Evil Dead: The Game Cover Story - Raising Hell
Saber Interactive and Boss Team Games are targeting the asymmetrical horror genre for a battle between demons and survivors, but it’s quite different than other creature feature forays on the market. In Evil Dead: The Game, don’t expect to find the human heroes cowering in corners or attempting to flee – this 4v1 fear festival takes the fight directly to the forces of evil, hacking enemies in half and blowing them to pieces.
The Cabin In The Woods
In 1981, Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead made a grisly splash onto the horror scene, featuring what’s become an almost formulaic setup: Five unfortunate friends head out to a cabin in the woods for a good time, and then, spoiler alert, good times are not had. The idyllic journey into the country turns into a bloody massacre, spurred on by an ancient evil book known as the Necronomicon. I remember I first saw the movie in a time when villains like Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers fought for dominance over our grade-school nightmares. The film offered the terrifying simplicity of facing your friends after they become possessed undead. It gloried in the sheer, unflinching willingness to lean into the intimate, grim goriness of it all, and the experience left a strong impression. Interestingly enough, it’s possible that The Evil Dead wouldn’t have had the chance to thrive without horror maestro Stephen King’s praise. After seeing it out of competition at the 1982 Cannes Film Festival, King wrote a rave review, leading to New Line Cinema picking the film up for distribution.
The movie has gone down as a cult classic and had plenty of influence within the horrorsphere. But Bruce Campell’s portrayal of character Ash Williams has undeniably become the campy, comical face of the otherwise incredibly macabre franchise, infusing the gruesome themes and blood splatters with a hefty dose of comedic quips and one-liners. Multiple films followed the original, including Evil Dead 2 and the completely off-the-wall Army of Darkness, where Ash travels back to medieval times to fight the titular demonic forces. In more modern times, the series has had both a soft reboot and a TV series, with yet another film, Evil Dead Rise, scheduled to hit this year. And then, of course, there’s Saber Interactive’s upcoming game.
Saber was not only able to get Campbell on board to star as Ash, but also many of the original actors from the robust cast. While the focus in many horror properties may be the show-stealing villains, that’s flipped in the Evil Dead franchise, where Ash’s antics often take center stage. “You watch Nightmare on Elm Street for Freddy Krueger, you watch [Friday the 13th] for Jason,” says chief creative officer of Saber Interactive Tim Willits. “You watch Halloween for Michael; you watch Evil Dead for Ash.”
Setting The Stage
Saber Interactive and Boss Team Games are tapping into the characters, settings, and lore to create a 4v1 asymmetrical online experience that puts a group of players against one big nasty demon foe, also piloted by a player. This concept may sound familiar, as it’s certainly not the first foray into these genre waters, but Evil Dead: The Game is quite different from the other games on the market.
Instead of attempting to complete a set of tasks and escape from the inevitable and invulnerable killer here, the survivors have a massive array of armaments to bring death and destruction to the demon armies. Can you chop a Deadite (zombie) in half with a shovel or hack them in two with a lumberjack axe? You sure can, and there are even finishing moves called glory kills to do so with style. You can hew a horde of Deadites down with a chainsaw, and do so with appropriate gore and witty smack talk. That’s especially true if you’re playing as Ash.
Of course, don’t think that the only thing you can do to the forces of evil is hack and slash. Numerous firearms are available, from classic “boomstick” shotguns to power-packed pistols. In fact, the final goal for the survivor team isn’t to run away at all. Instead, the team must assemble map pieces and then locate the pages of the Necronomicon and the Kandarian dagger – used in the films to take down evil demons. Once all those are in place, it’s time for the final act – banishing the dark ones from the earthly plane. In Evil Dead: The Game, there are constant battles and friction, from minor skirmishes with loose AI-controlled Deadites to large “horde mode” style encounters that include multiple player-summoned and piloted enemies.
