option. For my money, it’s the best way to play it. This version of Resident Evil 4, on the other hand, is a nice but ultimately unnecessary gesture.

The Final Station (PC) Review

The Final Station (PC) Review

I still don’t know how I feel about Snowpiercer. After the fantastic and chilling premise wears off, its blemishes are made bare, truly tying in to the concept that maybe, after a point, the world isn’t worth saving. But before you get a chance to ponder all that, you’ll be intrigued and guessing from start to finish. Much like that film, The Final Station is a great concept with a lot of bright moments, but the follow-through is lacking in some areas.

The Final Station (PC) Review 2The Final Station‘s story is told through clever use of setpieces, dialogue, and atmosphere—almost always providing the player with some form of input. The world has fallen victim to a terrible virus, which has infected much of the populace and caused them to mutate into feral ghoul-like creatures that look straight out of a Miyazaki film. Taking up the mantle of a conductor, you’ll be personably responsible for the lives of your passengers and constantly putting yourself in harm’s way with limited resources. It’s a large cross to bear, that’s for sure.

I like the commitment to minimalism especially. Instead of just outright telling players all this, it’s left to for them to infer it from radio messages, emails, and literature, most of which is optional. Even the intro is stylish, as you kind of just get up for work like it’s a normal day before realizing the horrors that lie before you. This semi-rote method bleeds through to the gameplay loop though, which leads to a straining experience in more ways than one.

The chief aspect is survival, viewed through the lens of a 2D platformer of sorts (though you cannot jump) with a basic aiming reticle and the ability to use environmental weapons like chairs or other pieces of furniture. The idea is that the more you scavenge at checkpoints the more you’ll bring back to help your passengers, at the risk of dying outright to the infected yourself. It’s not all open-ended however, as progress is literally gated by “blockers,” which impede your trip until you locate the combination code to get to the next station and repeat the process anew.

The Final Station (PC) Review 5The more interesting half of the game is in train management. Just like a Sim game (albeit on a very micro scale), you’ll need to tend to your people, feeding them or providing medical attention as needed. If they make it to their destination you’ll net a ton of cash, which can be used at trading posts to buy more gear. You’ll have to juggle all this as your train gets bigger, more demands factor in, and the vehicle gets more complicated after adding in ventilation systems, lights, and a lot more. It’s fun running back and forth keeping people topped off with food, and equally hectic when the air is shut off, suffocating everyone on the train.

If their hunger meter drops and their health depletes they’re dead, and you’ll only earn a fraction of your bounty by looting their corpse. It’s harrowing the first several times, but since Station hardly ever gives you a reason to care about your crew you never really feel the impact.
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The Final Station ends up being a linear game in the end (I dispelled the illusion of choice by playing it again and finding not much changed), but this short train is worth riding at least once. Combining light simulation aspects that only get better over time with a survival mode with diminishing returns is an interesting concept that shouldn’t be ignored.

Shattered Skies (PC) Review

Shattered Skies (PC) Review

Let me be perfectly clear that I would not have played Shattered Skies for as long as it took to review it if I weren’t being paid for it. It commits a crime much worse than simply being a bad game; it’s dull. It’s also uninteresting, static, and barren. A world with no concept of object permanence—like it ceases to exist when I’m not actively engaging with it. Bad games can have character; they can be memorable and even enjoyable for the very reasons that render them terrible. Being uninspired and forgettable, though, that’s as bad as it gets in my books.

Shattered Skies (PC) Review 4From a technical standpoint, Shattered Skies appears serviceable enough, and it does—rather unusually for games in the genre—run rather smoothly. But all of its assets feel like either a placeholder or an afterthought. A smattering of landmarks consisting of a few houses, a general store, and in the case of the larger city in the centre of the map, an office building and apartments are really all there are to entertain. Between them exists vast, open spaces of nothing but hills, shrubbery, trees, and the occasional cluster of broken down cars to loot. It all feels like it’s been orchestrated to present an illusion of scale but without enemies to occupy them or meaningful terrain features to inspire tactical engagements. These sprawling bits of nothingness simply sit there as little more than a gating mechanism for the amount of time it takes to travel from one loot hub to the next.

