No one would deny that the (once) cult horror franchise that is The Evil Dead is deserving of its legendary status, but it also cannot be denied that its frequent entries into the video game world have certainly left something to be desired. While each movie, from Sam Raimi’s seminal 1981 classic to Fede Álvarez’s great 2013 remake, has brought iconic characters, delirious carnage, and bucketfuls of the red stuff, the video game exploits of franchise star Ash Williams have never quite lived up to the series’ inherent potential.
From the original bland computer game (1984), through the boring and cumbersome Hail to the King (2000), the blah Fistful of Boomstick (2003), and the tepid Evil Dead Regeneration (2005), the horror franchise has struggled to truly deliver the relentless, maddening, tongue-in-cheek chaos of its source material — a pretty stunning feat for a franchise that features a dude with a chainsaw arm. It’s been a long time since a developer took a fresh stab at The Evil Dead but, here in 2022, Saber Interactive is gonna give it another shot.
And thus, today we’re looking at the unceremoniously titled Evil Dead: The Game, an asymmetric multiplayer experience that will pit Ash and his hapless posse of doomed friends and acquaintances against the terrors of the Kandarian Demon and its putrid, decaying soldiers, the Deadites. Will the fanbase, finally get the groovy Evil Dead experience they’ve dreamed of? Or is it just The Ultimate Experience in Grueling Error?
Load up your boomstick and oil that chainsaw. Let’s get in there… and carve ourselves a witch.
Evil Dead: The Game (PlayStation [PS5 reviewed], PC, Xbox, Nintendo Switch)
Developer: Saber Interactive, Boss Team Games
Publisher: Saber Interactive
Released: May 13, 2022 (Switch TBA)
Taking the lead from previously established horror titles such as Illfonic’s Friday the 13th: The Game, Predator: Hunting Grounds, and of course Behavior Interactive’s hugely popular Dead by Daylight, Evil Dead: The Game pits a party of Survivors against a single player who acts as puppeteer to a variety of tricks, traps, hazards, and, of course, rabid, slobbering Deadites. It is the job of the four survivors to complete a series of map-based objectives: complete the Necronomicon; find the Kandarian Dagger; resurrect the terrifying Dark Ones; and then banish them, finally sending the evil back whence it came.
The Survivors are a selection of class-based characters pulled from the Evil Dead franchise. From Ash’s tormented sister Cheryl and his wanker mate Scotty, to Army of Darkness‘ Henry the Red and Lord Arthur, and, of course, modern-day Deadite mashers Kelly and Pablo from the hit show Ash vs. The Evil Dead. Each character brings with them special attributes, abilities, and weapon expertise, so while you can hold your own with almost any party of four, savvy synergy will put the odds in your favor. I currently rock Annie Knowby — standing proud in her boy scout shorts and woolen sock combo.
On the side of all that is unholy, the Kandarian demon can choose from a selection of equally unique demons, including classic Deadites, the skeletal army of darkness, the terrifying Eligos, and even the grotesque Henrietta, the hideous villain of Evil Dead II. In addition, the Demon can possess Survivors under certain circumstances, lay traps in trees and supply chests, and place motion-activated spawn points for their Deadites. When not controlling a specific Deadite, the Demon whizzes around in first-person, beautifully recreating Sam Raimi’s “ram-cam” effect.
Just me, baby, Just me
Games of Survivor vs. Demon, the decaying meat of the Evil Dead experience, are essentially fast-paced, chaotic, and understandably messy, both in a literal and technical sense of the word. While teamwork is of the essence — at least for the Survivors — it can sometimes lead to an exercise in frustration when your partners go a-wanderin’. Crucially, however, the core gameplay of Evil Dead is good, gooey fun, its cathartic violence and splashing claret making up for its shallow simplicity.
Players race around a grim ‘n’ gloomy map, gathering ramshackle melee and ranged weaponry, and fending off the Deadites as they push through each objective. Well-timed specials, strategic teamwork, and cleverly placed traps can turn the odds in a team’s favor, while the match breaks down and gets suitably chaotic as it reaches its climax. Chaos and disruption are the core themes of the Evil Dead series, and the game recognizes this, both for better and worse.
