Evil Dead: The Game PC Review
I am a huge fan of Dead by Daylight and Evil Dead, so when I saw the announcement that there was an asymmetrical horror game coming from the studio that developed World War Z (Saber Interactive), I was a little excited to see what they could produce. Before I start the review, I feel I should clear the air about Evil Dead: The Game. Even though this is a 4 vs 1 asymmetrical horror game, it is very different to something like Dead by Daylight, and so the comparisons should stop there. Evil Dead: The Game is its own thing, and it is better for trying to be just that while being a faithful adaptation of the films, TV show and comics. There are plenty of references and Easter eggs for fans of the cult phenomenon that is known as Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead.
This is a game that is 95% focused on its multiplayer, so there is no story here apart from some diary tapes that are unlocked for beating the single-player missions. These missions are not a campaign, but five scenarios based on events from the franchise. The first mission is based on finding Linda’s head and killing it in a vice as seen in Evil Dead 2, while the last mission is Lord Arthur from Army of Darkness, who is tasked to take down Evil Ash. These are silly, side distractions, but in terms of their worth compared to the focus of the game, well actually, they are quite important because there are four characters and a costume locked behind these missions. This means that to get all the cast requires beating these five missions. Doing so will unlock the Ash version from Ash vs Evil Dead, Amanda Fisher from Ash vs Evil Dead, Pablo Simon Bolivar from Ash vs Evil Dead and finally Lord Arthur. There are still many characters available, but if you are a fan of those mentioned, such as me, I adore Pablo, then those fans will need to beat the missions to get their favourites.
I feel that some people might find these missions frustrating, as there are no checkpoints at all, so they need to be beat within one life. Some of these missions can last 20 minutes; imagine getting that far only to die at the end. I personally did not mind this, because I see these missions as challenges rather than a single-player campaign, but some people might want to play their favourite character, so having that stuck behind an annoying mission for them is probably not ideal. Maybe offering an alternative difficulty or maybe put in checkpoints and offer a chunk of experience for the first time finishing it without dying, which then entices hardcore players to get that extra benefit to help them level up some of their characters for the multiplayer, while less experienced players can just get through the mission and have their character. One thing these missions do, though, is help the player understand the mechanics away from full multiplayer matches, offering a training mode of sorts by introducing all the demon types, items and weapons, without hindering other players’ experiences in a real match.
Enough about single-player content. The real reason this game exists is for its multiplayer. As mentioned, this is a 4 vs 1 asymmetrical game, where four people work together as survivors in a third-person view, and one person plays the Kandarian Demon that flies around in first person at speed. Each match has the same objective to complete and has a 30-minute timer, but depending on which role of survivor or demon, the playstyle is very different. Survivors start with no weapons, so must check buildings and chests to find gear of various graded rarity, ammo, health and amulet (armour) items on the way to finding three randomly spawned pieces of a map to put together. Once found, survivors then need to go to two locations and defend those capture points as they spawn the Kandarian Dagger and the Pages of the Necronomicon, changing the gameplay from looting and exploring to a standoff with the demon player, as the survivors fend off the wave of deadites trying to stop them spawning the two tools. Once these tools are gathered, the players need to go and seal away The Dark Ones, three tall boss characters that should be sealed away by shooting light from the dagger. Once this is done, then the Necronomicon will spawn and must be protected for two minutes as it works to seal away the demonic presence, making the demon forced to attack the book to stay alive in this realm, otherwise, the survivors win once the timer hits zero.
What I really like about this structure is that both sides get to play exploration, offensive and defensive roles, meaning their strategies need to change depending on how the objectives have progressed within the match. The demon player has a lot of work to do at the start, as they have no idea where the survivors are, only the location of the Kandarian Dagger and the Pages, so must spend the early game floating around the map and collecting orbs to gain infernal energy, which is used as experience to level up, but is also used in a different metre to spawn traps, spawn enemies, and possess enemies and players. Like how survivors need to hunt down gear, the demon player must buff themselves from these orbs and use them to lay traps down so that survivors trigger them, which reveals where they are on the map. Later in the game, with all these powered-up deadites, the demon player will need to assault the survivors as they defend their capture zones, and if unsuccessful, will then need to defend against survivors taking down The Dark Ones. If that fails, then the demon player must go all out and destroy the Necronomicon to win. There is much more variety in playstyle than say a game that is more focused on just one objective, and it helps to keep the gameplay active and engaging.
