'Evil Dead the Game' Review: Asymmetrical Multiplayer Done Right
Summoning a Groovy Demon-Slaying Experience
Summoning a Groovy Demon-Slaying Experience
Skepticism was high when Saber Interactive announced it was working on an Evil Dead video game. That skepticism grew when more details trickled out, revealing the game to be an asymmetrical horror multiplayer title. Fans of horror gaming know the genre well, and many are still bitter about the overall lackluster performance of Friday the 13th: The Video Game and the sudden (but unavoidable) abandonment of the property by developer Gun Media. However, Saber wasn't looking to make up for Friday's shortcomings. Instead, the team shifted gears from the slow-paced game of cat and mouse to focus on frantic melee combat set in the Evil Dead universe. As it turns out, it's exactly the formula needed to shift focus from Dead by Daylight a bit and introduce a new king into the asymmetrical space.
A Rocky but Salvaged Launch
Leading up to the game's launch, players could have started pools on whether the servers would work or not. It's a common issue in strictly multiplayer launches, and Evil Dead was no exception. Scheduled for a scattered launch on May 13, Saber moved the release up to a local launch at midnight. Unfortunately for Xbox owners, the change didn't click with the Microsoft Store, and many players were simply locked out until the originally scheduled time. Pair that with a few hiccups on the PS5, invalid codes on the Epic Launcher, and some problems with the Collector's Edition's exclusive Tom Savini design of Ash, and you have a rough morning for Saber's support team.
Surprisingly, save for the problem with the Microsoft Store, most glaring issues were resolved very quickly. By the morning of Friday the 13th, things were moving relatively smoothly.
Authentic Evil Dead
Saber Interactive pulled no punches when crafting a world that feels at home in the Evil Dead universe. Setting aside the roster of human and demon characters pulled straight from the TV series and Raimi movies, each map is ripe with Easter eggs and environments that carry the series' aesthetic well. Fans will revel in exploring the iconic cabin or taking the Delta for a ride, but Evil Dead the Game isn't just for a legacy audience. While it helps to appreciate the finer level of detail in character design, one-liners, and Professor Knowby's voiceover, being a fan isn't required to enjoy any aspect of the title.
Whether you're trying your hand at the limited single-player missions, tackling a match with AI allies and demons, teaming up with live players to bring down an AI-controlled Kandarian threat, or playing as either a human or Demon in the core multiplayer experience, Evil Dead the Game keeps players engaged. There's a surprising amount of content just in match-types alone, but tackling missions expands the offerings with unlockable customers and lore-expanding Knowby tapes.
This was clearly a passion project for the team at Saber, and they knew they were working in a delicate space with a very slim margin of error. Fans would not accept inauthenticity, and players wouldn't bother playing a broken or dull game. Everything had to be balanced, and for the most part, it is.
A Game of Choice
The main multiplayer mode of Evil Dead the Game is asymmetrical, where four human-controlled Survivors take on a human-controlled Kandarian demon. Evil Dead's roster of hero characters allowed Saber to dump quite a few out at launch, and though four of them are just variations of Ash, each one has a unique role to play.
Divided into Hunters, Leaders, Support, and Warriors, every character, from Ash vs. Evil Dead's elder Ash to arguably the weakest and least popular character in the game, Ed Getley (Evil Dead II), serves a purpose. It's up to the player to determine what that may be and how to use it against the three different Demon classes. For example, Henry the Red (Army of Darkness) can activate an ability that makes him invulnerable. This is crucial when brawling brutish demons or Evil Ash, who will ruthlessly get in your face and carve chunks out of your health. Hunters, on the other hand, can help chip away at the demon horde from afar and use abilities like a trap-disarming flashlight to keep others safe.
You'll need to spend time with each character to understand their nuances and how they handle combat, but it won't be long until you've found your go-to. Just for kicks, I have been maining Ed, and though his close game is weak, he can guide players through the map to avoid traps and use his crossbow efficiency to be a real one-shot nuisance to demons. Upgrading his Skill Tree has made him a formidable part of the team, partially because it's a rather large tree with many stat boosts to offer.
Saber clearly wanted players to be in control of their own destiny, and the customization obtainable by using Skill Points allows you to build a character that suits your playstyle. As Ed, I chose to beef up his attack range and damage and sunk a few points into trap-countering traits. Points can be removed at no penalty, so nothing impedes testing the waters and trying out different builds. There are also 25 points to be added to the skill tree and around 100 available slots, so you can tinker with your Survivors or Demons to change things up.
Whether you're protecting the pages of the Necronomicon or sawing through waves of Deadites, you'll need to have a finely tuned set of attributes that make you a formidable fighter because, really, neither side has it easy.
Deadite Slaying Fun
On one side of the brawl between good and evil you have Survivors equipped with little more than their wit and a new pair of underwear. The latter is vitally important because death in Evil Dead the Game can come swiftly.
Survivors are tasked with scouring a massive map for six objectives in total. It starts with locating three individual pages of a map left behind by Professor Knowby, which unveils the locations of pages of the Necronomicon and the Kandarian Dagger. Finally, with both collected, it's time to seek out the Dark Ones and banish them once and for all. It's the same progression with each match, but there is much at work to keep each round fresh and exciting.