Instead of occupying a corporeal form for the entire match, the demon player in Evil Dead: The Game flies around the map, setting traps for players around crucial points that are likely to be explored, gathering infernal energy to power abilities, and summoning/possessing Deadite units. Each Demon’s kit includes a set of special Deadite units and a boss character, which the Demon player is likely to occupy during critical events and moments. These boss characters often have much stronger abilities than standard Deadites, including area-of-effect skills and attacks that can be devastating with the right timing. Because of this, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with a range of Deadite attacks before you head into a play session as the Demon, as you will often be zipping inside one to cause as much trouble as you can. In true Evil Dead fashion, the Demon can also possess players. While the takeover is brief, conditional, and costs the Demon player considerable resources, this can cause massive chaos if set up correctly.
Hunting Down Horror
When I go hands-on with the game, I spawn with my three allies outside of several rickety shacks. While our immediate goal is to collect map pieces, it’s a good idea for us first to loot the surrounding area. Filling our bags with Shemp’s Cola for healing, amulets for shields, matches for a fire, and a wide assortment of weapons, both melee and ranged, is the order of business as we set to grabbing everything that isn’t nailed down. With the push of a button, I open the map and realize the enormous game space, with tons of ground to cover and areas to explore. While not every inch of the map will be relevant in each game, the spacious play area makes each experience different and gives the survivors a breather from the Demon.
Elsewhere, the Demon player has begun to stalk us, attempting to fly around to discover our location while collecting resources, leveling up, and setting traps. As I wonder how we’ll proceed across the vast environment, one of my teammates rolls up in a car and motions to get in. Evil Dead: The Game has wheels, and you can use vehicles for cruising quickly around, zipping to objectives or escaping a horde of Deadites. There’s a flipside to the sweet speed, though, as Demons are alerted to any joy rides the survivors take, meaning it’s usually best to employ after the Demon has discovered your crew. In addition, the Demon can also possess cars, so they can be either a valuable asset or an extreme liability, depending on how they’re used.
We collect the essential map pieces that allow us to tackle the following objectives, finding the dagger and book pages. These areas are clearly labeled, so they’re easy to find for the survivors and the Demon. If the Demon still hasn’t seen the survivors, this moment is where things start to heat up significantly. While we’ve faced off against plenty of low-tier Deadites to this point with grisly gusto (I even took one’s head off with a shovel!), the other player is now likely set up at these two critical locations with traps and monsters galore. As we approach the first site to gather up the pages of the Necronomicon, I open another chest, hoping to get some more gear and experience points to boost my character for the match. Instead, a hand jumps out at me, substantially raising my fear level [see sidebar below]. While we haven’t seen the Demon player directly, this is a sure sign that they’ve been here.
Duking It Out With The Dark Ones
At both the Necronomicon and Kandarian dagger checkpoints, the survivors must hold out against a fierce tide of enemies until the collection is complete. It’s important to stay within a circle radius to keep the completion meter ticking up while under assault. The Demon player will do everything they can to knock players out of that proximity – or just kill them outright. The Demon’s energy charges up exceptionally quickly during these special events, so they won’t have to bounce around the world picking up infernal energy to power summons and skills; they can perform all their summons, scares, and possessions on cooldown during the collection events.
Several of my companions are knocked down during the ritual, but we manage to hold out and collect the pages. When the survivors complete a task, the Demon player is exorcised from the area immediately and sent far away, essentially allowing for a regroup and reset phase before the next big challenge. It’s easy enough to bring our friends back from the brink of doom, and before you know it, we’re back in a car and riding to collect the Kandarian dagger. After another holdout against the forces of evil, we’re finally granted the tools to take the battle to the Dark Ones, the authors of the Necronomicon and, as narrative director Craig Sherman puts it, the “master demons.”
“They gave birth to all of the bad stuff that you see in the Evil Dead universe,” Sherman says.
