Review by Tarrun

"Two steps forward, two steps back."

The Evil Dead series has always had a small following, both as movies and video games. The games never do particularly well in the non-Evil Dead fan market, especially when compared to other survival-horror games, but I doubt anyone ever expects them to. Evil Dead: Regeneration is the fourth game in the series, and while there are quite a few new gameplay elements, many of the problems from the other games remain.

Regeneration doesn't exactly have a place in the Evil Dead timeline. Whereas A Fistful of Boomstick and Hail to the King all took place after Army of Darkness, this time the story is more of a “What If”? The game picks up sometime after Evil Dead 2, but instead of traveling through time, Ash is discovered by the police and is arrested for the murders of everyone who was killed in the cabin. They deem him legally insane and send him to the Sunny Meadows Asylum. The psychiatrist who runs the facility, Dr. Reinhard, has been secretly experimenting with the Necronomicon with the help of Professor Knowby's diary. Ash's lawyer Sally finds the diary and goes to the authorities to get her client released.

But without the guidance of Knowby's notes, Reinhard is unable to control the Necronomicon. When he attempts to fuse with the book's power, the evil is released and quickly spreads throughout the asylum. Ash manages to escape, and makes his way to Reinhard's laboratory where he finds Sam, one of the doctor's guinea pigs. The ghost of Professor Knowby appears and tells Ash that Reinhard has kidnapped Sally and opened a number of portals that are allowing the Deadites to travel between their world and this one. Ash will need the help of Sam, whose connection to the Necronomicon allows him to find the portals and close them, to stop the Deadites and save Sally.

Graphically, Regeneration looks terrific. The levels, which include a swamp, an abandoned city, a forest, and catacombs to name a few, are all designed very well. The forest in particular stands out in my mind as being one of the high points in artistic achievement in the game. The majority of enemies that you'll meet are somewhat bland, but definitely above average; the characters that count, though: Ash, Sam, and the bosses, all look great. The cinematics are closer to what the game actually looks like (as opposed to A Fistful of Boomstick's), but still work well. Overall, the graphics are nothing revolutionary, but are still quite solid and deserve praise.

As for sounds, Bruce Campbell returns to voice Ash and Ted Raimi plays Sam, which is all you really need in an Evil Dead game. Although the rest of the cast is also fairly well done; Dr. Reinhard ends up coming across as the stereotypical mad scientist with a German accent, which is a bit corny, but it's nothing worth complaining about. The sound effects themselves are average, with all of the gunshots, explosions, and gore you'd expect from the Evil Dead. The music is often repetitive and uninteresting (especially Sam's theme), although occasionally one of the tunes will work with the rest of the atmosphere to complement the mood.

However, the gameplay is where Regeneration stands out from the other games in the series. I personally loved the free-roaming exploration in A Fistful of Boomstick; it created the perfect atmosphere for a zombie game, where the player is dropped in an area and is left to find items and equipment that help them complete their goal. And of course, constantly be bombarded by wave after wave of undead only added to this.

Much to my disappointment, this has been entirely scrapped in Regeneration. The levels rarely deviate beyond “get from Point A to Point B and kill everything in between”, and the few times it does, it's for a distinct purpose of finding X item that just happens to be slightly off the beaten path. Likewise, Deadites hardly ever respawn; the majority of the game contains a handful of enemies in each area that have to be killed before allowing you to continue to the next one. Even with the occasional puzzle mixed into it, the gameplay can quickly become stagnant.

That being said, there are also quite a few positive aspects regarding Regeneration's gameplay. For starters, the days of worry about ammunition are gone, because all of your weapons have infinite ammo. While this is a positive in the sense that you no longer have to worry about switching weapons to conserve ammunition, it does make the game much easier and again takes a step away from the survival-horror genre.

Of course, without having to switch weapons, there really isn't a need for the dozens of different weapons and ammunition like in A Fistful of Boomstick. Your arsenal has been downsized to three weapons per hand: a pistol, boomstick, and rocket launcher for the one, and a prosthetic chainsaw, a harpoon gun that snags enemies and reels them in, and a flamethrower for the other. As expected, weapons have different qualities, so while the pistol is much weaker than the others, it also has the longest range. Likewise, the chainsaw is great for close-quarters combat, but the harpoon can catch enemies that fly or are on unreachable platforms. In the end, you really never need any other weapons.

