"Evil Dead's back, but with a few twists..."

Five years have passed since "Hail to the King," the first Evil Dead game, was released on the Playstation, and survival-horror gamers know the score by now. Ash was once your average S-Mart sales clerk, until a camping trip with a few friends led to their finding the Book of the Dead and unleashing an ancient evil in the woods. A literal Weekend from Hell ensued and, over the course of three movies, Ash went from slightly nebbish college guy to badass, time-traveling chainsaw-armed demon hunter.

"Hail to the King" had Ash returning to the old cabin in the woods, in a game that had a great Evil Dead story and voice-acting, but an engine that made actually playing it a chore. "Fistful of Boomstick," the PS2 sequel, had a much better engine and graphics, and great cut-scenes, but lacked that "Evil Dead" feel of Ash battling the Book of the Dead.

Now, in an interesting twist on the series' storyline, it's time for Ash to fight the deadites again... for the first time. And the result, although far too short and somewhat basic, is a game that has the story strenths of the first one and the gameplay of the second game. This is a game for hardcore Evil Dead fans that, unlike Hail to the King, casual fans and gamers will still enjoy playing.

Gameplay - 8

If you've played Fistful of Boomstick, you already have an idea of what to expect. If you haven't played FoB, think of games like Bloodrayne or The Suffering, and you'll get the idea. Ash uses a gun in combination with his arm attachments to pull off combo attacks but, unlike the previous games, you won't always find yourself relying on the chainsaw/shotgun combo from the movies. The weapons, although few in number, do have their own well-balanced strengths and weaknesses, and their various combinations each work well for different situations.

One big change in battle is that, unlike either of the previous games, deadites won't die just from getting shot or slashed a few times. You'll have to either do so much damage that you dismember them or, more often, you weaken them enough to use a special "finishing move" to blow their heads off or bodies apart. These moves usually play out as quick bullet-time cinematic sequences, and they're very gratifying: this is the boomstick-over-the-shoulder, smirking Ash we all know from the movies at his finest.

There's also an "Evil Ash" mode, through which Ash temporarily changes into a stronger, faster deadite form. This feature comes in handy for one boss in particular but, for the most part, you'll never need to use it.

The real difference in gameplay is deadite sidekick Sam, and he adds a lot of depth to an engine that plays more or less like the FoB engine. At various points Ash can possess Sam to essentially play as a second character, one who can crawl and leap to places Ash himself can't go, and Sam will back you up in battle, fighting by Ash's side, finishing off some enemies and setting up others for Ash to finish off. A few enemies and puzzles actually require Sam and Ash to work together, meaning that Ash literally kicks the indestructible Sam like a football toward whatever he needs to do.

There are some puzzles in the game, but nothing comparing to a survival-horror game like Resident Evil or Silent Hill. The guns and chainsaw likewise have infinite ammo, so there's very little running around for supplies: just blast, slash, and watch that health meter.

Unfortunately, there are some gameplay aspects that are just annoying. One puzzle in particular that involves guarding Sam as he collects spirits repeats itself no less than four times during the game and, what seemed interesting and different the first time becomes a predictable, time-consuming chore by the second and third time the game forces you through it. Given that solving and resolving this puzzle takes up almost half the game time, it comes across as pure laziness on the creators' part.

Many people complain of glitchy gameplay. I never saw any of them myself, but consider yourself warned.

Story - 8

This is where things get interesting. Although Fistful of Boomstick set up its own sequel at the end of the game, this game not only bypasses it and Hail to the King, it even leaves out "Army of Darkness," the third movie. The game's sort of a "what if" story with one premise: what if Annie Knowby had never gone to the cabin in the woods in Evil Dead 2? Or, maybe, what is she hadn't made it there alive?

The answer is that Ash, forced to chop off his hand and replace it with a chainsaw, had to fend for himself through a second night, until sunrise left him surrounded by bodies and screaming like an animal. This didn't exactly go over well with the police, nor did his stories about an evil force possessing his friends and forcing him to kill them, and so he's spent the last several years locked up at the Sunny Meadows Asylum for the criminally insane.

His lawyer Sally, however, finds Knowby's diary in the office of Doctor Reinhart, Ash's psychiatrist, and they suspect that he's known all along that Ash was telling the truth. But before she can make it to the authorities with the proof of Ash's sanity, Reinhart (secretly a power-hungry occultist with a macabre lab hidden in the basement) tries to safely harness the Necronomicon's powers, fails miserably, and unleashes the evil dead on the whole asylum.

