“THIS IS HOW WE DO IT IN MICHIGAN!”
The Evil Dead just can’t be stopped. Every time it seems like that Necronomicon is buried for good, it stirs up more Hell on Earth, much to the delight of series fans. Yet no Evil Dead games have manages a great adaptation of a franchise ready-made for gaming. From as far back as the original PlayStation, Evil Dead has struggled to stick the landing. That is, until now!
The wait for a fantastic Evil Dead game is finally over. Well, that is, if you don’t mind playing with others. That’s a core caveat you have to understand going in: Saber Interactive’s latest budget tie-in offers something for everyone, but not all portions are worth the $40 asking price. If you love multiplayer games like Dead By Daylight but thought they could use more combat, you’re in luck. However, if playing solo is your bread and butter… well, that’s a less ideal situation.
HAIL TO THE KING BABY!
Evil Dead works a lot like Call of Duty: Cold War Zombies’ Outbreak mode. Which is to say, a multiplayer rogue-lite. A team of four players scours a large map, completing a set of objectives spread across randomly selected locations. You loot resources and upgrades mid-match to smash Deadites.
You’ve got some janky vehicles to drive across both of the current maps, and plenty of nefarious evil traps to waylay your progress. You can learn your way around the two massive levels, but things stay unpredictable in just the right ways.
The twist is there’s a human directing the enemies and traps as one of three playable demons. You’ve got Henrietta from the original films, Eligos from Ash vs. Evil Dead, and Evil Ash from Army of Darkness. Whether controlled by a player or an AI, they can possess players, enemies, trees, and cars. Demons can also spawn additional enemies and a boss form with unique attacks.
The objectives always play out in the same order. Collect three pieces of a map, then retrieve two artifacts in two-wave defense fights, followed by an offense against the Dark Ones and a final wave defense of the Necronomicon. If the survivors are all killed or time runs out, the demon wins.
The sheer expanse of the maps and the unpredictable layout of objectives, paired with nearly a dozen heroes and three demons at launch, is where the excitement comes into play.
ASH AND FRIENDS VS. THE EVIL DEAD
It’s very clear from the moment you start playing as a survivor that a lot of World War Z’s DNA was spliced into Evil Dead. Saber’s past work carries over in everything from the controls to the rendering techniques. This is to Evil Dead’s benefit, harnessing those same underlying systems for a wildly different pacing.
Where World War Z was rapid-paced with bullets spewing everywhere, Evil Dead emphasizes simple but intuitive melee combat and sparse application of guns. Every survivor has unique skills, such as Young Ash Williams removing allies’ fear and his sister Cheryl being able to deploy a healing aura. Some are more circumstantial than others though, such as Evil Dead 2 Ash’s ability to exorcise fellow players by flipping them off.
A HAUNTED TOURIST TRAP
In lieu of narrow halls, Evil Dead offers multiple fully modeled interior and exterior locations to fight through. Exploration feels great, though having to hold down the interact key for everything can be frustrating when hurrying along. There’s the added benefit that using your flashlight can highlight otherwise hidden items, like in Resident Evil: Revelations 2. It’s all breezy yet tense, managing your stamina and limited resources while staving off the demon player’s advance.
You earn a unified pool of experience along with a smidge to whichever survivor or demon you’re playing as. That way, even if someone’s hogging your favorite, you can earn them a skill point or two. You can also respec your chosen skills at any time between matches, though you can’t refund the experience to another character. Everyone has immensely valuable skills worth investing in, so it’s best to test them all out in Survivors vs. AI to find who suits you best.
IT’S TIME TO KICK SOME ASH
Playing as the demon is the more divisive aspect. I’ve seen some people absolutely troll and hound players to no end. Yet my personal experience was more disorienting as the game’s tutorial doesn’t really teach you the habits and nuances you need to be an effective villain. Of the three options available, Evil Ash is by far the most popular. His move set is better than Henrietta’s and his powers are more intuitive than Eligos’.
You see, at the start, the best the demon can really do is set traps to trip up players. Demons have no idea where their human prey spawn, and are only privy to the location of two out of the five initial objectives. Combined with needing to level up rapidly to unlock your full suite of powers, it can be a bit nerve-wracking.
THE DEAD DON’T DIE
The recreated camera sway from the films is an impressive detail, but can cause some motion sickness as you dart around, setting traps and absorbing infernal energy. It’s not usually until the final objectives that you really get the power necessary to feel like a proper horror villain. Some folks are digging this approach, but I wasn’t one of them. Regardless, the sheer glut of opponents and solid match-ups will keep both survivor and demon players coming back for more.
The great news is, there’s currently a healthy number of players thanks to the game’s marvelously smooth cross-play. I rarely saw a stutter of lag in over a dozen hours of play between PC, Xbox, and PlayStation players. With a third map based on Castle Kandar already announced, Saber is demonstrating a promising stream of fresh content to keep players engaged.
There’s a few obvious empty slots for new survivors to be added to the menu as well. For a multiplayer game fresh out of the gate, Evil Dead has got its act together. Which is sadly not the case for those playing by themselves.
ARMY OF DORKNESS
There’s no debating it – Evil Dead’s single-player content is dreadfully boring. The stuff of nightmares, really. If fighting a player as the demon is a game of cat and mouse, then single player is akin to fighting a helpless fool with a blindfold. Sometimes that fool might knock the wind out of you, but it was never fair or working as intended.
Mission mode exists and you can play a bot match on your own as a survivor with AI partners, but these features aren’t a benefit. Most Missions are poorly balanced, with disadvantageous loot drops and repetitive encounters. They rarely feature unique voice lines, making the inclusion of the entire franchise’s cast reprising their lines all the more confusing.
YOU MUST PLAY THIS MUCH TO BE ASH WILLIAMS
Sadly, Missions are required to unlock a few playable survivors, including the Ash vs. Evil Dead version of Ash Williams, Amanda, Pablo, and Army of Darkness’ King Arthur. There is no way to co-op or skip these, and given each of these survivors is likely to be of interest to fans, a lot of folks are going to cheese their way through these ‘campaign’ scenarios.
It’d be extremely wise on Saber Interactive’s part to make them entirely optional and provide another means of unlocking these four heroes. A sixth mission is currently promised to be arriving in the near future.
Solo with AI is just too simplistic to work. The AI demon already only puts up a so-so fight for most Survivors vs. AI matches. In Solo, against auto-aim bots who always follow the player around like lost ducklings? It never stands a chance.
It’s telling that there isn’t even an option to play as a demon against AI bots. Solo isn’t even Easy Mode, it’s barely functional. Unless the AI in your companions is made more chaotic or the demon’s AI is given more aggression, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something worthwhile playing alone.
Regardless of the single-player content’s failings, the core experience online is a delight. With so many heroes given a new chance to shine and classic enemies to slay, Evil Dead: The Game has the potential to be a real contender in the multiplayer horror space. We had a blast streaming it, and look forward to seeing how the Evil Dead evolves with time.