Levelling up is key to powering up stats. On the demon side, this means stronger demons, longer possession, and regenerating energy, while on the survivor side, bottles called Pink F are found in supply crates around the map and are picked up to use as points in levelling up stats in areas such as health, melee and armour. The survivors have plenty of ways to defend themselves. Stuff like shotguns, pistols, rifles for range, and hammers, chainsaws and swords for melee, can make short work of standard enemies. If time is left to drag, it becomes harder to fend off the deadites as the demon player keeps levelling up and spawning faster and tougher enemies.
Fighting against the deadites feels good, even though controls are simple and not that involving on a mechanical level. They have a good sense of visceral impact on the enemies. Melee is all based on two buttons, light or strong hits, and can chain for a simple combo. Deadites have a balance metre that once empty causes them to be in a state that allows for a high damaging melee move, which will kill them if their health is low enough, symbolised with a red skull above their head. Guns have a solid feel and impact, even if they are all based on stat numbers and rarity, their actual sound and animation are great, especially the shotgun and boomstick, blasting the deadites into pieces. This game does not shy away from the source material when it comes to dismemberment and gore.
There are several mechanics going on in the game, which begin with the class system. All the survivor characters are put into one of four role types, Leader, Warrior, Hunter and Support. The role itself has a general power, so for example, the Support role is made up of Ash Williams (The Evil Dead), Cheryl Williams, and Pablo Simon Bolivar, who will all be able to start the match with a healing item, and when these items are used, anyone close by will also gain a bit of armour and health, great for objectives that require the survivors to be together. Furthermore, a character has their own active and passive skills, with another two passive skills unlocked as that character levels up. There is a level-up system for each character to earn skill points to unlock new buffs in each character’s skill tree. These skill trees are the same for each class type, but there are not enough skill points to unlock all their buffs, so it is often worth building the skill tree around their unique passive and active abilities. This holds true for the demon side as well, with three demons to pick from, each one with their own passive and active skills and unique skill trees.
Fear is another major mechanic that is key for both demon and survivor players. The Evil Dead is a franchise, while having comical roots, is based on horror, and Saber Interactive have done well to incorporate this into its gameplay. Fear is how scared a character is. This builds up when attacked or when in the dark and away from teammates, the fewer teammates close by, the faster this will rise. If it manages to cross a threshold then it leaves them open to possession from the demon player, which requires the other remaining survivors to attack them until they return to their normal selves. Reducing fear is done by using matchsticks to light fires and hanging around the light until the fear is cleansed. Fear is bad, because not only does the vision become hindered by effects on the screen, but it also puts other survivors in harm’s way as they take damage from their once friendly player.
Stamina plays a crucial role, as sprinting and dodging are based on this. There is no block button, so the only way to evade an incoming hit is to dodge, but this cannot be abused due to stamina regeneration, so it can be hard to survive against a group of deadites without another person around you. The game highly promotes the survivors staying together, as it can be easy to be incapacitated when running around on your own.
While there are a lot of elements the game gets right, there are some shortcomings and annoyances that stop the game from being fantastic. Currently, there are only two maps in the game. They are of decent size, so it takes a while for them to start feeling tired, especially when the game adds random weather elements; snow, storm, darkness and sunset add atmospheric and visual changes to these maps, but a game like this will need more maps to give variety to the location. The developers have already announced a new map is coming based on Army of Darkness, so this should add a big change to the theme, as the two existing maps are similar in their content (forests, cabins, caves, etc.). I have trust in the developer to expand this game in many areas, as they did the same for World War Z, where that game had support for several years and received new maps, characters, weapons, and enemies.
There are some elements of the game which are clunky, which is a shame, as it spoils what is otherwise a mostly well-developed title. It can be easy to get stuck on pieces of land that are slightly raised. There is no jump button, with the only option to get over things like fences and ledges is with the context-sensitive button press but is only set to be active on certain obstacles. This also means that parts of the map can block routes, due to not being able to get up, but it is not always clear which ones are, because I have run up slopes that seem too steep, but had no issue getting to the top, but then others had awkward pieces sticking up which would easily be walkable over, but the game blocks the character model from doing it. Adding a jump would be the easiest way to get past this issue, but I guess there must be a reason why the developers decided not to, maybe to make it harder to get away from a demon since the demons are controlled by AI unless possessed.
