As far as the movies go, The Evil Dead series has a track record of being way better than it has any right to be, low-budget warts and all – and Evil Dead: The Game now finds itself squarely in that same boat. While it’s filled with things that irritate me, like slight inclines that my wimpy survivor was helpless to scale, finicky command prompts, and more, it also overwhelmingly succeeds at being a balanced, compelling battle of wits and reflexes that has kept my attention after more than 20 hours – and that’s no small task. Aside from the clunkiness, playing as a survivor absolutely nails the horror movie feel of working with a group to overcome an overwhelming evil threat, while playing as the menacing demon is a diabolically fun misadventure that fulfills the villainous mastermind fantasy.
Yes, Evil Dead: The Game is an asymmetrical multiplayer game in the same vein of the likes of Dead by Daylight and Friday the 13th, but here it’s presented with a goofy, Bruce Campbell-smothered flair that’s every bit as weird and campy as the cult-classic movies. Mechanically, there’s not much original about it: each match, four playable survivors work as a team to avoid being maimed long enough to perform a ritual that banishes all evil from the land, all while enduring the true horror that is the map’s geometry. At the same time, one evil player does everything they can to kill the survivors using an army of undead soldiers and a bag of dastardly tricks so wickedly satisfying it’s hard to feel bad for the poor souls succumbing to your terrible power. That game of cat and mouse is an absolute blast no matter what side you’re on, even when its rough edges make me scream louder than any jump scare.
It is somewhat distinct from its genre peers in that the humans are capable of defending themselves. Playing as a survivor feels like a familiar, squad-based, third-person shooter that borrows a lot from the battle royale style in which you’re running around as a squad looking for loot and killing enemies as you steadily power up. Only here, your goal isn’t just survival, but completing objectives like finding map pieces and defending areas to claim relics needed in the purification ritual. With plenty of melee and ranged weapons to find and 13 characters to choose from, each with their own unique abilities and skill trees to be leveled up, its progression system got its hooks into me early with all the different ways things can play out. For example, the Hunter class characters excel at using ranged weapons and have abilities that make them a major thorn in the side of the demon player, like one particularly awesome character that can exorcise the demon from bodies they’ve possessed. Alternatively, you might want to play as a Leader class character like the hilarious Lord Arthur, an old-timey knight who swings a sword around and can buff the team with effects that make them more lethal in combat.
The worst part about playing as a survivor, though, is that you’re far more prone to experience some of Evil Dead’s signature clunkiness when moving around the map. There’s no jump button to be found and environments are often uneven, meaning you’ll find yourself stuck on a tiny rock or other minor obstruction all the time – including the worst possible times, such as when a demon is trying to rip your face off. Sometimes a prompt will allow you to climb over small obstacles, but more often than not you’ll have to walk all the way around even something as trivial as a low hedge wall. The demon, meanwhile, can fly over all of that, making the glitches as asymmetrical as the gameplay design.
Aside from being locked in a life-or-death battle with small pebbles, you’ll also struggle with the lack of a lock-on system when fighting undead mobs, finicky interaction prompts to do things like light a campfire or revive a fallen teammate that often doesn’t register during crucial moments, your character getting frozen in place for several seconds for no foreseeable reason, and more. Probably my biggest pet peeve though, is the really obnoxious safe zone system, which restricts your squad to an increasingly confined area as the end of the match approaches. If you’ve played a battle royale game before you’ll be familiar with the concept, but Evil Dead implements it in the worst possible way by making the safe zone changes unpredictable, almost instantly lethal if you’re caught outside the boundaries, and incredibly inconsistent. I’ve had entire matches mucked up as my team completed an objective, only for the safe zone to jump over to another part of the map a few seconds later, catching half the team in an unavoidable death zone and ending any hope of claiming victory. That’s just downright frustrating.
Luckily, the experience as one of the three playable demons has fewer sticking points, mostly because you play as a floating orb of evil that can quickly hover across the map and mess with the survivors with godlike powers, and that’s an objective that never stops being amusing. That’s due in large part to how many ways Evil Dead lets you accomplish that devious goal: you can summon hordes of computer-controlled enemies for the survivors to fight, set traps that spawn enemies and increase their fear when sprung, or even possess undead characters to control them directly, making them even stronger and more difficult to deal with.
Not only that, but by scaring the human team using traps or demonic abilities, and by separating them from one another, you gain the ability to possess the survivors themselves for a limited time, turning them against their own allies, which can be absolutely devastating. Another amusing way to win is by simply wasting the survivors’ time by doing things like possessing the car they’re driving and steering it off a cliff so they have to spend valuable time wandering around on foot, or by possessing a tree and swatting humans in the face while they’re trying to rest at a campfire. All the while you’re leveling up and gaining stronger and stronger demonic abilities until only the most resolute and skillful players have any hope of defeating you, and it just feels so delightfully evil. I usually prefer to be on the survivors’ side in this style of game rather than face their united attempts to kill me as the monster, but Evil Dead captured my heart almost instantly – it’s easily the best monster mode I’ve seen.
Of course, once you’ve gotten a handle on both the survivor and demon modes, there isn’t a ton left to do aside from grinding for XP and leveling up your characters. And although I easily lost myself in over 25 hours of matches, the package does feel a bit light on content in some regards, especially where maps are concerned. There are only two, and although they’re both fairly large and each has a few interesting areas, after a dozen or so matches I started to see a lot of the same places over and over, and that increasingly wore down Evil Dead’s novelty the longer I played. I mean, you can only hang out at a derelict doll factory so many times before you start feeling like you’ve seen all a derelict doll factory has to offer and wish you could visit some other types of failed businesses, ya know?
Evil Dead: The Game also offers some single-player missions, which are required to unlock some of the best characters, including Pablo from Ash vs. The Evil Dead or the legendary King Arthur himself, but unfortunately these missions are without a doubt the worst part of the package. While they try to serve as palette cleansers to the multiplayer-centric experience, they end up being tedious slogs through the same map areas found in multiplayer where you complete a few fetch quests, fight a couple enemies, and receive snippets of story through still images that pop up to interrupt your playtime. Not only are they completely uninspired, but they also don’t have checkpoints – so you can die and lose 20 minutes of progress and have to do it all over again.
And because you’re playing alone as a survivor in a mode that feels like it was tacked on, the issues with polish are amplified exponentially, including the aforementioned horrible safe zones feature which ruined multiple runs by relocating safety zones to different parts of the map with no warning and instantly killed me. They even have the audacity to try stealth mechanics in one of the missions, which went about as well as you’d expect, and made me wonder if the unlockable characters were worth the torment. The good news is that there are only five missions and once you finish them you never have to do them again, but getting through them all is a pretty painful experience.