When not engaged in multiplayer action, Evil Dead offers up five single-player missions for some of its key characters, the completion of which unlocks new Survivors, alternate skins, and Professor Knowby’s sinister recordings. These missions are surprisingly tough, and must be completed with a single life. They also go some way to helping the player understand much of Evil Dead‘s features, from its combat and class abilities, to its use of pickups, fear meter management, and large, open-plan maps — maps that are woefully easy to get lost in.
While Evil Dead does feature its own tutorial, it is the mini-missions that truly teach the way of the workshed.
Honey, You got real ugly
As the play sessions progress, Evil Dead: The Game begins to show its rougher edge. While developers Saber Interactive and Boss Team Games should be congratulated for delivering an awesomely immersive and authentic Deadite experience, the game is kind of… well… it’s a real goddamn mess.
Characters will find themselves tumbling through the environment, getting stuck on trees and rocks, or dizzily crashing into the scenery with a real disregard for recklessness. Laugh as your friend’s foot disappears into a rock, thrill as you drive a car on two fuckin’ wheels like Connery in Diamonds are Forever, and raise an eyebrow to a Deadite senselessly spinning on the spot like they’re about to Klaatu Berada Niktu their ass into the stratosphere.
There’s something wholly, let’s say… “PS1” about Evil Dead: The Game. You have a vault button, but it’s so situational that your character will often be unable to use it to even mantle a mere log. You enter and exit vehicles with no animation whatsoever — just “BINK” and you’re in. Command prompts can be painfully unwieldy, leading to multiple instances of searching for a sweet spot to simply pick up an item or teleport into a passing car. Press a button and find that nothing happens, press it again, and it works!
I wouldn’t say that Evil Dead is rushed, and it’s definitely not half-ass. It’s clearly a passion project for the dev squad. But it is in major need of further polish. The cameras are dizzying, weapon aiming is weak, the driving mechanics are basically “bumper cars,” and the irritating “jumpscare” mechanic, (whereby a spoopy JPEG flashes on-screen, accompanied by a way-too-loud noise), is simply jack and shit. And jack left town. (But seriously, get rid of it.)
However, despite all of this “jank,” as the kids call it, Evil Dead still comes with relatively high recommendations for both asymmetric multiplayer and die-hard Dead Heads. Behind the stumbles and pitfalls lies an authentic, cathartic, and fun action experience — whether playing as a hapless survivor or a stop-motion monster. In fact, a charitable person might suggest that some of the aforementioned terriblenesses adds a dose of stupid, old-school charm to the proceedings, much like pointing out the wires or camera shadows in the original flick.
I’m playing on a PS5 in 2022 but my character can’t climb a shin-high rock?… Groovy?
Evil Dead: The Game is a flawed-but-firm base for what may become, one day, a truly great multiplayer horror title. With more varied content and a lot of tweaking, it could easily evolve into one of 2022’s most fun releases — perfect for low-intensity Saturday night shenanigans with a gang of button-mashing buddies. At its fairly mid-tier price point, it also doesn’t break the bank for those looking for loud ”n’ proud head-severin’, demon-mashin’, saw-revvin’ action… the raucous answer to the scalpel-precise Elden Ring.
As a multiplayer-centric title — one set within a relatively niche franchise — Saber Interactive will need to ensure that it keeps its audience swiftly engaged. Dead by Daylight has somewhat cornered the market on asymmetric horror, and if Evil Dead wishes to remain contemporary, it will need to build upon this promising launch with technical improvements and solid, engaging content. Oh, and let’s get Mia Allen in there. The party can’t start ’til that cellar-dweller gets here.
Evil Dead: The Game is an authentic and passionate recreation of a chaotic, violent, and wildly slapstick classic. Though plaudits are deserved for the title’s atmosphere and fan-pleasing references, a litany of technical hiccups, unstable mechanics, and odd design choices frequently hinder this promising release. In time, Evil Dead can become something very special. But as it stands, it still delivers a fistful of fun for its ravenous fanbase. Shop Smart.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]