Developed by Saber Interactive, Evil Dead: The Game is more than just a reskin of the formula established by previous asymmetrical survival horror titles, feeling more like an evolution of it, partially helped by the fact that the franchise itself is quite unique within the horror genre.
If you're unfamiliar with Evil Dead as a franchise, it's essentially a series of supernatural slapstick horror movies that play into comedy as much as horror. The first film came out in 1981, a prime time for B-horror and slasher films, making the Sam Raimi flick a cult classic that spawned two sequels and a remake in 2013 that's set to get its own follow-up in 2023.
Wich such a rich history, Evil Dead fans will immediately enjoy the gloomy, somewhat campy feel of the game, and of course, the cast of recognisable playable characters at their disposal, including versions of the iconic protagonist Ash Williams from the first three original films (The Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, and Army of Darkness). The Ash vs The Evil Dead cast also makes an appearance.
A race for the Necronomicon
As you might expect, the basic gameplay loop is relatively simple: a group of four survivors try to take on a paranormal entity, exorcising it for good.
In Evil Dead: The Game, survivors are not mere victims sneaking around the vast playable areas looking for tools to help them escape, quite the opposite, they are designed to play and engage with enemies as a team, with different characters split into multiple roles.
There are four classes of survivors, Leader, Warrior, Hunter, and Support, each with unique perks that can turn the tide of a tense game. For example, Leaders can buff their and allies' stats, on the other hand, Warriors act like tanks. With a bigger health pool and prioritising melee attacks over ranged ones, they are your first line of defence.
Explore the map thoroughly to find weapons, consumables, and other items you'll need to fend off the opposition. Each game, you'll start without any gear, so be sure to immediately stock up on all the things you require swiftly.
A neat interaction between demons and survivors is that the former can place traps inside item boxes without the latter knowing about it. These caches generally come with some high-level gear, but you risk getting your fear-meter filled if the demon player was quick enough to spoil it.
Finding pages of the Necronomicon and the Kandarian Dagger to vanish the demons that are terrorising them is no small feat, particularly when another player is controlling one of the three types of nightmare-inducing creatures that are available at launch.
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Whether you're playing as a Warlord, Puppeteer, or Necromancer, you are assigned by the forces of evil to destroy the humans looking to piece together the Necronomicon and banish you from Earth. To do so, each type of demon has at its disposal several tools to induce fear, possess, and ultimately, kill survivors.
Power without fear
Generally, you'll be setting traps around strategic locations. As a demon, you'll have key items survivors need to defeat you marked on your map, making it easy to coordinate a plan of attack.
To make use of all your devilish sorcery you'll need to collect Infernal Orbs around the map, they'll grant you Infernal Energy required to do all sorts of things like placing traps, making use of your abilities, possessing demons, fear-induced survivors, and even vehicles, and more.
If you continuously make use of your Infernal Energy, a series of upgrades will become available for you. Think of it as a MOBA-like system, letting you become stronger on the fly as the match goes on.
Playing survivor, being hit with the fear debuff can be catastrophic. You'll be spotted immediately, with the game warning the demon player that you are frightened. In this state, you can be possessed, allowing the demon to make use of your tools to hurt fellow survivors.
Going solo is a recipe for disaster, the more spread out survivors are, the more their fear meter will fill. Finding bonfires can help you mitigate the effects, so be sure to always carry some matches around.
If you let the survivors reach the Necronomicon, you can switch between trying to take them all out or destroying the book itself, permanently closing the portal to banish you from Earth.
Despite only featuring two maps and a handful of playable characters, Evil Dead: The Game has a ton of replayability thanks to its skill tree system. Each survivor and demon features a vast progression tree with permanent upgrades.
You'll earn XP for completing matches with a survivor or demon, with bonuses in case you win. As you level up, you'll earn skill points which you can then use on your chosen character. You'll also get Spirit Points, these can be used to level up other characters you haven't played with.
The game also offers a small single-player set of missions that take inspiration from the films. Despite their lacklustre gameplay, as it's not at all a game thought out to be played solo as a survivor, you'll be somewhat forced to play these missions to unlock more characters, including an Ash vs Evil Dead version of Ash Williams, Amanda Fisher, and Pablo Simon Bolivar.
A balancing act that falls slightly short
While the cat and mouse gameplay feels interesting for the first few hours, you'll quickly realise that playing as a demon is infinitely harder than queueing up as a survivor.
Personally, I had one game where I managed to isolate a survivor early on and got to take him down, putting constant pressure on the rest of his teammates who barely got to revive him. Draining their resources until the very end with almost all my Necromancer skills maxed out I could barely permanently kill one of them by the end.
It does make the game feel like it's all up entirely to how well the survivors can coordinate, giving very little room for demons to skew things in their favour if they play against a very well-coordinated team.
Evil Dead: The Game has some flaws, balance-wise it gets tiring knowing that playing as a demon doesn't feel as overwhelming for the survivors as it should be despite how fun roaming around the map is, and the class system ultimately doesn't make enough distinctions between survivors, you really can play whichever in the same style.
However, the sheer amount of exhilarating entertainment you get, the skill-tree system that incentivises replayability, the Evil Dead fanservice spread throughout, and the promise of more content in the form of maps and characters, make the Saber Interactive developed title one worth the price of admission.
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Featured image courtesy of Saber Interactive.