Alright, you primitive screwheads, listen up! You see this? This is Evil Dead: The Game! It’s a 10.2 GB asymmetrical multiplayer horror game. S-Mart’s top of the line. You can find this on the Epic Games Store (or on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5, I suppose). That’s right. This sweet baby was developed and produced by Saber Interactive in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Retails for about $39.99 (or £34.99 for us in the UK). It’s got a walnut stock, cobalt blue steel, and a hair trigger. That’s right, shop smart. Shop S-Mart. You got that?!
My impeccable Army of Darkness joke out of the way, let’s actually talk about Evil Dead: The Game. In the same vein as Dead by Daylight and Friday the 13th: The Game, this title has one player taking on the role of a Kandarian Demon — a terrible spirit with the power to raise the dead and possess the living from the Evil Dead cult horror franchise. That player goes up against a small group of four Survivors attempting to seal away the Necronomicon — the source of the Demon’s power in this realm. Each Survivor is actually one of the many characters from either the film series or the sequel television show, Ash vs. Evil Dead, including four different versions of the Evil Dead franchise’s star: Ashley J. Williams, portrayed by Bruce Campbell.
The selection of Survivors and Kandarian Demons is honestly pretty good for the base game. There are three characters for each of the four different classes to pick from and three Demons as well. Admittedly, four of the Survivors require the player to complete special single-player mission scenarios relevant to those characters. For instance, if you want to play as the Ash vs. Evil Dead version of Ash Williams, you need to go through a brief recreation of a plot point from The Evil Dead and Evil Dead II, where Ash digs up his girlfriend Linda’s head and takes it back to a shed to chainsaw it to pieces. The variety between the characters is quite nice, with the ability to play as characters from numerous films, such as Ash and his friends from the first two films, alongside several characters from Evil Dead II, like Annie Knowby and Ed Getley; Army of Darkness, like Henry of Red and King Arthur himself; and Ash vs. Evil Dead, like Pablo Simon Bolivar and Kelly Maxwell. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t see anyone from the franchise’s rich history of comic book characters — and I’m not just saying that because I didn’t get to play as the female Ashley K. Williams with her ability to transform her left hand into any object, or as the version of Ashley Williams from the all-insect world, or as Wendy, Ash’s fiance alluded to in Telltale’s Poker Night 2 who turned out to actually be a disguised Nocimonorcen, the “good” version of the Necronomicon that all Demons fear. I imagine these characters might have been a bit of a hassle to include and that I shouldn’t get my hopes up about them, but you can’t blame a girl for dreaming. In any case, I do hope that Evil Dead: The Game will add more Survivors and Kandarian Demons to its cast through its first season pass.
That first season pass, by the way, has already begun, available both as a separate pack from the base game and included in the deluxe edition. There's only a set of skins released this far, but the pass promises to include new characters in the future. The skins themselves are nice, with my favourites being the Brownstone outfit for Cheryl and the S-Mart one for Army of Darkness Ash, but they alone are hardly worth the extra money.
Thankfully, each existing character delivers as their own unique package, making every one of the 15 count. Each of the four Survivor classes has their own focus, with Leaders having a special aura that protects or boosts the stats of the other Survivors and Supports having the ability to more directly heal or otherwise aid their friends. The Warrior and Hunter classes are both much more combat focused, with special buffs to their melee and ranged attacks.
Every character has their own skill tree that can be upgraded permanently between matches, though they will only gain experience and skill points through multiplayer bouts. The skill trees themselves are only different between classes, but the characters also have special skills unique to them that get automatically unlocked at certain levels, including the ability to start off any match with a chainsaw or additional effects on a character’s aura. The first of these special skills is always an ability that can be activated at any time between cooldowns, ranging from Ash vs. Evil Dead’s Ash’s ability to reduce the rate of fear buildup to anyone within his aura to Henry the Red’s ability to make himself briefly immune to damage. The three Kandarian Demons, on the other hand, each possess their own skill tree that, while sharing some of the same structure as each other’s, includes elements exclusive to their own character, with Evil Ash sporting a surprising number of upgrades for a skeleton flautist.
