We've spent a bunch of time with this asymmetric multiplayer take on Sam Raimi's beloved universe.
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I do not think I am exaggerating if I claim to have seen Evil Dead III: Army of Darkness 100 times. I think maybe I'm rather modest in my appreciation, even though this was 30 years ago and even though my memory is way worse than it used to be. Sam Raimi's fantastic third movie in the franchise was together with White Men Can't Jump and Point Break my three favourite movies as a young lad, and I saw them over and over and over and over again, for several years. I can easily quote whole scenes from all of them, but perhaps especially from Army of Darkness where Bruce Campbell gives a perfect performance as the cocky Smart-store manager Ash who after the forest-nightmares in Evil Dead and Evil Dead II ends up in a time machine and is thrown back to the Dark ages where the hunt for the deadly Necronomicon begins.
There have been plenty of game interpretations of Raimi's cult classic horror trilogy and most of them have in my opinion been bad, or at best mediocre. Newly released Evil Dead: The Game is developed by the people behind titles like SnowRunner and Timeshift and just as in the case of the 2017 Friday the 13th game, it's an online-based multiplayer experience of the asymmetrical kind. Just over eight years ago, it was predicted that asymmetric multiplayer would take over the gaming world. Evolve became some kind of conclusion for what the structure of these titles would look like, even though it did not actually turn out to be as successful as was intended.
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In Evil Dead, just like in Evolve or Friday the 13th, the gameplay centres around matches with five players where one controls a demon and four other players control Ash and his companions. There are 13 "survivors" to choose from in four different character classes (Support, Leader, Hunter and Warrior) and for this team the games themselves are about completing five different objectives, in the correct order. First, three different papers will be located on the relatively large, open maps, then the Kandarian knife from Evil Dead II must be found and finally the Necronomicon. If you do this, you push back the armies of the dead and win the match.
The one player who takes the role of the lone demon floats around on the map like a ghost and initially in every match it's mostly about collecting "orbs" and setting up simple traps. After this, the demon player must possess various objects to stop the survival group's progress. It is possible to take over trees, bushes or vehicles to make it difficult for the other players to hunt for the five lenses, or it is possible to summon bosses. Among them, there is Evil Ash from Army of Darkness together with Henrietta from Evil Dead 2.
Saber Interactive has used the Unreal Engine to build a game world that resonates more with Evil Dead 2 than anything else from Raimi's horror universe and the game looks very nice, in general. Everything looks good, from the smallest models to the large, open maps that are often drenched in rain, darkness, light effects from outdoor lighting, torches and the lightning storm of the sky. The presentation is great and it is noticeable that the game was very much created by pure Evil Dead fans. Nothing has been left to chance and Saber has dotted in all the details that make the characters from the film trilogy as lovable as they are. They have also brought with them voice actors like Bruce Campbell, Embeth Davidtz and Betsy Baker and all do a really good job to create a good Evil Dead feeling and atmosphere.
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What, on the other hand, does not impress in the same way is the game mechanics and how horribly monotonous and almost silly the whole set-up feels after three or maybe four games played. Right now the demon player is often superior in my experience and although balancing will be done by the studio considering that this is a live service game, the whole thing with asymmetric multiplayer is severely flawed in its basic layout if you ask me. Running around as a survivor and chasing book pages and knives match after match feels pretty darn dull and the fact that the battles against all the undead enemies that flood the maps are monotonous and basically just about mashing the same button - makes this a pretty boring multiplayer game. For me, this is a problem that even Evolve and Friday the 13th suffered from, but I can still find bright spots in terms of gameplay in those titles that I have a hard time finding here. Evil Dead does everything right when it comes to pure fan service. It looks "right", it sounds "right" and it is obvious that Saber loves the films, but I do not think the premise or gameplay fits what Raimi's film trilogy really is.