With the recent surge in popularity for the asymmetrical multiplayer genre it seems as though all of the most popular horror movies are prime candidates to receive this video game treatment. With their worlds built on a group of survivors battling against some supernatural manifestation of evil, it’s really more of a question of which is next rather than if there will be another one. Enter the Evil Dead franchise and their iconic protagonist Ash Williams who have had their number called by developer Saber Interactive.
Upon boot up the game prevents you from playing any mode other than the very basic tutorial first. There is one for both the survivors and the demons.
On the survivors’ side, it’s a very typical introduction to the third person gameplay that guides you through the steps that each match will require for victory. This includes steps that involve searching the map for pages of the Necronomicon and defending points while various objectives are completed. The player will also be introduced to basic mechanics like picking up health items, using matchsticks to create light in order to reduce your fear meter and searching supply crates for a variety of melee and ranged weapons to equip. Once you get into the main multiplayer mode proper, the objective pattern will never change, only their locations for that round. The biggest hurdle will be the demon side that will be controlled by another player or the AI.
The demon side of Evil Dead is where the game shows that while it is an asymmetrical multiplayer experience, it is entirely the other side of the same coin. You don’t play as one slow but powerful bruiting villain like in Friday the 13th but rather an almost demonic essence that can zoom around the map with quick flight and even some teleportation ability. The catch is that here, you cannot interact with the survivors directly; rather you need to collect energy that will be spent on strategically impeding their progress. You can summon basic enemy units to help fight the survivors and then utilize a series of possessions to get your own hands dirty. You can take control of the basic enemy units, objects like trees or vehicles or if the fear meter is high enough, the survivors themselves.
What this all adds up to for the survivors is a horror experience that starts off like the others in the genre with a slow atmospheric build. However, by the end of the match it has completely shifted to more of a swarming zombie like experience while they fight off hordes of Deadites. It’s a wonderful shift that allows the game to play to multiple types of panic in the player.
After the tutorial you are free to start jumping into the multiplayer matches or complete a series of missions that serve as extended tutorials. These missions are built around using a specific survivor to complete guided objectives, complete with some animated frames that provide story beats. These missions can be very difficult but force the player to get more comfortable with various combat styles, vehicle controls and health and fear management. They are actually quite enjoyable and prove that with some small adjustments a fully realized open world Evil Dead game is possible, but in their current state are not enough to convince someone who is not interested in the multiplayer to pick up the package. Everyone should do them though, if only for the additional survivors and skins they can unlock.
Now you are ready to jump into the game proper, pressing play will bring you to a menu of game modes. There is everything from an explorer mode that lets you just casually get familiar with the map, the traditional 4 vs 1 player mode and multiple variations that substitute AI in place of other players. Keep in mind that there is an overall progression for the different survivors that allows them to level up and unlock passive abilities such as slower fear gain, higher carrying capacity, and even some game changers like life stealing. Modes like explorer and solo matches with full AI partners on both sides do not provide any experience gain for these.
They are great however to experience the atmosphere that is lovingly recreated for fans of the series. The first time booting up into the Knowby Cabin was a joy. Seeing everything from a lamp perfectly placed to match its movie counterpart and even the trap door in the corner of the floor trying to be forced open shows that the developers were either big fans themselves or are just perfectionists. One thing that I will have difficulty describing but you will know it when you experience it is just how good the sound design is. Suitability creepy and foreboding the ambiance is on point.
Before closing out, some of the issues need to be addressed. While not particularly daunting the ranged weapon aiming on console is a little floaty and requires adjustment and familiarity to not be a handicap. Similarly, there is no lock on for melee combat so when you are being rained down on by deadite underlings it is possible to just completely whiff some of your swings as the action is quite frantic. The biggest issue above all else is the placement of your health and stamina meters. While they are with your portrait as in most games, they are rather small and washed out. Couple that with a bit of inconsistency in feedback to when you take damage, it’s very possible to be downed before you even realize you were at risk.
Evil Dead is a wonderful entry into the asymmetrical horror multiplayer space that even manages to add something a little new with the shift in tone during the progression of a single match. When you consider the easter eggs, audio logs and additional skins for the characters any fans of Evil Dead should already have this title in their collection. Non fans should still consider it if they have a couple friends to jump in with as bashing deadites is always enjoyable.