I personally found myself drifting most commonly towards Cheryl Williams, a Support character who was Ash’s sister in The Evil Dead, and Evil Ash, the weird, evil clone that wore a bone crown in Army of Darkness, though I rarely ever actually got to play as either of them. Cheryl seemed to be one of the more popular characters to choose from, going by how most of my fellow players online picked her up first, so that’s not really much of an issue, even though that left me without my most-upgraded character in many of the matches I played. When that happened, I was able to just pick up another character and give the match my best shot. Evil Ash, however, was a bit of a different story. See, when I was playing as a Survivor, it took practically no time at all to find an open match as a single player. Moments after starting my search, I would already find myself in a lobby ready and waiting. But whenever I tried to play as a Kandarian Demon, it would take minutes upon minutes to find a game. Even when I did find one, there was even a chance that it would end before it had a chance to begin if any one of the five players involved disconnected, which would boot everyone from the match. Understandably, this is almost certainly because there’s only one Demon per game and that the Demons themselves are more popular picks.
Even so, I found the rarity of being able to play as the Kandarian Demon rather frustrating. One aspect of the title that did not help with this was the single-player experience, as there is (as far as I saw in my time) no way to play as the Kandarian Demon outside of multiplayer, barring the tutorial. Beyond the five-person multiplayer that acts as the primary focus of the game, there are three different ways to play as a Survivor: the missions, mentioned prior, and two AI-fueled versions of the multiplayer matches. One of these gives the player three AI-controlled companions to aid them against an AI-controlled Demon while the other allows four Survivors to team up against that same AI-controlled Demon. Of these options, the last one has to be my favourite, with the missions coming in not too far behind. It felt roughly identical to a game against an actual player controlling the Demon, while also offering assurance that said enemy would be just as good as it was in every other round. The deadites keep their quality in the missions, in some ways making that mode feel like the hardest part of the title, really ramping up in difficulty towards each scenario’s end without really giving many tools to improve the player’s ability outside of slightly better equipment. Even so, that mode was quite stylish, decently funny, and felt like a more deliberately curated experience when compared to the multiplayer side of the game. With both of these working so well for me, I was surprised that there was no equivalent for playing as the Kandarian Demon; it would have been a great way to practise and get to know the area, and I was disappointed that the developer didn’t go there.
The only one of these that didn’t really work for me was the all-AI option, which would probably also explain why the developer didn’t go with the single-player Kandarian Demon option that was sorely missing. My AI companions might as well have been worthless outside of a fight, predominantly just aimlessly following me wherever I went. The only times that they didn’t stick to me like glue were when there was even a single enemy around, in which case their attention switched to them, and whenever I started running. No matter what I tried, none of them would ever move faster than a light jog, meaning that I had to lead the group around at a snail’s pace during the opening moments of each round, which have a time limit of 30 minutes. Plenty of time for four humans, but not so much here. In one instance, the three fools even spent five whole minutes attacking the corner of a gravestone after a battle. This was particularly frustrating due to the game’s fear mechanic. You see, whenever the Survivors activate a demonic trap, are away from light sources, or are apart from the group, their fear gauge will rise, with higher fear meaning that the Kandarian Demon can upgrade themselves more quickly and even allowing the Demon to possess the Survivors once fear reaches a fever pitch. Thankfully, in most fights, the three AI Survivors could hold their own, dishing out enough damage to push back any basic or elite deadites. However, when we got to the final moments of the round and had to defend the Necronomicon from an onslaught of enemies, every single one of them died in mere moments, leaving me to scramble my way to an improbable victory. Obviously, these AI Survivors still need a lot of work, so I can understand why an offline Kandarian Demon mode isn’t ready; I can’t imagine the AI being able to handle a match without a player to guide them. However, I don’t understand why they allowed this all-AI mode to stay in the initial release, as it still needed some work.
When I did actually manage to play as the Kandarian Demon, I found a lot of the early moments of the match to be rather boring. My job was to keep the four Survivors from finding the three pieces of a map to the Kandarian Dagger and the Necronomicon and, failing that, to kill them on their way to collecting these objects and sealing the Necronomicon. Obviously, as is regular for these sorts of asynchronous horror multiplayer survival titles, my first real goals were finding the four and upgrading my own power to stand a chance at stopping them. To be honest, I had a rather hard time finding anyone until the game moved on from finding the pieces to collecting the Dagger and Necronomicon. Still, even when I did find them early on, there was very little I could do beyond setting up some basic fear traps that the Survivors might or might not even walk into. I mostly just spent my time twiddling my thumbs and placing as many traps as I could to build up some semblance of power. I was only really capable of doing any real damage starting from the halfway point, at which point I doggedly pursued the Survivors. Even though I wasn’t very good at that, this part was very fun, as I could possess them and the basic enemies I had lying around in order to get a lot of fighting done. The most effective tactic I discovered was to possess nearby cars and run everyone over. That was particularly fun when it was a car that the group had been driving, though I was a tad disappointed that the Survivors just got automatically kicked out of a possessed car. It might’ve been fun to see if I could forcibly move those groups around, though I suppose such a tactic would likely be rather unbalanced.
