Sabre Interactive aren’t afraid of trying to convert beloved book and film properties into fully fledged games as their work with World War Z proved a few years ago. However, with Evil Dead: The Game they’re arguably tackling a title that sits high on the all time cult classic lists, and a series that not only defined Sam Raimi’s early career, but brought Bruce Campbell to the screen. It’s known as much for its dark humour as much as the horror, and the gore can’t be forgotten either. With 41 years of history to pull from ranging from the original movie through to the most recent Ash vs Evil Dead show, there’s going to be plenty of content for disembodied hands. Yet how do you go about making a game that does justice to the lore, characters and legacy, and doesn’t alienate the fans? You build an asymmetric multiplayer title… obviously.
Evil Dead: The Game’s main emphasis is either you as a Survivor trying to rid the world of the Necronomicon, or stopping the Survivors from winning by playing as the Kandarian demon. It’s a 4 vs 1 setup with the objective based action taking place across a large map that has randomised points of interest each time a game starts. If you’re on the human side you’re looking to find pieces of a map that will lead you to the pages of the evil book, the Kandarian dagger, and ultimately defeat the Dark Ones that guard the text itself. If you’re the demon then you’ll be aiming to stop the plucky group by scaring them witless, laying traps in their path, and throwing minions at them left, right and centre. Balance is the key with each side playing very differently, but neither having an unfair advantage, and both not knowing where the others are until it’s potentially too late.
The asymmetric gameplay sees the Survivors having to work as a band of 4 to initially find the pieces of a map that will lead them to the dagger, book and Dark Ones. Spawning at different locations (but not all that far apart), the impetus in the first few minutes is tooling up and getting your bearings. It’s not long before the AI controlled Deadites come looking for a beat down, and anything is better than fists to send them back to Hell. Staying together as a team is crucial because one of Evil Dead: The Game’s core mechanics is the fear level. Being afraid has two effects – becoming visible on the map to the demon, and opening the character up for possession. Staying together and finding or creating light sources work to reduce everyone’s fear level and are a must because one of the most effective tactics is to simply stay hidden for as long as possible, and it’s entirely possible to do this for finding the first map pages. The longer you go without having to face the wrath of the Kandarian demon, the easier it makes the game. Don’t dally for too long though, there is a drawback…
Flipping to the other side, the Kandarian demon is invisible, knows where the book pages and dagger are from the start, and is free to move anywhere on the map. It starts out weak and with limited powers that need to be powered by infernal energy. Over time though these powers get stronger and more options to frighten and attack the Survivors open up. The only way to track the opposition though is for them to get scared, make too much noise, or for them to get in a car. Once revealed on the map you’re able to make a beeline for them and start inflicting as much horror as you can. Rigging scare traps, possessing trees or summoning Deadites will help weaken the resolve of the heroes, and taking one of them over is sure fire way to increase your own capability level. It cannot be killed, only forced from a body or area, so there’s a continual onslaught that can be waged as long as energy levels are kept topped up. Build the level up far enough and there’s a boss character that can be raised and used as an avatar which does considerably more damage to the other players than the standard foes. However, cooldowns exist on all abilities so there’s an element of strategic play needed to be successful.
Whichever side is chosen, Evil Dead: The Game is much like others of its ilk and you’ll need to be prepared to put the hours in to gain any lasting advantage. During each play session there’s the opportunity to level up the current character to improve base skills, though these only exist for that particular match, and are typically small incremental gains anyway. The real levelling comes from within what the game calls the Collection, and is the roster of familiar faces from the franchise for both humans and demons alike. Spirit Points earned in the game are awarded to you overall and you can convert them into skill points to spend on any character at all. It’s a good way of approaching having to manage 13 different characters from the get go, and still makes using favourites viable even if they’re fully upgraded as their spoils can be spent on any of the others. This is where you’ll spot the grind start to creep in though because the Spirit Points allocation is relatively meagre after each game, and it’s only an increase in your player rank that really adds a bonus amount (and that’s welcome when it comes). Spirit Points are also only awarded in the multiplayer portion of the game, so playing solo against the AI is only really worth doing to learn the map layouts and different abilities of the cast. There are single player missions to have a crack at that open up additional lore, and they’re like a small green salad accompanying the main meat you’re feasting on, but they don’t really fill you up.
When it comes to character selection there’s a very good choice not just from variety, but also from the likenesses and voice acting. If you can recall major players from the films and TV series, then you’ll find them in here, including several different variations on Ash from points in time (all voiced by Bruce Campbell himself). Splitting them into different tiers of role, there are Leaders, Warriors, Hunters and Support for the Survivors; and Warlords, Necromancers and Puppeteers for the Kanadarian Demon. All have different base abilities that can be enhanced through skill points, and new powers opened up with ranking high enough; and particularly with the Survivors the abilities all complement each other. You don’t have to chose a player to inhabit each class, but you cannot have two players pick the same character, so at least there’s never four of Ash from Army of Darkness running around at once. Adding to the authenticity are the touches around the map itself like the original shack and its chained up cellar door, or that traps can be set to attack players with mini-Ash’s or his severed hand. There’s a clear reverence for the source material put into Evil Dead: The Game, and it oozes the right type of atmosphere all the way through.
The map is a bit of an unsung hero here as you spend a lot of time running from one place to another without really taking it in – and the 30 minute time limit for each match forces an element of pace to the action. It’s really well detailed with a fair amount of destructibility in the objects, as well as having differing times of day (mostly night related) and changes in weather. Thunderstorms in wooded areas in the middle of the night are particularly effective at ramping up the tension. When the audio kicks in with a screaming Deadite coming at you from behind, you get that sense of not being safe at all and frantically mash the attack buttons in a hope of landing a swinging hit. Even the regular traps that you’ll run into that provoke a jump scare fail to lose their shock value over time. Then there’s the touches like every player getting soaked in blood as you wade through hordes of enemies, or limbs that come off the dead yet don’t stop them from wanting to drag you down. All of it adds to bring the feeling to life of being part of the fight that Ash and his friends are stuck in, and Sabre Interactive deliver this with aplomb.
How long will your engagement with Evil Dead: The Game last though? That’s likely to depend on what your patience is like for slow levelling up and feeling very underpowered in the opening games. Whilst there’s a good variety of melee and ranged weapons for the Survivors, the latter are almost all useless to begin with unless you’re 100% perfect with your aim – even Ash’s classic boomstick can fail to make an impact. If you’re playing as the Demon, then the cooldowns and infernal energy requirements can leave you stuck watching the team players walk all over your efforts as you just wait for the timer to tick down to failure… unless you pick the Puppeteer class and its boss character that is an absolute pain to counter on the other side. There are a few balancing tweaks needed across all classes, though it really needs an update to the Spirit Point dole out – this is likely to be the main thing that stops it from being enjoyable over the long term. Getting into a game though is not something that should be a problem because the crossplay seems really solid, and the matchmaking doesn’t take too long either. There’s a great world created here which is genuinely fun for a while, and filled with loads of bits fans will love, though it’s in danger of not retaining players if they see something new and shiny on the horizon.
A PS5 review copy of Evil Dead: The Game was provided by Sabre Interactive’s PR team, and the game is available now on PlayStation, Xbox, PC and GEForce Now for around £40, depending on platform.