The asymmetrical format of pitting a group of survivors against a playable opposition has pretty much taken the gaming (and gayming) world by storm in recent years and while Evil Dead the Game arguably needs a bit more polish to stand toe-to-toe against the cult classic Dead by Daylight, it cleverly doubles down on its B-movie source material to create a truly unique and charming experience that stands as the most faithful asymmetrical horror game to date!
Upon opening the character select you’ll notice that Ash makes up the bulk of the roster with various iterations across his deadite slaying career. Each version of Ash covers one of the 4 possible classes you can choose from: Leader (Who’s more of an all-rounder type with an Aura to buff nearby teammates), Warrior (The heavy hitting Melee class and oftentimes Tank), Hunter (The ranged attacker and scout) and Support (The healer and backpack of the team). While only 2-3 extra characters exist currently for each role (Of which some need to be unlocked via the episodic missions mode), they all play in their own fashion with unique skills and perks that lend themselves to being better at certain things regardless. For example, Pablo despite being a support class who really should stay close to his teammates has the ability to go unseen by demon vision and is therefore best suited to looting and scoping out objectives… for as long as you can manage his fear level. As for the Demon players, you have the choice between 3 of the series’ most iconic and notable hellspawn: Henrietta, Eligos and Evil Ash once again with their own characteristics and specialisations.
Evil Dead the Game much like Dead By Daylight doesn’t feel like the most welcoming for new players however. Every character starts with only their base skill unlocked and has limited survivability and team synergy because of it. It takes a substantial amount of time and effort through playing online in the PvP mode (Which as it stands is the only mode to offer an acceptable rate of XP gain) before each character reaches their full and game changing potential – allowing you to experiment with builds in their skill trees. It’s an unfortunate reality that many players are likely to have checked out before reaching high level and are able to enjoy the game on the balanced playing field it deserves to be evaluated on.
Matches are composed of 3 stages as the voice over narration of Raymond Knowby (the man who finds the book of the dead and summons the Kandarian Demon) explains your objective: Find map pieces, secure both the Lost Pages of the Necronomicon Ex-mortis and the Kandarian Dagger in a King of the Hill style standoff and lastly, face the Dark Ones as you seal them back into the book and save mankind. It’s a unique style of pacing that gives each side multiple attempts to turn the tide and secure your supremacy over the more conventional gameplay of being plonked onto a map with the singular objective to escape or kill the opposition.
It’s fairly typical of the asymmetrical format to say that planning and preparation doesn’t always pay off and Evil Dead the Game is no different. Playing as either the Demon or the Survivors can get cut short by poor teamwork or high-grade supply chests that sky rocket the team’s potential beyond the Demon’s ability to catch up. Early game, Demons have to build and spend infernal energy by scaring the survivors with traps, skills or by collecting orbs to increase their threat level for stronger upgrades and skills like possession and summoning portals for their demonic army. What this means is that you spend a lot of time at the beginning of the match racing to activate nodes and hope you find the survivors to start the real match.
With what feels like rushing hysterically after traps and orbs to farm threat levels, the Survivors also spend a good 5 to 10mins (If the demon player doesn’t find you first) of the early match looting and searching for supply crates containing Pink F which is used to upgrade skills all the while managing their fear levels by lighting fires or staying in well-lit areas so as not to give away your position. The problem is that doing either of these tasks take a considerable amount of time and it doesn’t always bear fruit leading to plenty of matches spent disproportionately preparing instead of completing objectives or in actual opposition of the enemy.
Playing solo and with random players highlights the need for a more heavy-handed approach to teaching players how to play. Call outs for supplies or prodding the team to stay focused on the objectives remain mostly ignored and any attempt to share your supplies results in either someone else frustratingly taking it for themselves or goes unnoticed, there’s only so much you can flicker your flashlight at someone before they think you’re just being annoying for the sake of it. While it’s only a problem for people who play alone and without a mic, it is one that comes up frequently enough to signal a bigger issue that the player base has not gotten to grips with what is expected of them when playing as certain classes. It happens a little too often that the support characters don’t/can’t heal the team because the Warrior has all of the amulets and Shemp’s Cola. A humble Pablo main begs you to pay attention to call outs and requests.
