80s shlock horror is reinterpreted as a 4 vs. 1 multiplayer, where you get to play as Ash or the Deadites – but which is more fun?
There was a moment, around seven years ago, when asymmetric multiplayer looked like it was going to be the next big thing. It wasn’t, but whether that was because the concept was intrinsically flawed or it just didn’t have a catchy enough name was difficult to say at first. Exemplified by the ill-fated Evolve, the idea was that four people play a relatively normal co-op game while a fifth joins in as the enemy force, usually involving a central boss type character plus lesser minions and traps.
When none of the initial games became hits, it seemed like it was going to become the shortest-lived genre ever, until developers discovered the necessary secret sauce: horror. Dead By Daylight paved the way, before several others began to use old 80s horror movies as their setting, starting with Friday The 13th and now including Predator and the upcoming Texas Chainsaw Massacre (technically a 70s film) and Ghostbusters games.
Now the same formula is being applied to the king of 80s schlock horror, in Evil Dead. Although the immediate problem is that not only do the films not have a central villain, but hero Ash spends most of the movies entirely on his own. Despite that dichotomy though this is easily the most authentic Evil Dead adaptation so far, so much so that you can feel the love for the series from the moment you switch the game on.
Although there is an attempt to offer a proper single-player experience, with a number of missions that recreate specific moments from each of the films, it’s worth emphasising straight away that this is not a game for anyone that’s only going to play on their own – not even if you’re the world’s biggest Evil Dead fan. Although it’s online-only no matter what you do, you can play against bots if you want, but to have any real fun you’re going to have to play with and against real people.
As is usually the case with these sort of games, although you’re technically free to wander wherever you want, on the surprisingly large map, the way to win a match revolves around completing a very specific set of tasks. First you have to find the three parts of a map, then you have to find the Necronomicon and the Kandarian dagger, and then finally use everything you’ve gathered to banish the Deadites.
That makes the gameplay experience sounds a lot more linear than it is though, as not only do you get to sidetrack as much as you want, to try and find better equipment and weapons, but you’re also always in danger of being ambushed by monsters and traps that have been laid by the fifth player.
By default, they play in first person mode, like the classic, unseen Sam Raimi-o-vision monsters, but if they collect enough energy they can spawn minor enemies and possess them, or other things like evil trees, to control directly.
Human players can also be possessed, although that requires a lot of collected energy and for the character to become scared – a state they reach by either being in the dark or getting cut off from the main group. Although the ultimate plaything for the evil player is the boss characters, including Henrietta from the second film and Evil Ash from the third.
Even if Evil Dead doesn’t seem like the best vehicle for some of these concepts the basic idea is great and the first dozen or so goes are a lot of fun, as you work out what your favourite weapons and characters are (there are multiple versions of Ash but also a number of new characters from the sorely underappreciated Ash vs Evil Dead TV show).
Everyone has their own unique abilities, from infinite ammo to being able to exorcise a team-mate, and they’re each organised into a number of different class types.
The attention to Evil Dead lore is excellent, from the chained down cellar door in the original cabin in the woods to using mini-Ashes as traps in item boxes. And while there’s no real narrative, and none of the new dialogue is very memorable, Bruce Campbell and the TV actors do more than just phone their performances in.
One of the main problems with the game is that the combat is very scrappy and lacking in depth. Ammo is in short supply, so most combat is hand-to-hand, as you button bash vaguely in the direction of enemies that often seem to appear out of nowhere. With everyone trying to stick close together it’s already hard to distinguish who is and isn’t a player character but this is exacerbated by the third person view which often makes it hard to see what’s directly in front of you.
There’s no nuance to the fighting and it all quickly begins to feel very rote. Once you begin to learn the ropes, rather than the game opening up it just becomes more obvious how limited the gameplay really is. Eventually you realise it’s the evil fifth player that’s having all the fun, since they have the most open-ended options, including three different sets of cannon fodder grunts and the tactical considerations of collecting and spending energy.
These are familiar problems from other games in the genre, which suggests that a good deal of the appeal in these titles is coming purely from the licence and not necessarily the gameplay. We certainly appreciated playing something made by fellow Evil Dead fans but there’s little here to hold your attention beyond the first few hours, in a game that definitely won’t swallow your soul.
Evil Dead: The Game review summary
In Short: A loving homage to the Evil Dead franchise, but it’s a series that doesn’t particularly suit the 4 vs. 1 concept, with shallow combat and too little variety.
Pros: The look and feel of the movies and TV show are perfectly recreated and the initial hours are a lot of fun, especially if you’re playing as the Deadites.
Cons: Simplistic, unsatisfying combat. Rigid match structure quickly becomes repetitive and there’s not enough map variety. Third person view is often a detriment.
Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Publisher: Saber Interactive
Developer: Saber Interactive
Release Date: 13th May 2022
Age Rating: 18
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