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 prosthetic chainsaws, fend 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 off-axis first-person camera effect that is synonymous with Sam Raimi’s directing style from the films. But while these elements fill the title with fanservice, none of them make a very good video game, certainly not one that stands out in a growing subgenre.
Asymmetric multiplayer games are inherently patchy, with each side traditionally offering vastly different perspectives – and play styles – of their counterparts. And that’s what makes my time playing Evil Dead so frustrating: It’s incredibly one-sided for a two-sided game. And it’s grossly unbalanced.
The premise of the game is simple: a team of four survivors must banish the Kandarian Demon – controlled by an opposing player – by activating the Necronomicon within 30 minutes. However, the survivors must solve two problems: the Necronomicon is missing pages and a group of evil spirits called The Dark Ones are guarding the book. As such, the squad’s main objective 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 legendary MacGuffins – and use them to win the match. The goal of the Kandarian Demon is to prevent these events. All players slowly increase their skills throughout the game by collecting items and skill points. During the early game, however, the demon feels less effective (and a little boring) with a leveling system locking in its core abilities for later.
When you play as Survivor, you’ll take part in a co-op shooter that features heart-pounding horrors, solid combat, and well-thought-out mechanics that mix light and dark while battling waves of zombies controlled by a single opposing player. Completing the cast of playable characters are appearances from the film’s original actors, including fan favorites Henry The Red, Cheryl, Kelly Maxwell and four versions of protagonist Ash Williams. While the actors’ performances are mostly okay, they don’t sound like they were recorded in the same acoustic space. It’s not a big deal, but it’s noticeable and sometimes pulls me out of the experience.
Aside from the basics like health, ammo, and shields, which you find by looting abandoned locations, there are two systems you’ll need to manage as a survivor. The first is a simple flashlight with a finite battery life. Obviously, the lamp illuminates the path ahead, making it easier to navigate through dark environments, but it also highlights hidden items like special ammo that you wouldn’t be able to collect otherwise. I like this mechanic as it requires players to be methodical with their light consumption and adds consequences for flashlight battery depletion. You must be strategic in your use of Light, as Survivors’ fear increases in the dark or in the absence of teammates, making them vulnerable to demon possession and creating an exciting cat-and-mouse relationship between them and the opposing player.
With the right teammates, being a survivor is fun. However, if you prefer to play as the lonely big villain, the Kandarian Demon, I have a hard time recommending Evil Dead: The Game. As the game’s antagonist, you choose one of three demon armies to control, 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 close quarters combat using brute force and poison gas skills. Finally, fan-favorite antagonist Evil Ash leads the Necromancer army, which specializes in summoning, empowering and reviving fallen minions. Each army’s playstyle is different, making it satisfying to explore different strategies from match to match.
Usually, the killer is my favorite role in asymmetrical horror games, but playing as a demon often feels like piloting a household poltergeist, knocking plates off a shelf, whose presence is more of a nuisance than an imminent evil menace. The demon’s gameplay loop involves tedious cooldowns, mindlessly placing traps to scare other players, and the monotonous task of flying through the environment to collect energy orbs whenever an ability drains your resources. This leads to a bizarre amount of downtime, even when it should be intense by the end of the game.
The best part about controlling the Kandarian Demon is strategically placing Deadite summoning portals to ambush unwary players or persuade them to flee into the darkness where their fear quickly grows. Once a player is scared enough, you can possess them and wreak havoc on their teammates with shotguns, chainsaws, or whatever weapon they happen to have. The game is at its best in these moments. The fun is often short-lived, however, given the minions’ small health bars, their overly harsh ability cooldowns, and how easy it is for survivors to run away from combat (especially since you have to collect energy orbs at the same time). Up until that last point, it’s frustrating to expend energy possessing a near deadite to attack a player only to have a player narrowly pass you. These scenarios are common and a waste of energy orbs that are already tedious to obtain and not fun.
Evil Dead: The Game features two major maps at launch, with a third, Castle Kandar Army of Darkness, coming as free DLC in the coming months. The unnamed maps contain some unique landmarks 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 flare, and bloomed highlights create a film-like look that helps sell the eeriness of the setting.
Despite its beauty, Evil Dead lacks glitz. Characters get stuck on seemingly flat surfaces, items spill unnaturally out of containers, and matchmaking lobbies are frequently disrupted by player interruptions. And lots of little frustrations drag the experience down even further. For example, as a Kandarian Demon, you can own vehicles for 100 energy. However, since you have to deposit these resources when casting the ability, you won’t be able to drive the car if you have the minimum power, as owning it will slowly drain your energy bar. This leads to scenarios where you throw all your energies into owning a car because you think you have a strategic advantage, only to lose control immediately afterwards. The game has you writing checks that you can’t cash, and the result is a frustrating waste of resources.
The good news is that future updates can fix most of my minor issues, but the game is an unbalanced mess at release. Developer Saber Interactive’s commitment to fan service is commendable and relentless evil Dead Fans will find this release entertaining. However, it’s hard to see the enduring attraction for the rest of us.