Still, there was an almost annoying rhythm to playing as the Kandarian Demon. Unless I got lucky and the Survivors were very bad at survival horror games, the matches always came down to the final battle for the Necronomicon, with me pulling out all of the stops and tearing them to shreds or at least attempting to do so. Victory felt much easier here than any area prior, leaving me to question why I’d been bothering so much in the earlier portions of the prolonged battle. There simply is not much for the Kandarian Demon to do until the halfway point of any given match, meaning that anyone who wants to play as them has to wait forever in the lobby, wait even longer for the show to actually start in the game itself, wait until they gain enough power to do anything of substance, and then wait for the Survivors to show themselves. I certainly don’t mind a group of skilled players eluding me in a glorious chase of cat and mouse, but when I can easily defeat a group when everyone has had a chance to grow to their fullest potential, it feels like I’ve wasted a lot of my own time by not having the option to really crush them earlier.
On the other hand, I must say that playing as a Survivor was anything but disappointing. Having to manage the team and the player’s own health, stamina, and fear was exceptionally fun. When I was playing the missions and tutorial, I found myself often shaking and jumping with fear at every new development, but when I was with a group, everything felt much more manageable. It took me a little while to get the hang of collecting the map pieces, but the other objectives were intuitive and a great mix of challenging and rewarding. Melee combat felt like the star of the show due to the scarcity of bullets in the map and it did not disappoint. Swinging a sword or a chainsaw around was very satisfying and every encounter was filled to the brim with special finishers that took out large chunks of a given deadite’s health bar. There was a balance bar feature that was meant to stagger opponents when they took enough damage, but I never really felt like it came up outside of when I was fighting Eligos (from Ash vs. Evil Dead’s Season 1) and its deadites. Those monsters kept sparking up the room at every opportunity, leaving me and my allies invariably stunned and unable to do anything that took longer than half a second to complete. Interestingly, I didn’t go up against Eligos all that often, either meaning that I got really lucky or that there’s some secret trick to dealing with Eligos that I never learned, thereby keeping the beast from being a popular choice.
All in all however, I found myself having a lot more fun than I was expecting while playing as a Survivor. When no one was on voice chat, the groups I was with tended to get somewhat disorganised, but with someone focused on figuring out a gameplan or keeping everyone posted on what they were doing, I never found myself overwhelmed.
Lastly, I’d like to quickly praise the visual design, audio design, and soundtrack. Every sound and every song made me feel like I should be on my toes, with the main theme leaving me entirely on edge but also somehow energised. The character models and the map that you get to play on also look incredible, both packed with a plethora of details and easter eggs to find and love. There were several different renditions of the map, including daytime, nighttime, and winter variants, but the base map was always the surrounding area of the basic Evil Dead setting somewhere in the state of Michigan, including locations like the Knowby Cabin where the first two films took place. Certainly a classic look for the series and the perfect choice for a map. However, as someone who was a very big fan of Army of Darkness, I was sad to see that the medieval Arthurian setting didn’t also get its own map. One map is somewhat disheartening, but at least the one that’s there is as nice to look at as it is.
Evil Dead: The Game is, frankly, a solid title and an incredible entry in the Evil Dead franchise. It doesn’t quite hit the mark in some areas, but it offers a great experience as a Survivor and acts as a decent repository of the series’ best characters. Barring the insect version of Ash from the comics, of course.
If you’re on the fence about this one, just remember: Shop Smart. Shop S-Mart.
Evil Dead: The Game (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Playing as the Kandarian Demon isn’t as fun as it should be and the single-player experience is somewhat lacking, but if you want to team up with three friends and show a bunch’a deadites just how deadly a prosthetic chainsaw can be, this is the game for you.