Evil Dead: Hail To the King
Chainsaw in hand, Ash cuts through the fun. - Review By XianMrtyr
There isn't a gamer alive who hasn't seen Evil Dead 2. If you haven't seen it yet, go kill yourself (or rent it -- I don't care which, I just hate being wrong). Anyway, if you don't know it, here's the scoop: In the Evil Dead series, Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell created the single greatest video-game hero of all time, Ash. Only problem is, he's never actually been in a game before. I mean, he's got a chainsaw for a hand for god's sake! The closest we've come is in Duke Nukem 3D, which is either a pale homage or shallow rip-off of Ash's attitude. This might serve to explain the enthusiasm and excitement I felt when I heard THQ would be making an Evil Dead game, on that promised to be true to the feel of the movies.
In Evil Dead: Hail To the King, you play Ash, who has returned to the abandoned cabin of Evil Dead 2 in order to confront his fears and put the horrors he has seen behind him. Of course, he brings his girlfriend, and of course, things go bad. As in the first movie, the tape recording of the spell that frees the evil from the woods gets played, and Ash's girlfriend gets accosted (presumably by the dead, but there were some rednecks just up the road), and it's up to Ash to get her back, pummel the deadites, and banish the Evil for good (and, just like last time, he's goin' back to medieval-land along the way). The question at hand is, can a video game based on Evil Dead ever actually live up to the name? Read on and see.
This shot actually makes the game look decent. "Watch out! ...it's a trick."
You've probably already guessed the good: Bruce Campbell as Ash. Bruce is no novice at game voice-work: He's done voices for Pitfall 3-D, Tachyon: The Fringe, and Broken Helix. His opening dialogue is pure Ash, well acted and well delivered, but the writing feels almost like a verbatim rehash of Evil Dead 2. Actually, the sound effects in general are quite good in Evil Dead. The shotgun is meaty and brutal, and the chainsaw, weapon of weapons, has a great, bass-y rumble (if you have a rumble pack, the low, throbbing drum of the chainsaw vibrates your controller ever so slightly to nice effect). Additionally, the music, though sparse, is good. It isn't implemented very well throughout the game--sometimes, when a deadite springs up from the ground, you'll hear a brief (and startling) orchestra hit, but then the music fades and stops, taking the suspense with it.
I'm running out of Good already. Bad sign....Let's see, the backgrounds set the mood pretty well, capturing the creepiness of the forest nicely. They're all pre-rendered, which is a little disappointing, but the game compensates nicely by using video loops to show shifting shadows and skeletal branches grasping out of the woods. It's a good effect, considering that prerendered backgrounds often look flat and lifeless. One small problem, though--the pre-rendered backgrounds are all fairly low quality. They seem to be identical to the PlayStation version's backgrounds, right down to the resolution. You won't really notice on a regular TV, but if you have a VGA converter, you'll be sorely disappointed. Other nice graphical details do enhance the overall atmosphere of the game; as you walk around, blood and gore drip off of Ash's chainsaw, leaving a hideous trail behind him as he walks. More of these nice, small touches, and maybe I could have ignored the glaring gameplay problems that plague this game to the ends of the earth.
If you hadn't guessed by now, there's a lot of Bad about this game. This game is savagely unfun. Playing it for any length of time is a grueling, unpleasant experience. I can't stress this enough. Most of the problems come directly from ripping off the entire play mechanics of Resident Evil, and not even getting them right. First of all, the controls are pure Resident Evil: slow, cumbersome, and poorly suited to the amount of turning your going to have to do when those deadites start popping up out of the ground. A simple quick-turn option would have been nice (an innovation from the later RE games), but these stick fast to the clumsy controls of the first game. I wouldn't mind this so much if the game came out maybe 4 years ago, and had nothing to do with Evil Dead, but it seems...disrespectful to make a license like Evil Dead into something so derivative as a Resident Evil clone.
Chainsaw fatalities are suitably gory and over the top.
This control scheme worked in Resident Evil, but it totally fails in Evil Dead. In RE, when you killed a creature, when you cleared out a room, that was it -- you could safely walk around at a leisurely pace. In Evil Dead, the deadites are constantly respawning, so you will face a constant swarm of them simply trying to cross the screen. Often, they will dive into the ground, reappearing behind you; there's no way you can turn around fast enough to fight, and even if you could run away, they'll be waiting right where you left the screen when you come back. Combat is laughably frustrating; as you fight a deadite, another one will rise up behind you. You'll slowly turn around to deal with him after killing the first, only to have another one spawn behind you again. I tried running from battle in a vain attempt to get further in the game, only to find either that I've become stuck or blocked by the deadites, or that some bad collision detection has me trapped against an invisible barrier in the background.
Another drawback to this constant flow of enemies is the lack of ammunition. You'll run out of gasoline (needed to fuel the chainsaw), or shotgun shells, or bullets, and you'll be left with nothing but a hand axe or an unpowered chainsaw to protect yourself. These fights usually come down to attrition; you trade blows with your enemy, and you hope he dies first. When the creature's health drops to a certain point, the monsters turn tail and run, or vanish into the ground. Then they pop up for a second, realize that their health is low, and vanish back into the ground, or run away. Then they do this again. And again. That is about the extent of the creature AI. Fortunately, every monster seems to drop a health pack of some kind, so after trading blows with a creature, you can usually restore your health before turning to fight the next creepy. It seems like a poor substitute for game balance, though, to throw infinite monsters at a player and then make each creature drop health items to make up for the damage you receive in fighting them.
Next: More Bad and The Final Word