From there, Ash and his new sidekick Sam, a human patient partially changed into a deadite by Reinhart's experiments with the Book, are off on journey through spooky cemeteries, desolate forests, and other locations as Ash tries to stop the other world from invading this one.

The story is filled with references to the movies: Knowby's ghost, last seen in Evil Dead 2, becomes a major supporting character, while the roaming Evil Force plays a much bigger role in this game than it did in either of Regeneration's predecessors. There are homages to the movies all over the place, ranging from slight nods to all-out playable movie scenes.

After Fistful of Boomstick seemed to neglect the Evil Dead concept, tossing aside the Book of the Dead itself in favor of a set of human villains and more zombie-like deadites, this game takes the Evil Dead story back to its roots.

Graphics - 8

The graphics vary considerably from level to level. The interior of the asylum is very lackluster, a step down from Fistful of Boomstick and from other PS2 games such as the Suffering or the Silent Hill series. Once Ash gets outside, though, things improve dramatically. They're still not breaking any new ground, but there are some nice, subtle mist and cloud effects never before seen in the series, and some of the areas, such as the Woods, are artistically beautiful, even if they're not technologically jaw-dropping.

Ash himself looks better than the FoB model, and much closer to the movies, but he still looks a little off: his face almost seems too young, as if they partly modeled him after the very first movie. Animations are a little limited, but sufficient, and the enemies, while still prone to the same model repetition as Fistful of Boomstick, are much more varied, and they do change from one area to the next.

Sound - 9

Bruce Campbell is back, baby! His heart didn't seem to be in Fistful of Boomstick, but he comes back in a big way for this game. His one-liners still seem a little dry, but he goes back to being over-the-top, sarcastic, trademark Ash when he interacts with Sam. Perhaps having Ted Raimi (Evil Dead director Sam Raimi's brother, Bruce's longtime friend and a popular cult actor in his own right) as the voice of Sam helped give Bruce someone to play off of. Ted Raimi, in his videogame debut, does a great job with the role: what could otherwise be an annoying one-note sidekick is imbued with so much manic, twitching energy by Ted's performance that even his worst lines are fun to hear (and he does have more than his share of really funny lines).

The other voices are give and take. Professor Knowby and Doctor Reinhart share the same actor and he does good jobs with them both, making Knowby the calm voice of wisdom in the adventure, while Reinhart rants and shrieks in a German accent that's appropriately and hilariously cheesy. Sally's voice actress is a step below the rest, but she's at least not painful to hear, while the random deadites range from very creepy (especially in the asylum), to unintentionally funny (the deadites in the mines almost sound like evil surfer dudes).

The rest of the sound is likewise adequate. There's little music in the game, and the few tunes are often repeated, but they're at least pretty good. Rather than music, the background of most levels uses a subtle Silent Hill-like mix of music and sound effects. This works very well in some levels, such as the simple haunting chords that add to the eerily quiet atmosphere of the Woods, while in others its hardly noticeable. The sound effects are about what you'd expect, and none seem horribly done or out of place.

Replayability - 6

After three games, this has become the expected curse of the Evil Dead game series. The game runs no more than six hours in total and some of the areas, most noticeably the Swamp, seem to have been greatly trimmed down, or simply not exploited to their full potential. The gametime's further hampered by the previously mentioned spirit-collecting sidequest, which cuts the actual exploration time down to less than 3 or 4 hours.

All the secrets can be unlocked in one playthrough, further reducing the replay value. Those secrets come in the form of Necronomicon pages, though, which unlock DVD-like extra features such as art galleries and interviews with Bruce Campbell. The in-game cinemas are unlocked in a special menu as you play, and you can replay any level you've already beaten (with the same level of health you've unlocked on your current save), making this the most accessible game in the Evil Dead series; there's not much technical "replay" value, but you'll be exploring the different unlocked features after the game's finished.

It's still not much, and there are no optional weapons, secret areas or alternate endings to be found. By all rights, this should score the game no more than a 5 in replayability, but THQ earns an extra point for realizing its limitations and charging only $19.99 for the game, the same price as a movie DVD or a Greatest Hits PS2 game. Considering that price tag, the game does have more than its share of extra features.

Overall - 8

This is the best overall game in the Evil Dead series and, while that's not saying much compared to industry leaders like Silent Hill and Resident Evil, the reduced price tag makes it well worth the investment for Evil Dead fans. For gamers who don't know or care about Evil Dead, this would still make a good weekend rental. It can be finished in just a few sittings, and it's a fun ride while it lasts.

Buy it if you're an Evil Dead fan. Rent it if you're looking for a short, lower-budget, but fairly unique action-adventure game. Either way, though, you won't go wrong.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/26/05


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