At this point, things change drastically in terms of the game state. The survivors must out-race an encroaching circle on the map (similar to how the action is forced in many modern battle royales) and head to the marked Dark One spawn. This fight is the most intense, with the Dark Ones themselves fighting back, hordes of A.I. Deadites, and the Demon bringing out their best monsters for one final battle. It’s a harrowing confrontation, and a few of my friends get knocked down, but I keep the focus on the Dark Ones themselves, as once their health bar is depleted, you don’t need to worry about the rest of the undead menace. While things get pretty dicey near the end, a bit of sidestepping and juking brings us a big win for the good guys.
After the match, I’m awarded points that can be used to enhance my characters with special talent traits permanently. While some are rather mundane, like simple additions to damage and healing, other perks let players start with weapons, execute special signature abilities, etc.
A lot happens in a single match, with the game juggling many different mechanics and features. Finding the right balance was a big challenge, and honing the recipe down to what it is today has taken considerable experimentation. “We tried all sorts of things. We had crafting at one point where you could make your own stuff,” says Willits. “We may come back to that in a future update or something where you can craft items, go to the cabin, and defend it. But yes, we did a ton of prototyping, a ton of iteration. The rules changed something like fifty times.”
My time on the other side of things as the Demon was a markedly different experience, and it ended up my preferred playstyle. Forget teamwork, it’s just you versus the humans, and it’s a blast to seed an area up with traps and watch the carnage unfold. The real test is getting the hang of moving in and out of possessed Deadites and learning how to spend my infernal energy efficiently. Still, the game’s forced interaction big battles make it so that anyone taking on the role of the dark side will be able to summon oodles of standard, elite, and boss enemies to give our heroes plenty of problems.
Sometimes, just finding the allied team can take a bit of guesswork as you scour the vast map, but at other times they’ll give their location away with a car. Landing a multiple-hit dash scare, possessing boss monsters, and being able to react effectively when the team tries strategies like splitting up are all entertaining. While I’m sure most folks will be inclined to select one of the many Ashes and lay down a path of demon destruction with a deluge of bullets and blunt instruments, Demon is a whole new game and ideal for those looking to play solo. Interestingly enough, the Demon and the survivors can communicate through voice chat in this game build, and I’m curious to see how that works out in the final version.
Heading To The Third Act
While the player-vs-player action of survivor versus Demon is by far the core of the game experience, there are a few bonus modes available for fun and to flesh out the Evil Dead universe. Solo missions give players a method to unlock new cosmetics and dive into the esoteric Knowby tapes, offering a glimpse of what was said in pieces that were cut off on the screen. And if you don’t feel like going up against a wily player, you can fill a game with AI and play a standard match by yourself. It’s all about options, so players can pick whatever experience suits their needs.
Evil Dead: The Game arrives on May 13, and I can’t wait to cause some demonic mischief with Eligos in a live environment. Asymmetrical titles are challenging to perfect, but this one looks groovy right now.
THE EVIL DEAD™ and its related characters are copyrighted trademarks of Renaissance Pictures, LTD. exclusively licensed to Diversion3 Entertainment, LLC. EVIL DEAD is a registered service mark of Renaissance Pictures LTD. All rights reserved. EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN™ is a trademark of STUDIOCANAL S.A.S. All Rights Reserved. © 2022 STUDIOCANAL S.A.S. All Rights Reserved. ARMY OF DARKNESS © 1993 Orion Pictures Corporation. ARMY OF DARKNESS and its related trademarks, logos, characters, and other materials TM Orion Pictures Corporation & © 1993-2022 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved. ASH VS EVIL DEAD © 2022 STARZ Entertainment, LLC. All Rights Reserved. EVIL DEAD: THE GAME programming and content is © 2022 Evil Dead GameCo, LLC, assigned under license to Boss Team Games, LLC. Additional Game Design TM and © Diversion3 Entertainment, LLC.
This article originally appeared in Issue 345 of Game Informer.