Image: 'Evil Dead: The Game' screengrab
I’m a huge Evil Dead fan but the video games have all been terrible, so Evil Dead: The Game wasn’t on my radar. But when I saw a video of someone playing the role of a demon, it turns out the demon plays from a first-person perspective. The demon is fast, invisible, and can bust through fences and rush through windows. From this demonic perspective, the game looked and sounded exactly like the demon-camera in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.
Raimi, then a no-name director making a monster flick in the woods with his friends, put a camera on a wooden plank, had two people hold either end, and ran it through the woods. The game had captured the feeling of being on that plank, rushing through the woods, hunting dumb survivors who’d read cryptic words from the Necronomicon.After I learned that Evil Dead: The Game would let me play as the Kandarian Demon, I picked it up. I expected to kill a few hours in a world I’ve long enjoyed. I did not expect to spend my entire weekend leveling up my demon, harassing survivors with blood-spewing deer heads, and murdering Evil Dead protagonist Ashely Williams repeatedly. I woke up on Sunday with a high-level demon, a nasty winning streak, and a desire to keep murdering people.Evil Dead: The Game is an asymmetric multiplayer game in the style of Dead By Daylight or Friday the 13th. Four survivors must work together to banish a demon from our world. The demon summons minions, lays traps, and possesses the survivors in an effort to kill them before they can complete their goal. I’ve already played 40 hours.With a few exceptions, video games licensed from popular franchises are terrible. Evil Dead itself has seen one Commodore 64 adaptation, a PlayStation one title, two awful PlayStation 2 action games, and a number of mobile ports. Campbell always returns to do the voice lines, but the stories and gameplay are forgettable.
Evil Dead: The Game does all the basic things a licensed franchise game needs to do. Campbell is, of course, back voicing four different generations of Ash. All of the original actors from the first Evil Dead movie have also returned to voice characters. Legendary horror makeup artist Tom Savini designed one of the character skins. Every sound effect, character, and weird moment from Evil Dead’s movies and TV show are represented in some way.That’s all great, but that dedication to the franchise and its long history wouldn’t matter if the game sucked. The game, I’m happy to report, is really good.In Evil Dead: The Game, four survivors have 30 minutes to complete a series of objectives while the demon tries to stop them. Survivors collect weapons and upgrades as they explore, and the demon grows in strength by damaging the players and successfully laying traps.Most of the traps amount to spawning a certain kind of monster to attack the players. There are three different demons for players to choose from, each with their own playstyles and advantages. The Necromancer from Army of Darkness summons dozens of brittle skeletons to overwhelm players. The Puppeteer from Ash Vs. Evil Dead adept at range combat and buffing anything it possesses. The Warlord from Evil Dead 2 summons waves of deadites that vomit on players, giving them a debuff.
Survivors are equally varied, dividing into four different classes—leader, warrior, support, and hunter—that have their own abilities. Ash from Evil Dead 2 can exorcize the player demon from anything they’ve possessed, while the older Ash from the recent TV show buffs everyone around him.Both survivors and demons have skill trees. Players earn points after each game they can use to specialize. It’s impossible for a fully leveled up character to have a point in every branch of the skill tree, so players can figure out what works and create different builds for different characters. My max level Warlord demon has weak elite deadites, but I can rapidly summon waves of buffed weak deadites to overwhelm players.At first, the game can feel janky to play, especially on PC, and fighting demons and whacking survivors can seem completely about mashing buttons. But after 40 hours, I’ve learned that Evil Dead: The Game has surprising nuance to its combat. Survivors collect weapons as they go, which grant different animations that deploy in three swing combos. An ax is great at dismembering enemies but moves very slow. A knife is fast but does little damage. You get the picture. And it would be bog standard third-person combat except for two things: animation canceling and invincibility frames.After doing a certain amount of damage to an enemy, survivors can initiate executions. Sometimes these are lethal, sometimes they just lop off a demon's arm—but they always grant invincibility frames. This helps keep a player from being overwhelmed when surrounded by a bunch of AI-controlled deadites. The clever player learns to string together executions to avoid taking damage and move around the map.
Then, there’s animation canceling. Once a player—either a demon possessing a minion or survivor or a survivor themselves—initiates an attack, there’s a long animation the character moves through. But a quick pull of the left thumb stick or right mouse button, telling the game you want to aim your ranged weapon, will cancel the attack animation and let you immediately start another one. Skilled players can use this system to attack much faster.Ash from the first Evil Dead can specialize to heal his team when he lands a heavy attack on a monster. I’ve seen survivors play that version of Ash, give them a knife, and successfully animation cancel their way towards outhealing my damage. The game has only been out a little more than a week and I’m excited to see what other strange combos the community comes up with. It’s not all good news, however, because, the PC port feels like an afterthought at the moment. The only way to alter your resolution is to adjust an .INI file and run the game in windowed mode. The mouse and keyboard controls are dreadful, so playing with a controller is the only way to go. Evil Dead: The Game has heavy auto aim in both its melee and ranged attacks that are present on a gamepad and absent on a mouse and keyboard. In the frantic mess of chaotic group battle, where every bullet matters and you’re surrounded by a dozen deadites, clicking the left stick and having the gun automatically pivot to the head of the nearest bad guy is preferable to manually trying to find the spot with a mouse.Traversal can also be a nightmare for both the survivors and the demon. Neither can jump, and I’ve had multiple instances where, as both demon and survivor, I’ve gotten stuck on terrain. In most of these instances, a simple vertical leap would have helped me traverse the area. Survivors do have a vault they can use to clear low walls, but it’s not immediately obvious what can and can’t be vaulted. Players have to find out through trial and error.In general, Evil Dead: The Game is bad about giving feedback to the player. When someone wins, the game freezes for a moment before cutting to a victory screen. It looks exactly like the game is crashing or someone has disconnected. Active animation ceases and both players and monsters are caught in a kind of passive animation loop. Every time I win, I’m not sure if I’ve secured victory or if the game has crashed. Some kind of noise or fanfare here would be helpful.Despite these issues, I keep coming back to Evil Dead: The Game. In my post-Elden Ring funk, it’s all I want to play. Developer Saber Interactive have taken a license that begs for an easy cash grab and made a considered and strange little multiplayer game. I’m eager to see how the game develops, what builds demons and survivors dream up, and all the different ways I can hurt Bruce Campbell in all his different eras.