Cars are also awkward to drive. They are extremely light and have no sense of weight and directional momentum to them. It is incredibly easy to get them stuck on the environment or flip them over. Thankfully, vehicles aren’t critical as they are only worth it to travel fast, but often it is better to avoid them as they create noise and alert the demon player. Occasionally players might want to use them to get out of danger or travel long distances when the demon already knows where you are, so there is no handicap for getting in one with all the survivors and driving off, just be prepared for a bumpy ride.
One thing to note is that online seems to work brilliantly, with crossplay between Sony and Microsoft consoles, and the PC platform, with the game available just on the Epic Game Store. Lag did not seem much of an issue, so the game felt smooth, even during the hectic moments. There have been a few glitches online, such as one moment where I could not be resurrected by a player, as I was stuck in what was a downed state, but my model was standing up as if the state change did not trigger after being helped off the ground. Regarding online, players decide if they want to play demon or survivor, and then the game will find a match for them, which seems to be extremely popular as match time waiting is always less than a minute.
This game is heavy on voice communication and teamwork. There is a ping system, but it is not perfect, missing what I feel are some key shortcuts, but you can kind of abuse the ones that exist. For example, I would say “Follow Me” when playing support to indicate I want everyone to be close to me so I can heal them. There is also no text chat, which I guess is due to crossplay and how awkward it is doing text chat on a console, but still, it should be there to add extra communication, because if no one can reply, they can at least see in the chat that I want to heal them. Currently, there are no reporting tools as well, so if someone stays away from the keyboard for the whole match or wants to cause issues for the rest of the players, there is no way to report this.
Using Unreal Engine helps Evil Dead: The Game look terrific. Remember this is a multiplayer title, but it looks good enough that I kind of want a single-player Evil Dead game within this engine. It captures the dark, dreaded feelings of the infested forests, light sources bright up dark areas to offer a false sense of security. Decapitating or dismembering enemies is met with satisfying visual impact and the rain of gore. It simply is a good-looking game that has captured that horror atmosphere. If it was not for the amusing banter between characters and the demons, then this could pass as a horror game.
The artists have done exceptional work at capturing the essence of the franchise, even in the menus, where things like the skill tree are full of artwork showing characters in various scenarios to represent the skill linked to it. Character models look brilliant, and each one is backed up by their voice actor from the films/show with their famous lines, or in the case of the deadites, random insults and noise that are ripped straight from the films. Everything has been carefully looked over to make sure this is upholding and representing the source material to the best they could, and the reward is fans get a groovy treat of a game and plenty of references.
Full of action and easily the best Evil Dead game to be released, Evil Dead: The Game makes for an exciting take on the 4 vs 1 asymmetrical horror that never has room for downtime. It could have easily been a licence cash-in, but the thought has been given to create a balanced demon vs survivor gameplay while offering insane fanservice for people who enjoy the source material. Both demon and survivor players have lots to do and get to participate in different playstyles, aggressive, defensive, and exploration, throughout a match so they are not completely locked in demon-hunts-survivor gameplay for the entirety. There is a diverse range of roles to get people to play survivors differently from their teammates, and this is backed up by being somewhat simple to pick up and play, yet having enough depth with the skill tree to experiment.
Evil Dead: The Game needs some polish to take it to the next level, as there are some areas that could do with some quality-of-life improvements, and to fix some of the weird physics. Currently, there is an issue with the game having limited content, which could factor in towards its longevity, but as it stands, Evil Dead: The Game is incredibly fun and is a well-crafted multiplayer idea that could jump from being good to great if they support this game in the future with patches and content updates. With the developers already proving to have a track record with supporting titles in the past and saying they plan to support this game for a long time, Evil Dead: The Game can only improve and get better with more content and mechanics that the developers will hopefully add to the game to take it to the next level and become THE asymmetrical 4 vs 1 horror game.