Thankfully, even though the number of weapons themselves is limited, how they're used is not. In particular, the chainsaw has quite a few more combos than before. They vary in terms of usefulness, but include everything from a whirlwind attack to instantly decapitating a Deadite. One combo in particular, the “Dodge and Launch” allows you to quickly strafe away and send an enemy flying, allowing you to juggle them in the air with your boomstick. While the addition of unlimited ammunition takes away from how vital it is to become familiar with the chainsaw, it's still fairly important as you progress through the game.

Another change from the previous games is that you cannot kill a Deadite from simply shooting or slashing away at it. After sustaining enough damage, a green aura will surround it, allowing you to perform a finishing move. One of the complaints fans had regarding the previous games was that there simply weren't enough ways to kill a Deadite, and the finishing moves are THQ's response. Whether it's impaling a Deadite with the chainsaw or cutting its legs off and decapitating it, there are enough ways to kill the undead to satisfy everyone's blood-lust.

Perhaps the biggest addition to the game, though, is Sam. Besides aiding the plot and acting as a source of comedy, Sam actually does manage to hold his own against the undead. Being a Deadite himself, Sam can't permanently die, which means that you don't have to waste time and energy protecting him; should he be killed in action, he'll simply revive a few seconds later. While he will occasionally kill an enemy by himself, more often than not he'll either set a Deadite up for you to kill or finish one off that you've already weakened. Sam and Ash will also sometimes have to work together to defeat an enemy; Ash can kick Sam onto a Deadite's back to distract them, leaving the Deadite open for attack.

Sam is also used to complete most of the puzzles. The ability to punt him is sometimes used for this purpose, but much more frequently, the player will actually take control of Sam. From there, the player uses his small size to enter an area that Ash cannot; and after completing various platform puzzles or fighting through groups off weak Deadites, will perform a task that opens a door or otherwise allows Ash to follow after him.

The last major aspect of the combat engine is Evil Ash. As you progress through the game, Ash gains the ability to absorb the evil from fallen enemies and can release his inner-demon at any time to become Evil Ash. In this state, Ash does incredible amounts of damage to anything that's unlucky enough to be around at the time. However, since the “rage” meter drains fairly quickly, it's best to leave Evil Ash for some of the more stubborn bosses.

However, as innovative as Regeneration is, it also ends up being considerably repetitive. The most obvious example of this is through a puzzle involving a monster known as a Soul Eater, or “Peepers” as Ash lovingly calls it. Early on in the game, you find Peepers blocking your path, and Knowby appears to tell Ash how to get around it. By collecting three souls that are conveniently in the same general area and feeding it to the Soul Eater, it will cause Peepers to fall asleep, allowing Ash and Sam to sneak by. These souls can only be transported through Sam, so the trick in this case is being able to fend off the hordes of Deadites that attack Sam long enough for him to reach Peepers. This would be a fun puzzle if you only came across it the one time, but Peepers has a nasty habit of appearing in nearly half of the game's levels; and by the second or third time, soul-collection becomes a tedious chore.

And while you come across Soul Eaters too often, bosses are a rare sight in Regeneration. In fact, there are only five bosses spread out in the ten levels in the game, and each one ends up being exceedingly redundant. Each boss has about three unique attacks, but always ends up using them in such an obvious pattern that it boils down to “shoot, slash, dodge – repeat”.

But the bosses are only a small part of a much bigger problem. Evil Dead: Regeneration simply isn't a very difficult game. Acquiring the harpoon gun only adds to this, as you can snag an enemy from a distance, completely immobilizing them, and finish them off with your shotgun. Even without using it, there are never any points throughout the game that really stand out as being a challenge. The fact that life is released from slain enemies whenever you need it doesn't help, for that matter.

Because of this, Regeneration doesn't score very well in the replay value category. Although there are twenty Necronomicon pages hidden throughout the game which unlock interviews and image galleries, they aren't hidden very well. To give you an idea, I found nineteen during my first play-through. There simply isn't any reason to replay the game after finishing it the first time.

There were three glaring problems with A Fistful of Boomstick: It was too short, it was too repetitive, and there weren't enough ways to kill Deadites. And it seems that Regeneration only attempts to resolve the least important of those issues. While the new additions to the gameplay were nice and well appreciated, it becomes frustrating to play through the same puzzles and bosses through the game's ten levels. Because of this, Regeneration only resembles its predecessor in one way – coming close to what a great game would be, but falling short in the end. Fans of the series will definitely enjoy playing it, though, just don't expect anything spectacular out of it.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 06/27/06

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