Evil Dead: The Game Review
Evil Dead: The Game is a faithful adaptation, full of subtle and not-so-subtle homages to the classic horror series. You can visit iconic sites like The Knowby Cabin, wield boomsticks and chainsaw prosthetics, fight off a possessed severed hand, play as your favorite cast members, or command armies of Deadites as the series’ antagonist, the Kandarian Demon. They even recreated the first-person, off-axis camera effect synonymous with Sam Raimi’s directorial style from the movies. But while these elements fill the title with fanservice, none of them make for a very good video game, certainly not one that stands out in a growing subgenre.
Asymmetrical multiplayer games are inherently uneven, with each side traditionally offering vastly different perspectives – and playstyles – from their counterpart. And this is what makes my time playing Evil Dead so frustrating: It’s incredibly one-sided for a game all about two sides. And it’s majorly unbalanced.
The game's premise is simple: A team of four Survivors must banish the Kandarian Demon – who an opposing player controls – by activating the Necronomicon within 30 minutes. However, the Survivors must solve two problems: The Necronomicon is missing pages, and a group of evil wraiths called The Dark Ones are guarding the book. Therefore, the squad’s primary goal is to track down pieces of a map leading to the Kandarian Dagger and the Lost Pages of the Necronomicon – two of the franchise’s iconic MacGuffins – and use them to win the match. The Kandarian Demon’s goal is to stop these events from happening. All players slowly increase their abilities throughout the game by collecting items and skill points. However, during the early game, the demon feels less effective (and a little boring) since a leveling system locks away its core abilities until later.
If you play as a Survivor, you’ll participate in a co-op shooter offering nail-biting scares, solid combat, and thoughtful mechanics involving light and darkness while fighting off waves of zombies controlled by a single opposing player. The cast of playable characters is complete with performances by the original film actors, including fan favorites like Henry The Red, Cheryl, Kelly Maxwell, and four versions of protagonist Ash Williams. While the actors’ performances are mostly fine, they don’t sound like they’ve been recorded in the same acoustic space. It’s not a big deal, but it’s noticeable and pulls me out of the experience at times.
Besides the basics like health, ammo, and shields, which you find by scavenging abandoned locations, there are two systems you have to manage as a Survivor. The first is a simple flashlight with finite battery life. Obviously, the lamp illuminates the path ahead, making it easier to navigate through darkened environments, but it also highlights hidden items like special ammo you’d otherwise be unable to collect. I like this mechanic as it requires players to be methodical in their light consumption and adds consequences for exhausting the flashlight’s battery. You need to be strategic with your use of light as Survivors’ fear levels increase while in the dark or away from teammates, making them vulnerable to demon possession and creating an exciting cat-and-mouse relationship between them and the opposing player.
Being a Survivor is enjoyable with the right teammates; however, if you prefer to play as the solitary big bad, the Kandarian Demon, I struggle to recommend Evil Dead: The Game. As the antagonist of the match, you pick one of three demon armies to control and then use their unique abilities and units to eliminate the team of Survivors or thwart their plan to banish you. The Puppeteer army specializes in electricity, telekinesis, and improved possession. The Warlord army, led by Deadite Henrietta Knowby, specializes in up-close encounters with brute force and toxic gas abilities. Lastly, fan-favorite antagonist Evil Ash leads the Necromancer army, specializing in summoning, buffing, and resurrecting fallen minions. Each army’s playstyle is distinct, making it satisfying to explore various strategies from match to match.
Typically, the killer is my favorite role in asymmetrical horror games, but playing as the demon often feels like controlling a household poltergeist knocking plates off a shelf, whose presence is more a nuisance than a looming evil threat. The demon’s gameplay loop involves tedious cooldowns, thoughtlessly placing traps to scare other players, and the monotonous task of flying around the environment to collect energy orbs anytime an ability depletes your resources. This results in a bizarre amount of downtime, even when there should be intensity at the end of the match.
The best part of controlling the Kandarian Demon is strategically placing Deadite summoning portals to ambush careless players or persuade them to flee into the darkness, where their fear levels will rapidly increase. Once a player is scared enough, you can possess them and wreak havoc on their teammates with shotguns, chainsaws, or whatever weapons they currently have. The game is at its best during these moments. However, the fun is often short-lived due to the minions’ small health bars, your overly harsh ability cooldowns, and how easy it is for Survivors to run away from the fight (especially since you have to simultaneously collect energy orbs). To that last point, it’s frustrating to spend energy possessing a nearby Deadite to attack a player, only to have a player just barely outrun you. These scenarios happen often and are a waste of energy orbs, which are already tedious to obtain, and it’s not fun.
Evil Dead: The Game features two large maps at launch, with a third, Castle Kandar from Army of Darkness, coming via free DLC in the months ahead. The unnamed maps feature a couple of unique points of interest like The Knowby Cabin, Flight 666, or Misery Manor, but most locations are unremarkable. However, despite their lack of personality, they are beautiful. Post-processing effects like fog, lens debris, and bloomed highlights create a film-like look that helps sell the environment’s eeriness.
Despite its beauty, Evil Dead lacks polish. Characters become stuck on seemingly flat surfaces, items spill out of containers unnaturally, and matchmaking lobbies are frequently interrupted by player disconnections. And many minor frustrations pull the experience even further down. For example, as the Kandarian Demon, you can possess vehicles for 100 energy. However, since you’re required to deposit those resources when you cast the ability, you can’t drive the car if you only have the minimum power since the possession slowly empties your energy bar. This leads to scenarios where you’ll spend all of your energy possessing a car, thinking you’re about to have a strategic advantage, only to lose control immediately after. The game lets you write checks you can’t cash, and the result is a frustrating waste of resources.
The good news is future updates can address most of my more minor gripes, but the game is an unbalanced mess at release. Developer Saber Interactive’s commitment to fan service is commendable, and die-hard Evil Dead fans will find this release enjoyable. However, it’s hard to see the lasting appeal for the rest of us.