2015’s Evolve may have died a tragic death, largely at the hand of publisher 2K, yet its spirit lives on. It so transpires that the asymmetrical multiplayer structure is ideally suited to movie licenses – especially those with villains known for brute force. Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead trilogy is the latest franchise to be squeezed into the 4v1 multiplayer mould, although there are shades of wave-based action here too. Indeed, the structure has evolved somewhat since 2015.
The set-up is straightforward. Playing as a group of survivors – including four iterations of Ash Williams, allowing for multiverse potential – it’s your job to retrieve a handful of randomly placed items from a large, dimly lit, open-world forest before a final confrontation with The Dark Ones. All the while, one of three evil forces (Warlords, Puppeteers, and the Deadites) attempts to thwart your attempts by spawning enemies, placing traps – including jump scares – summoning bosses, and possessing objects such as trees and vehicles.
Matches can be played entirely with humans – four survivors, and one player controlling their chosen evil faction – or with AI controlling survivors, the lurking evil, or both. Alternatively, you can play solo. Playing as a force of evil is surprisingly fun – they zoom across the land at great speed, and ample time is given to place traps in key areas. While some of the cooldown times for skills drag – there will be times when you feel unable to intervene – it is however possible to possess players, taking temporary control until someone gives you a pasting.
Smart design choices are prevalent throughout. Survivors start without weapons, meaning there’s always a mad dash to find something to protect yourself with. By searching nearby shacks and houses along the way, stronger weapons can be found – and if you use a torch indoors, bonus ‘hidden’ items can be discovered. Survivors also have a fear gauge, encouraging players to stick together. The gauge can be emptied by starting a fire – requiring single-use matchsticks – and if rises too high, survivors start to lose their cool and become more susceptible to being possessed.
The first three retrievable items (parts of a torn map) appear at random one at a time. This means the team largely stays together at the start of a match, save perhaps for scavenging for heath pick-ups (Shep’s Cola!) and stronger weapons. Players can place waypoints, which assists in communication. Items can be highlighted too, alerting others to things they may have missed. Once the map is complete, two unique items appear. Again, a smart design choice, as it gives the option to split the team or stick together. Unskilled players may find themselves outnumbered if they split, but considering the evil forces grow stronger over time, separation can speed up match progression.
There’s a good mixture of melee and ranged combat, in the sense that you cannot solely rely on one alone. The firearm assortment is mostly formed of shotguns and rifles – with Ash’s Boomstick easily found – all of which have slow reload times and can only hold two shots. This means you must mix things up with melee combat – with weapons including axes, sledgehammers, a makeshift spear, and Ash’s famed chainsaw. Melee combat is brash and brutal; swinging Ash’s chainsaw around made me wish this was more of a straight-laced hack and slasher. Survivors wield their weapons with great ferocity, resulting in heavy-hitting blows, fountains of gore, and snappy takedown animations. Backed further by excellent character likenesses, Evil Dead frequently impresses visually.
With only one match type, you may be wondering where the variation comes from. This is where Evil Dead – for all its glorious ultra-violence and fan service – starts to stumble. Variety mostly stems from the three enemy factions. You won’t always be facing the same foes, and they all behave a little differently. The Puppeteers can be bothersome, ergo tricky to defeat, as they explode upon death. Deadlites have tank units requiring multiple shots, while the skeletal Warlords attack in greater numbers. There are a few variations of the forest too, including a snow-covered variant and a chance to play during sunrise.
Then there’s the single-player mode – ten objective-based missions, involving core plot points from the movies and featuring new artwork. These missions have static item locations – giving chance to discover and memorise where certain weapons/resources are – and the health/damage system has been altered so that Ash is more vulnerable. These missions are surprisingly tough, almost to the point of being unforgiving – enemies spawn in quicker than you can find ammo, and there are no checkpoints. The chance to replay scenes from the movie is ultimately neat, though, even if it does reinforce my belief that a hack ‘n slash adventure would have been more befitting for the license.
The character progression system feels archaic too; like something from a generation or two ago. Each survivor is designated their own progression tree, slowly leveling up through use and unlocking skills such as a swifter dodge and the ability to recover more health after swigging cola. These skills aren’t particularly noticeable during play, however. They certainly aren’t ‘game changers’ and due to the slow unlock rate, you’re likely to pick a single character and invest time in them alone. There’s no incentive to experiment with all available characters, and this is despite them having roles.
Evil Dead: The Game excels in numerous areas, right down to notable respect for the licence. The combat feels meaty and satisfying, and the atmosphere can be tense. This luster soon wanes though, and eventually, you’ll be hit with the realisation that the team’s effort was poured into a single match type. The result is a package that feels a little uneven. It’s the gaming equivalent of buying a movie on Blu-Ray and finding it has no bonus extras. A rousting feature presentation with no encore.
Evil Dead: The Game is out now on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series, Xbox One and PC. Switch version coming soon.