There are only so many times one can walk past the same shrub while spending minutes running from one lootable area to the next before stopping to ask “what’s the point”. Once that illusion is shattered and the veil is lifted the player begins doubting the experience. With enemy spawns so infrequent and formulaic (shoot at face until dead, don’t let it fireball because it has no valid path to you) and the gunplay beyond disappointing in its desperate lack of feel in its animations or sounds, there’s little to encourage a player from hopping on an empty server and farming up loot alone. Player engagements are rarely on an even keel, thanks to the hard-gating of loot by level, and the obvious emphasis that puts on roving groups of griefers as a result. The added lack of NPCs leaves the whole experience feeling more like a prototype or a featureless alpha than a full-launch title that’s asking between $28 and $89CAD, depending on how much XP and cosmetic junk you want from the start. Oh, and it’s entirely possible, if buying one of those fat bundles, to be granted so much XP when you start that you’re immediately bumped past the level 15 threshold that pushes you out of the newbie servers into the “bite the pillow” post-learner servers. I couldn’t even imagine my first experience with the game being on those servers when, by the developers’ own admission, PvP (read:griefing) is the focus of Shattered Skies.
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To be fair, Shattered Skies is not without its innovations—and clever ones at that—but they fail to be implemented in any meaningful way when stacked up against the rest of the game’s shortcomings. I do quite enjoy that loot bags from events and supply drops aren’t lost on death, with their contents remaining safe and secure until opened. I do like that being flagged as a PvP aggressor leaves you vulnerable to attack even in the game’s safe Dominion hubs. I like that there are quality tiers to add some variety to the extremely limited pool of weapons. I like that Legendary quality loot isn’t lost on death, but has a finite durability that cannot be repaired; it removes the fear of using them, without leaving them a be-all end-all. Unfortunately, many of these strong points are implemented in a ham-fisted manner with little thought to their effect on the core loop or longevity of the experience. Paired with the time-gating of the game’s events, it makes for a very forgettable experience.

Shattered Skies (PC) Review 5Here’s what really gets me about Shattered Skies, though. It’s the latest in a long list of rubber-stamped open-world survival games, each based heavily on their predecessor. Yet astonishingly, each seems to be both less expansive AND less focused than the title on which it was based. You see, Shattered Skies, is another bite at the apple from the team responsible for the frankly abysmal Romero’s Aftermath. Romero’s Aftermath was, in itself, the latest genre game to be bailed on by the team responsible for Infestation World. Infestation World was the free-to-play version of the abandoned premium title Infestation: Survivor Stories. Infestation: Survivor Stories was the re-brand of the game that everyone loved to hate, War Z. And finally, War Z was the bastardized open-world cash-cow of a zombie survival game that was developed by the team responsible for a little-known (and terrible) military shooter called War Inc—which is where Shattered Skies can trace all of its wonderful (read: terrible) issues with audio thanks to it sharing the same developers and game engine.

I actually bought War Z back in alpha (it came to market in the wake of Day Z’s popularity; shush). Not the cheap version, either. I swung for the fence with the $70 package. What blows my mind is that Shattered Skies reeks of the same half-assedness and I didn’t even know of the connection until well into this review. The funny thing is that War Z (or Flashlight Deathmatch Simulator 2012 as it was affectionately called) felt like a more engaging experience, despite its wealth of bugs, hackers, and downright terribleness. Even still, as I’ve just downloaded its latest iteration, Infestation World to ensure my memory hadn’t betrayed me, it at least has character in its awfulness. And for all its lack of direction, at least the terrible zombies, even with their appalling AI, feel at least somewhat threatening and bring a touch of (un)life to the countryside.
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To be clear, I’m not advocating anyone actually play Infestation World any more than I’m advocating they play Shattered Skies. But it speaks a lot about the experience to be had when I can honestly say that the free game based on a half-decade old game that’s universally regarded as a scam by the same studio offers a more memorable experience.

Dead By Daylight (PC) Review

Dead By Daylight (PC) Review

Dead by Daylight is something that, on paper at least, appeals to me very much. I’m a big fan of games that facilitate fierce competition among friends. Particularly so when they’re asymmetrical in nature. Unfortunately, much as others have discovered before me, Dead by Daylight may have the right idea, but it lacks in its execution.

Read moreDead By Daylight (PC) Review

tinyBuild’s The Final Station has a lot of Heart

tinyBuild's The Final Station has a lot of Heart

When I first played The Final Station earlier this year at PAX South, developer tinyBuild likened it to Faster Than Light. However, instead of managing a starship crew during a perilous journey, you’re a train conductor operating one of the last means of transportation during a zombie-like apocalypse. It’s not quite a rogue-like and it does employ fun and harrowing 2D exploration sections between stops. The beta included the first act, which hints at a surprisingly deep narrative and wider world.

