Horror titles have become synonymous with the asymmetric multiplayer survival genre in recent years. Iconic film franchises such as Friday the 13th and Predator have been adapted into Friday the 13th: The Game and Predator: Hunting Grounds respectively while Dead by Daylight sits atop of the genre as an original title brimming with original characters and drawing from a pantheon of legendary characters such as Ghostface from Scream, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Ash Williams from Evil Dead.
For the sixth time Evil Dead ventures into the video game medium, teeming with characters and demons from the cult-classic franchise to create a surprisingly great experience in Evil Dead: The Game. Four players take on a player-controlled demon and swarms of demonic monstrosities in incredibly atmospheric, tense and gory fashion.
Bruce Campbell once again returns to his role as Ash Williams and brings a presence that will delight long-time fans and engross newcomers. Boasting a variety of gruesome executions, deadly melee weapons and a ranged arsenal, Evil Dead: The Game is a bloody good time.
The core gameplay loop pits four players as survivors while a lone player assumes the role of the Demon. For the survivors, the objective is simple in theory. Collect three pieces of a map to find the Necronomicon, also known as “The Book of the Dead”, collect the Kandarian dagger and initiate a ritual to banish the malevolent evil force known as the Dark Ones. For those unaware of the Necronomicon, Kandarian daggers and Kandarian demons, Evil Dead: The Game makes absolutely no attempt to explain the lore of the Evil Dead franchise. Instead, it expects you to simply find these things, use them and survive. Right off the bat that may alienate players looking for depth in terms of logic and understanding the premise though it doesn’t really matter, it just limits the title’s potential to draw a new audience into its world of film and television.
Scouring, scavenging, and looting the strikingly tense and atmospheric environments for the randomly placed map pieces and dagger is more dangerous than it sounds. Demonic entities known as Deadites swarm the survivors individually or in groups, and in some instances relentlessly spawn in wave-based fashion as the player attempts to survive a countdown. The variety of enemy types provide just the right amount of challenge and understanding the abilities and weakness of these hellish fiends is vital to survival.
Each survivor has their own suite of perks and abilities which can be unlocked and upgraded that bring an edge and balance to the supernatural battlefield. Perks such as healing auras, increased melee or ranged damage and unique finishing moves keep each of the thirteen survivors interesting and worthy of experimentation. Divided into four classes; Leader, Warrior, Hunter and Support, each character brings something to the team that encourages understanding and mastery.
Aside from looting for healing items, weapons and upgrade points that can be used to increase various stats for the duration of the match, survivors need to dispatch of the army of darkness that relentlessly hunts and taunts them while also managing a fear meter. This meter can only be replenished by standing in illuminated areas, many of which can be ignited by finding match sticks and interacting with lanterns and hanging wooden objects in the woods. When the fear ultimately reaches its maximum level, the survivors become temporarily possessed by demons and control is relinquished entirely by the player until their fellow survivors inflict enough damage to force the demon out. This is an interesting mechanic that certainly finds a way to creep up on you if enough attention is not afforded to it and adds an element of unpredictability, especially when the other survivors are suddenly being fired upon when they think the coast is clear.
Playing as a survivor goes hand in hand with clunky movement that can seem floaty, the lack of a jump button hinders traversal which could have eliminated the frequent instances where the player can find themselves stuck on the smallest of rocks, branches or other environmental assets. This happens with alarming regularity and the frustration that comes with the damage sustained or even defeat can be deflating. The absence of a lock-on system creates headaches when surrounded by multiple enemies and the dodgy-at-best prompts for gear to pick up or interact with can further frustrate and complicate combat encounters, especially while trying to do so on the run.
Playing as the three Demons provides an experience that isn’t as flawed. Their ability to hover across the map and wield supernatural abilities is constantly satisfying. Summoning legions of undead fiends to carry out their bidding, setting traps that induce fear and spawn additional dark adversaries and possessing these hellish monstrosities offers up an enjoyable variety of mischief to experiment with. Picking off survivors and isolating them from the group opens the pathway to temporarily possess them and attack their teammates which often leads to some certainly unexpected encounters.
Possessing trees and cars that the survivors can drive is the closest to implemented griefing I have personally seen in a game and never fails to amuse. Not unlike the survivors, the Demons can also be upgraded and have additional perks unlocked. In Evil Dead: The Game it feels so good to be bad.
A handful of single player missions are tacked on that feel tedious and at odds with the satisfying survival-loot aspect of its superior multiplayer component. It is nice to have solo content but frequent backtracking through the same environments on fetch quests wears thin before long. Still images provide what can only be described as a minimalist narrative and do little more than try to get the player to know what they’re doing without necessarily explaining the who, what, where, why and how. The absence of checkpoints drives home the survival aspect but considering the non-adjustable difficulty that is likely to turn away casual players, aside from a few characters and outfits, there is little reason to commit to the grind.
The option to play alone with bots as allies or enemies without other players is a great addition for players looking to experience this title alone due to preference, availability of friends or just a bit of practise. It is worth noting however that disappointingly, any experience gained in these AI only modes does not transfer to each character’s individual level or the player’s overall level, only experience gained in online play counts.
A pair of maps is all that is on offer which is a shame, as these locations become all too familiar after only a handful of games. They are beautifully realised and the atmospheric tension, striking use of lighting and moody ambience do lend towards a genuinely terrifying landscape. With several points of interests, buildings and areas to explore and loot, they are at least a respectable size.