As helpful as the bevy of sharp and blunt weapons is, survival and success hinge on a good balance of traits and abilities. An entire team of Hunters is less likely to best the Kandarian threat than a team of an armored Warrior, Gun-slinging Hunter, stat-boosting Leader, and health-conscious Support. Saber has so far done a great job creating a balanced roster of complimentary characters. Most surprising, though, is the fact that some physically and mentally weaker characters, like Ed, can annoy the Demon the most. Getley's special flashlight disarms traps, which can save other players a ton of grief, health, and ammo while exploring.
Working against all players is a persistent Fear meter that, when full, makes the character susceptible to possession. Losing control of a character at pivotal moments can be devastating, and human-controlled demons know to waste supplies if killing teammates isn't an option. It's a fascinating way of tipping the scales, countered only by a Leader's ability, scattered light, and indoor spaces. Be wary, though, as filtering indoors to reduce your Fear can make you prone to funnels of Deadites cornering you in tight spaces. As much fun as the combat is, you're not meant to mindlessly hack off Deadite limbs. The game isn't shy about just how underpowered you can be in certain situations, especially if you're up against Demon who knows how to work the map, set traps, efficiently use Infernal Energy, and best use their devastating abilities.
Battling Deadites ultimately becomes a song and dance, where you learn their attack patterns and base your actions on that. With blunt and bladed weapons that you'll find around the map, various options for ranged combat are at your disposal. One of the game's biggest shortcomings is with ranged combat, specifically on console versions where the aim assist is way too strong. I can't tell you how many headshots I missed because I was wrestling against the integrated Aim Assistant
From the Fruit Cellar
Henrietta, Evil Ash, and Eligos all bring something unique to the table. If used properly, they're all capable of taking on the four Survivors without issue. However, Eligos and Evil Ash are a bit easier to exploit, making them the player favorites so far. In the many matches I played, I faced off against Henrietta once. It's a shame because her attacks are hilarious, and she's a gruesome combattant. It's not that she's worse than the other two; she's just a little more difficult to perfect as her initially Deadites are mushy and her physical attacks on their own aren't the strongest. That's where maximizing stats and frequently utilizing the stronger Deadites comes into play.
Regardless of the Kandarian Demon you choose, your goal is simple - kill the Survivors. Scatterings of Infernal Energy give players the demonic power needed to riddle the map with Deadite traps, possessed trees, and sabotaged supply crates. You'll need to fine-tune your machinations to the randomized location of each item, which can be the most frustrating part of being a demon.
Early in the match, you don't have much to work off of. The Survivors spawn elsewhere, forcing you to go on a hunt, and even when you find them, you're limited in what you can do. However, land a few scares and set a few traps, and you'll be upgrading your Demon in no time. Upgrading on the fly can be tough, so it's best to try and lay out a plan before heading into battle. Do you sink your upgrade points into enhancing your traps? Or try to rush to unlock the boss spawn? It's all a matter of how your opponents are playing and what mood you're in.
Zipping around in the first-person view from the film series may sound like it should be fun, but it's a little jarring at times. You're not impervious to walls and environmental blockades, which is frustrating and can slow down progress. It is a genius mechanic that keeps the feel of the movies, but a little polish could go a long way to make it smoother and maybe more advantageous. For example, it would be nice to get some height and avoid obstacles at later levels.
Playing as a Kandarian Demon is definitely more involved than being a Survivor, and it can be overwhelming as you unlock new abilities and Deadite portals. Should you get the hang of it, you will be treated to a great twist on the asymmetrical multiplayer experience. One that makes you far deadlier than anything faced in Dead by Daylight or Friday the 13th. That is, if you know how to use what's at your disposal. Admittedly, my first two matches as a demon were dreadful. I struggled to understand Infernal Energy, where to find it, how best to spend it, and what to do with the pity levels the game bestowed upon me. My third match was a bit more fruitful, as I got the hang of Evil Ash's brutish skeletal brood.
As with any multiplayer title at launch, there are some balancing issues that will likely be rectified over time. Eligos is an absolute horror, and it's far too easy to stunlock survivors with his AoE and melee attacks. The trick is to keep your distance, but that's not always possible when Survivors are forced to circle up around the Kandarian Dagger and Lost Pages until they're collected. For Survivors, it's all about planning and hoping you have a team that knows when to save you from a deadly loop.
Buggy, but Worth It
I've run into a few bugs while playing, but only a small handful of them was game-breaking. Just as I was finishing this review, I ran into one where I was at no health, my fear bar was at 100%, and I couldn't pick up items or revive teammates. However, I could still attack Deadites, which zoomed right past me unless they were player-controlled, and I could vanquish the Dark Ones. Needless to say, some Henrietta player out there had a nice scream about the Ed that was cheating after rage-quitting when they realized they couldn't kill me.
For a launch title, though, I'm surprised by how smooth everything runs. I expected quite a bit of a mess, but Saber Interactive has kept everything tight and running well. Save for the five or so minute wait times to play as a Demon (annoying but expected in asymmetrical horror), the servers have been easy to join, and I've experienced very few disconnects. Hopefully, this can remain the status quo even through sizable updates.
From Stump to Chainsaw
Evil Dead the Game has plenty of room to grow, with the prospects of new characters, locations, and game modes being pretty high and driving future excitement. However, why rush it? As it stands, it's a stellar asymmetrical multiplayer with a few fixable shortcomings and some needed balancing.
Evil Dead excels in ways it probably shouldn't. It's haunting and beautiful, immersive and content-rich, well-executed and fun to play, and overall a game that both fans and series newcomers can really dig their chainsaws into.
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