Read moretinyBuild’s The Final Station has a lot of Heart

Outlast 2 Delayed Until 2017

Outlast 2 Delayed Until 2017

You’re going to have to wait a lot longer if you want to experience the terror of Outlast 2, as it has just been delayed to 2017. Red Barrels, the game’s developer, broke the bad news in a recent Facebook post:

“We want you to know that we listen to your feedback, we see your excitement and we know you care about our work. Our mission as an indie studio is to deliver to you the best, most terrifying, most fulfilling experiences possible. That’s why we’re taking just a little bit more time to make sure our vision for Outlast 2 is in no way compromised and is the experience you deserve.

This is not the type of news we ever want to deliver, but we are so fully committed to the world we’ve built and to our awesome community that we could not, in good conscience, release a game who’s limits haven’t been tested to the extreme.”

They promise that the finished game will “scare the crap out of you”.
Outlast originally dropped on PC back in 2013, where it garnered a very successful following online. The game follows journalist Miles Upshur as he explores an abandoned psychiatric hospital.

Outlast 2 will take place in the same universe, although it will not follow the original story. You play Blake Langermann, a cameraman investigating the murder of a pregnant woman in a small Arizona village alongside his wife Lynn. After a helicopter crash, Lynn goes missing, and it’s up to Blake to rescue her and escape the town, which is overrun with members of a deranged cult.

Outlast 2 is set to release sometime within the first quarter of 2017 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.

Sheltered Review (PS4)

Sheltered Review (PS4)

Usually I start these reviews with a little anecdote about my life, or my experiences as a gamer to help set the stage for my review. But Sheltered has had me staring at the page for 15 minutes and I couldn’t think of anything. There’s really just not much to it.

I was so set to write this game off as a weak attempt to ape the success of Fallout Shelter (it’s a game about living in a shelter during nuclear fallout, where have I heard that before!?). However, it wasn’t until I did a bit of digging that I learned the game took to Kickstarter back in 2014 only to have the rug totally pulled from under it by Bethesda.

Sheltered Review (PS4)

Sheltered is a procedurally generated survival game where players take on a family of four (two adults and two children) building up a shelter in order to survive the nuclear holocaust. Players will need to manage their supplies, keep spirits high, and expand their shelter if they want to survive in the wasteland.

Gameplay is a bit stiff, playing like a combination of Fallout Shelter and Oregon Trail, and Sheltered is definitely a game that works better on PC. Players will send out teams of two to scavenge the wasteland in order to retrieve food, water, or supplies to build necessities such as sleeping bags or showers in text-based transmission calls made back to the base. If players choose to get involved with certain events, the game transitions to RPG-style confrontations where they can either engage in combat or try to negotiate with hostile survivors.  

I’ve played Sheltered unsuccessfully four times now, either from dying or quitting out of sheer boredom. Maybe I’m just playing it wrong, but it doesn’t seem like even hardcore survivalists will find something to enjoy here. Take, for example, its design. Upon starting, you’re given a basic shelter: a top floor with the essentials (generator, food and water storage, medkit and a radio to send people out on expeditions) and a single room on the second floor for a Minecraft-style workbench. This is already problematic since necessities that hang from the ceiling or on walls take up the same pixel space as things that sit on the floor so space is extremely limited. You’re only given enough materials to make one single room, so trying to add something like a sleeping bag now takes up half the room.

Each time it felt like members were fighting for things I had all the resources to build, but no space on the game’s 2D plain to construct. Sleep was the biggest problem because it quickly became impossible to send people out on expeditions because they were too tired and sending them out would yield very little. The game was off to a bad start and there was little hope on the horizon that it would get interesting.

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Sheltered’s biggest problems is its pace. It’s so horribly slow; building things takes way too long, sleeping takes way too long, waiting for people to come back from expeditions takes way too long. Every time I played it felt like a testament in futility as I had, by default, too many people in my shelter waiting for a bed, waiting for some rain, or waiting to die. If that was the point of the game, to show the futility in trying to survive in a world that died long before we did, then kudos game. Mission accomplished.

I could see Sheltered working as a game you’d find on or Newgrounds; something you could play but not have any real commitment to. But as retail game I just can’t recommend it, not when games like Fallout Shelter, and This War of Mine already exist, and pull off what Sheltered is trying to do much better. Like I said, maybe hardcore survivalists might find something enjoyable here, as it’s competently designed aside from a few minor bugs, but the game is too slow and far too boring to get fully invested in.