I’m sure I’m not alone in this, but I didn’t expect much going into Evil Dead: The Game. Blame it on the awful marketing that did a poor job of explaining exactly what it was aside from being a game based on the Evil Dead, or blame it on me having been burnt before by asymmetric licenced horror games released in rough shape, but I was pretty sure Ash was in for a rough adventure that even Bruce Campbell couldn’t save.
Thankfully, that’s not the case at all. Evil Dead: The Game has no right to be as good as it is and it’s easily one of the biggest surprises of 2022 so far. It’s possibly the best celebration of Evil Dead that there’s ever been, one that knows why the films are so beloved and translates that grooviness into a multiplayer experience that is equally funny and thrilling. If there’s one game to keep that eye growing out your shoulder on this year, it’s Evil Dead.
Although your first instinct might be to imagine this as some kind of Dead By Daylight clone with Evil Dead characters, it’s actually a very different beast - the only similarity is that it’s four players against one and both are scary as shit. Instead of having four characters that lightly waltz around waiting to be killed by a murderer, combat is a massive focus for the survivors as you’re constantly bombarded by deadites, skeletons, and demons that you need to fight off with a ton of different weapons.
This is where the first surprise of Evil Dead kicks in - it feels surprisingly great to play. Melee combat is crunchy and features flashy executions that make you feel like a badass, while gunplay is responsive and the best way to stay alive. I expected this to be where the game felt flat, similarly to how Friday the 13th just didn’t feel good to actually play, but it’s much better put together and less janky than even Dead By Daylight.
As the survivors run around the map completing objectives to try and win the match, another player gets to control evil itself and spawn demons, set traps, and possess enemies (and occasionally even scared players) to stop them. The demon may not have much presence on the field physically, but the ways they can mess with players and scare them is unlike anything I’ve seen in a horror game, and it’s bloody awesome on both sides.
It’s through this split between survivors and demons that Evil Dead: The Game manages to capture the tone and spirit of the series. Evil Dead has always been about standing right in the middle of horror and humour, something that's especially hard to get right in the gaming medium - it's usually one or the other. Here though, running through dark woods and getting jump-scared by zombies and possessed trees hits the scary part on the head, while having friends there and knowing it’s another player controlling the spirit and being a dick balances it out with a laugh. It’s the same when playing as the demon too - it’s tense watching the survivors get closer to beating you and taking down your army, but then you can possess their car to fuck with them and suddenly the deer head on the wall isn’t the only thing laughing. It perfectly marries what Evil Dead has stood for since its creation and those ‘oh my god how did this game turn out so well and be so thought-provoking?’ moments.
The formula of four players versus one omnipresent force is great enough on its own, but it’s wrapped up in so much reverence for Evil Dead that you can’t help but grin. Seeing all of the series’ most famous characters as both survivors and demons is great, but then seeing deeper cuts like Cheryl banging the cabin’s basement door or even just hearing Bruce Campbell’s quips (sometimes four of them at once like some kind of monkey paw wish) and it’s one of the most loving tributes to horror I’ve seen in some time.
Playing Evil Dead well past 2am reminded me of what it was like to play Left 4 Dead 2 all those years ago. That unique feeling of three random players beating the odds and kicking the ass of a progressively stronger force is something I haven’t felt in a long time, but it all came back to me in the best possible way. It’s just a cherry on top that it happens to be based on one of my favourite horror series too.
Evil Dead: The Game isn’t perfect. Its single-player content is lacking and frustrating, it’s got some jank here and there, and its reliance on having a healthy online community gives me the willies, but all of that is far outweighed by its love for the series, its unique mechanics, and its multiplayer action that stands shoulder to shoulder with the best of asymmetric horror. It also pushed me to finally watch Ash vs. Evil Dead, the greatest TV show of all time that we’re all morons for missing out on the first time around, so extra points for that.