With this in mind much like any game of its ilk, Evil Dead the Game is best enjoyed with friends and with Crossplay slowly and joyously becoming an industry norm for multiplayer games, it’s easier than ever. Unfortunately, even with Crossplay enabled, matchmaking as a survivor can take somewhere between 5 and 10mins outside of the peak hours and does not bode well for the player base… or lack of it. It has been noted by the developer though and they are looking for ways to improve the queue times for survivors – “In the last patch, we merged both the West and East coast players and deployed Central-based servers. We saw improved queues at that time. However, recently we’ve seen long queues for survivors and we’re actively looking for ways to help decrease the amount of time you spend in the queue.” – taken from Saber Interactive’s Reddit
It’s a breath of fresh air that the survivors are able to fight back so directly (and effectively) in a game like this. With a selection of looted weaponry from Chainsaws, maces, sawed-off shotguns and explosive crossbows there’s room for everyone on the team to find something they feel comfortable with and if they don’t… the simple ping system means you can always call out to the team for things you need and highlight items for your allies… again, when they pay attention to it.
As far as the combat goes, while it is something you can get used to, overlook and learn to mitigate, the third-person perspective falls prey to mechanics that rely on invulnerability states and stun locking the opposition into some frustratingly helpless situations that feels grossly unfair at times. Melee attacks (while flashy with a selection of cinematic finishers and invincibility frames) have some lengthy recovery and start-up animations that at the same time stop you from spamming your attacks for a competitive balance, but also leaves the player angrily willing their character to finish the animation so they can retarget the camera. With this in mind, it’s no wonder that Hunter characters like Evil Dead 2 Ash and Kelly have become top tier favourites for any team with their ability to deal incredible damage at range and dodge endlessly for a short time. Henry the Red from the recent Army of Darkness update has also become a popular choice for his invincibility skill.
All demon units have what is called a balance bar which dictates how much damage they can take before they are stunned. The issue is, if all the Survivors gang up on one unit (Even if you take control of them via possession) then there’s little you can do before that balance bar hits 0 - ultimately wasting your infernal energy on the possession and/or boss unit that takes 2mins to ready up again. As such, Demon players must rely on their ability to pick off wayward survivors and keep them away from the team via possession and pressuring them with an endless slew of enemy units while survivors attempt to do the exact opposite and stick together or, trust in their ability to sew chaos and confusion in the demon player i.e. fulfilling multiple objectives at once like activating both the retrieval of the Lost Pages and the Kandarian Dagger (After all, the demon can’t assault both points simultaneously). Killing a survivor frustratingly isn’t the end for that player either, Altars are dotted around the maps and can be used to revive dead team members an unlimited number of times for as long as the living players can retrieve the soul of their dead teammates unless, you’ve triggered the final stage of the match in which case you die instantly without a chance for revival.
You’d be led to believe that I didn’t have the best time with Evil Dead however, it couldn’t be further from the truth. After hitting the high levels and finding a build I was happy with I had an absolute blast with the PvP for both sides. There’s a lot to love, it simply takes a lot to get there.
Being able to visit places from the franchise like the Knowby cabin while being heckled by Henrietta from the locked cellar is morbidly nostalgic – adding to the overall experience of seeing the franchise through the interactive lens of video games. Collecting iconic weapons and finding Easter eggs as the corny one-liners keep coming in the true dark comedy brand the series has come to be known and loved for was a delight. The overall design and character of Evil Dead the Game is true to its roots and having the ever-loyal Bruce Campbell alongside others to voice their virtual counterparts makes the experience all that more special plus, Saber Interactive seem to be genuinely open to hearing from their player base to make it the best game it can be.
I’m looking forward to seeing what comes next for Evil Dead the Game through updates and DLC because again, there is something special here for fans and newcomers alike which shows the industry that it is possible to be faithful to a franchise while still making something that is able to stand apart from its source material without resorting to artistic liberties.