Monday, August 22, 2022

Goopy Horrors of the Mind in ‘The Evil Within 2’ [Safe Room Podcast]

Before diving into this week’s discussion on The Evil Within 2, Would you kindly listen to last week’s chat celebrating Bioshock’s 15 anniversary

No matter the medium, sequels are notoriously contentious undertakings. Trying to appease everyone rarely results in a sequel that is as beloved as the original, so finding a balance between IP innovation and IP familiarity is crucial.  

Given this challenging balancing act, it’s impressive to see a sequel take as bold of a swing as The Evil Within 2 does, and even more impressive that it knocks it out of the park. Smartly retaining the frightening but flawed aesthetic of survival horror legend Shinji Mikami’s The Evil Within, the sequel abides by the “bigger and better” methodology while avoiding the inherent pitfalls of sequels.

Time and time again, sequels lose their focus and unique identity that ultimately defined them in an attempt to grow both their world and mechanics. The Evil Within 2 doesn’t so much sidestep this common pitfall but leaps clear across it by smartly evolving on the horrors of Sebastian Castellanos’ plight while increasing the player’s capacity for choice. 

Something that we unpacked with this week’s guest, the editor-in-chief of Cultured, Jimmy Donnellan. We chat about the sequel’s foundational changes to gameplay, expanding while not diluting its more open world, the new types of various horrors within, and insanity loaves. – Jay Krieger

Safe Room is a weekly horror video game discussion podcast with new episodes every Monday on iTunes/Apple, Sticher, Spotify, Google Podcasts, and Linktree for additional streaming services. 

Feel free to follow the show and hosts on Twitter:

Safe Room | Neil | Jay

Note: We always love hearing from listeners who share their opinion on games we’re going to cover, but sometimes we receive replies that are a tad too long to read on the air. We prefer replies two or three sentences long at most. However, this reply was so incredibly thoughtful that we had to share it!

From Listener: Super (@et_versa)

There is a lot I could talk about when it comes to where The Evil Within 2 triumphs and where it falls short, but I want to boil all of that down into one thing: the thing that decided my fate as a fan of the series.

In The Evil Within 2, they introduce an enemy called Anima. It’s missing the point to call Anima a “sub-boss:” you never fight this enemy, and to attempt to leads to almost certain death. Instead, you flee – flee when you stumble into its blue-toned proximity in the open world, flee when it catches you in one of its scripted, but ultimately missable, encounters, flee from the trailing hum of its twisted take on Claire de Lune.

In the story, Anima represents the unquenchable heart of STEM as Ruvik designed it: STEM’s control of others through fear. Anima manifests as the buried pasts of the citizens of Union, all of whom had their memories wiped prior to being plugged into STEM. Anima does this, too, for Sebastian who has spent three years with “the Beacon Incident” buried in him like shrapnel that no one around him will remove, much less acknowledge. Like the more common Lost, Anima is seen as an anomaly by Mobius staff, something impossible to explain in the apparently sterile STEM of Union. But that speaks precisely to its nature and its relationship with Sebastian. In Sebastian’s own words, Anima is the figment of “the part of [him] still stuck in STEM.” That same idea – Sebastian being haunted (literally) by not only what happened in Beacon but by Beacon itself – could have been conveyed in many different ways.

But the way it was done in The Evil Within 2 is unique because it was done in a way that requires the context of the Evil Within story. The resolution of Sebastian’s trauma made manifest is also uniquely TEW: he shoots it in the head. And, because of how STEM works, this is not just a metaphor. For all intents and purposes, Sebastian has, in facing this haunting figment of his past, severed ties with the part of Beacon that was still stuck inside of him in a way that cannot be done outside of the context of the world – it had to be done in STEM.

I don’t think they always hit the mark when it came to pushing the limits of the story logic. The entire first game built that logic, the second game should have been free to make that logic its playground. However, seeing Sebastian, a protagonist with an acknowledged mental illness, triumph against the horror that he was forced by both circumstance and design to face is immensely satisfying. The fact that this is accomplished through the unique logic of the game’s story makes me want to leap in the air before falling to my knees and crying, “Why is this enemy optional? It is the thesis! It is the evil within!”

Much of my criticism for The Evil Within 2 is book-ended with, “but they did make the game in only two years.” And, in fact, I don’t always feel that it was a bad thing that Anima was “optional.” After all, horror is all about deciding to open the door to what you may not be ready to face. What better way to make that experience playable than to put triumph on the other side of a horror that you can choose, as Sebastian did for so many years, to ignore? The fact that you get a magnum out of the final encounter with Anima is a nice incentive, even if the other reward – the penultimate collectible photographic slide – leads to the world’s most agonizing not-sequel-hook. But that’s a long-winded email for another day.

The post Goopy Horrors of the Mind in ‘The Evil Within 2’ [Safe Room Podcast] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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