The legacy of the Evil Dead franchise is a strange and glorious one. Sam Raimi’s 1981 original, The Evil Dead, is a horror classic in its own right, but it was the pseudo-sequel/remake Evil Dead II that established the campy tone of the franchise as we know it. Army of Darkness was such a departure from the setting that it didn’t even share the Evil Dead name.
In the years since AoD‘s 1992 release, the cult has grown and us dead-heads have been graced with a handful of middling video games and a short-lived Starz series in the 2010s.
Since Evil Dead II, Bruce Campbell’s wisecracking Ash Williams has been the lynchpin of the series no matter the format. Throughout the PS2-era of character action games, Bruce Campbell’s dedication to voicing Ash kept the spirit of the series alive long enough for Ash vs Evil Dead to be a thing. He returns again for Evil Dead: The Game, an all-encompassing piece of fan service.
Multiplayer-focused, the game is an amalgamation of design trends from battle royales and co-op shooters that convincingly looks and sounds like the world Raimi and co. have been crafting for decades. For Evil Dead fans, picking this is a no-brainer. For anyone else, temper your expectations a bit and don’t expect to spend any significant amount of time playing solo.
Evil Dead: The Game — Just Groovy Enough
While it offers some single-player content, Evil Dead: The Game is primarily an asymmetrical multiplayer experience along the lines of Dead by Daylight or Left 4 Dead. The third-person action game pits a group of Survivors against one Kandarian Demon. Each Survivor has a unique special ability and falls into one of four classes, while the player on the demon side has three options to pick from.
Even from the character select screen, it’s clear Saber Interactive and Boss Team Games care about Evil Dead as a world. You can play as any iteration of Ash, from his original 1981 look to contemporary Bruce Campbell, but the game also boasts a wide array of ancillary and supporting characters from the movies and Ash vs. The Evil Dead.
Visually, Evil Dead: The Game is impressive. The character models are exquisitely detailed. Each Ash, for example, is visually distinct from one another. And while the writing outside of character barks is pretty light, it is all appropriately campy.
The matches themselves share the same overall structure: the objective locations are randomized and each has you either searching for an item or fighting a wave of enemies. Every match also has you collecting the Kandarian dagger and the lost pages of the Necronomicon before you can complete a demon banishing ritual.
As a Survivor, you must work with your teammates to complete objectives while managing your time and fear meter. Making sure you take the time to gather weapons and level up your own stats is important, but you don’t want to give the demon too much time to grow stronger either.
One of the biggest issues, though, is that playing Evil Dead: The Game requires a substantial time investment. Most rounds last 25 minutes or longer, averaging out to about 30 minutes per session, a bit on the long side for this kind of game. That’s only exacerbated by the lack of map variety; there are only two multiplayer maps at launch, which don’t feel especially distinct from one another.
Longer matches also give the admittedly serviceable melee and ranged combat systems more time to wear out their welcome. Tearing through Deadites can feel weightless, which isn’t an easy fix, and the aforementioned single-player missions are unfortunately a slog and flat, despite the production value being on par with the rest of the game.
The most egregious sin the five currently available single-player missions commit is that they lack any checkpointing. Most of these missions last as long as a multiplayer match, so death can mean losing up to 30 minutes of progress. They aren’t easy either, with some sticking to a strict time limit, which counterintuitively limits how long you can scrounge for better loot and healing items. Plus, a majority of your objectives are fetch quests or simple combat encounters.
There isn’t anything creative going on here. From top to bottom, the single-player component is frustrating. Worst of all, additional Survivor characters are locked behind completing these missions. If you want access to the full roster, there’s no other choice but to bang your head against the single-player mode. (Anecdotally, in my time reviewing Evil Dead post-launch, I didn’t once see anyone play as any character unlocked past the first mission).
A great alternative for players who love Evil Dead but don’t have a crew on-hand is playing as the Kandarian Demon. You can select from three different classes, each with its own unique boss character and set of abilities. As the demon, you collect Infernal Energy to place traps and possess other evil units and players. Every action fills up your experience bar and makes your units stronger.
Playing as the demon requires a different set of tactical skills than the skills needed on the teamwork-focused Survivor side. In the first half of a match, you must constantly gain and spend energy in order to level and start spawning enemies (minions) through portals and play as the Boss character for a limited time. Once you learn how the power curve works, it doesn’t take too many matches to get into a satisfying rhythm.
If you fall behind the power curve (which you are sure to do in your first couple of games), match length can become quite a hindrance, with the late-game feeling like an insufferable waste of time as you fight (fruitlessly) against Survivors who have you outgunned.
Fortunately, putting any amount of time into Evil Dead: The Game will help you improve, albeit artificially. The progression system gives each character and Demon class their own skill tree. In typical fashion for this subgenre, playing as a given character helps you level them up faster. However, Evil Dead is more generous than most similar games. Not only can you re-spec any character at any time, but every time you complete a match or increase your overall level, you get Spirit Points.
Spirit Points are the equivalent of bonus XP you can dump into any tree to get skills. So if your main is taken or you just want to experiment with a new character, a match won’t be wasted. You can still pump the rewards from that match into your favorite Ash.
Evil Dead: The Game Review — The Bottom Line
- Some of the best Evil Dead fan service ever.
- Fun for both Survivors and Demons.
- Meaningful and generous progression systems.
- Frustrating single-player missions.
- Combat feels weightless at times.
- Matches are too long.
- Lack of map variety kills replayability.
The hooks are already built in to keep players invested in their character builds, and the gameplay is fundamentally solid. What Evil Dead: The Game lacks is the content to back up its finer qualities. Since content is king, we can’t quite say “hail hail” just yet.
Evil Dead: The Game might just be the best Evil Dead game, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfectly balanced yet. Thankfully, most of Evil Dead’s issues can be fixed with patches and content updates. Even the single-player missions would be improved by the addition of a checkpoint system.
The foundation here has so much potential that we can only hope Saber Interactive supports the game and makes smart changes. Developing a game is one challenge, but keeping a community alive is a whole other thing.
With fan service galore and a fun asymmetrical co-op experience at its heart, Evil Dead: The Game is already essential for diehard fans. However, with some tweaks and improvements down the line, it could be top of its class.
[Note: Saber Interactive provided the copy of Evil Dead: The Game used for this review.]