The Evil Dead films have a different flavor compared to similarly venerable horror franchises like Halloween or Friday the 13th. What the Evil Dead does differently, and does so well, is blend outlandish slapstick action-comedy with some truly ghoulish monsters and horror violence. It's no surprise that its popularity has endured since its 1981 debut, but it still seems like its potential is largely untapped within the gaming world.
Due May 13, Evil Dead: The Game wants to change that. I recently got to play about an hour of the game with staff at developer Saber Interactive, which also made the World War Z game. Not only is it faithful to the goofy horror of the original films, I was also surprised by how much fun I had getting scared.
Firstly, Evil Dead: The Game is a massive tribute to the beloved horror series. Serving as something of a greatest hits for the original trilogy and the three-season TV series -- all starring cult film actor Bruce Campbell -- the game channels the Deadite slaying and horror comedy into the structure of a multiplayer game. (Deadites are a species of parasitic demons and primary antagonists of the Evil Dead franchise.)
Four players fight to stay alive as the survivors; another player uses a variety of demonic magic to stop them. Structurally it's quite similar to the popular Dead By Daylight -- a great fit for Evil Dead.
Paying homage to the main location of the first two films, series protagonist Ash Williams and other survivors face off against the forces of darkness in a massive forest filled with supernatural horrors. You'll be able to squad up in a team of four as the survivors, each of which play as different classes -- leader, support, warrior and ranged. The playable characters are made up of mostly familiar faces from the original films and the TV series, which includes fan favorites Pablo and Kelly.
But of course, Ash Williams -- portrayed by the returning Bruce Campbell -- makes his comeback. This character is such an icon, and I couldn't resist playing as him, even though the other playable characters are interesting too. In a clever twist, there's not just one version of Ash, but four different incarnations based on his many appearances throughout the series. So if you prefer Ash from Army of Darkness, then you play as that one, with different skills to his counterparts.
In my interview with Saber Interactive Chief Creative Officer Tim Willits, he said the approach to making the crew of survivors was to satisfy long-time fans and give variety for players when they jump into a game.
"The Evil Dead universe is just so great. Bruce Campbell is a legend, and the amount of stories and lore in the universe is so rich," says Willits. "The thing about [Evil Dead: The Game], which is an asymmetrical horror game, is that the hero Ash Williams and the other survivors can kick ass and win."
The big difference between this game and other horror games of its ilk -- like Dead By Daylight or Friday The 13th: The Game -- is that Evil Dead: The Game gives its "survivors" the means to defend themselves against the forces of darkness. When I got to play as the survivors, it felt like I stepped into a genuine action-horror game like The Evil Within or Resident Evil.
By scrounging up supplies, I could pull together a rifle and a chainsaw to take down some roaming Deadites. It was thrilling getting to tear into them with finishing moves from Ash's chainsaw, and taking them down allowed me and my squad to clear the way for our set of objectives. One thing that players on the survivor team have to watch out for, however, is your character's level of Fear, which will make them susceptible to the more vicious attacks and even possession from the big baddie of each game. That's when the game's spookier side begins to show itself.
The roaming Deadites are just one obstacle. The true threat is another player pulling all the strings. Along with playing as survivors, you can also play as the architect of the Deadite invasion. When playing as the demonic force, shown from the first-person perspective like in the films, you can freely move around the map to set traps, power up the roaming Deadites and assume direct control of powerful demons or even the survivors themselves.
Playing as the survivors is enjoyable, but Evil Dead: The Game really shines when you're the one shaking up the game's events. One of my favorite moments came from playing as the antagonist. After laying traps and stalking the survivors from the shadows, I saw that the crew of four were quickly trying to head to a nearby vehicle. I activated a fear-based skill that triggered a jump scare effect that hit the survivors. As they were distracted, I immediately used my demonic powers to possess the car and rammed it into the group as more Deadites surrounded them. It was so satisfying watching the chaos unfold.
I appreciated that there's a lot of variety and depth for both the good and evil sides of online matches. The survivor mode gameplay feels like a game of co-op survival horror. In contrast, the antagonist gameplay is a more dynamic tower defense-style mode, and that's a really cool combination.
Evil Dead: The Game is very much multiplayer first, but there is also a bonus mission mode for solo players that recreates some scenes from the films, such as the cabin invasion from the original flick. It's a nice addition to the game, and the devs already have plans to add more characters and content with a season pass. While the game so far will mostly encompass the original trilogy and the TV series, the devs of the game did have some appreciation for the 2013 Evil Dead remake.
"There's so many more characters, demons and weapons that we can add to the game, and we've teased some content on the season pass already," Willits says. "But not to give too much away, we do have ways to tweak the game itself in the future, so maybe we'll see some interesting stuff come up ... we know Jane Levy, who played Mia [in the Evil Dead remake] pretty well. That's all I'm going to say."
I'll admit, I initially had some apprehension about a new Evil Dead game. While there have been some in the past, particularly on the original PlayStation and
, they felt more like exercises in retreading ground from the iconic Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. This new game so far branches out into some ambitious territory, and I was impressed with how it came together to form a multiplayer experience that pays tribute to the goofy nature of Evil Dead, but also offers some genuine scares. It can be a tough thing to balance, but I felt that Evil Dead: The Game is so far looking to be an interesting take on horror-comedy in a game, which is quite rare. This latest adaptation of the Evil Dead just might be the game that long-time fans have been waiting for.