Once upon a time, a group of friends from Michigan set out to make a horror movie. After enduring frigid conditions, cast and crew leaving the project, and other dangers, they released their horror movie, The Evil Dead, on unsuspecting audiences across America. Filled with scares, laughs, and gore, The Evil Dead was relentless, but also entertaining. It helped launch the career of its director, Sam Raimi, and its star, Bruce Campbell. Evil Dead spawned sequels, a remake, and merchandise, including video games. Making an Evil Dead game seems like a no-brainer; after all, the films influenced popular shooters like Doom and Duke Nukem in terms of aesthetics and character personality. With the release of Evil Dead: The Game, let’s revisit the Evil Dead games to see how groovy they are.
The Evil Dead (Commodore 64)
The first stab came in the form of this Commodore 64 game based on the first movie. This top-down experience lets you control Ash, who must defend the cabin from monsters. He needs to survive till dawn if he is to destroy the Book of the Dead.
The most impressive aspect of The Evil Dead is how they tried adapting the original for something as primitive as the Commodore 64. The graphics may be simplistic, but your imagination fills in the gaps the game can’t render. It can be tense juggling your resources and patrolling the cabin for invading enemies. However, once you destroy the Book of the Dead, that’s it. The Evil Dead is fine if forgettable.
Evil Dead: Hail to the King (PlayStation, Dreamcast)
It would be 15 years until publisher THQ decided to take a crack at the horror franchise, producing not one but three games. Evil Dead: Hail to the King picks up a few years after Army of Darkness. Haunted by nightmares of the past, Ash Williams and his girlfriend Jenny return to the cabin, but in doing so, they reawaken the evil Ash thought he had destroyed. Developer Heavy Iron Studios takes Evil Dead and merges it with Resident Evil. Tank controls? Check. Spooky pre-rendered backgrounds? Check. Bottomless inventory crates that you use to store items? Check. It has the ingredients, but none of the flavor.
The biggest issue is the respawning enemies. Kill one Deadite, another appears in its place. It becomes a hassle making progress because of the respawning enemies. They may drop items, but it’s a meager reward for all the resources wasted. The rest of the game is nothing special. The story is a greatest hits retread where Ash encounters familiar faces and gets into familiar situations, like traveling back in time to the Middle Ages. It’s a shame Hail to the King is so mediocre because a survival-horror Evil Dead game sounds great. Sadly, this game is about as entertaining as a primitive screwhead.
Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick (PlayStation 2, Xbox)
Two years after Hail to the King came Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick. Development duties went from Heavy Iron Studios to State of Emergency developers VIS Entertainment. In this game, Ash Williams must stop yet another Deadite invasion after a local TV personality plays the Necronomicon tapes on live TV. Eschewing the survival horror trappings, the sequel is an action-adventure romp. Its also leagues better than its predecessor. The action is faster, and the enemy count is higher. As Ash saves his hometown, he slays dozens of Deadites with a vast arsenal.
Besides the classic chainsaw and boomstick combo, Ash uses pistols, swords, flamethrowers, and Gatling guns. The expansive roster provides a lot of toys to play with. A magic system lets you cast spells to protect yourself or solve puzzles. The story sees Ash time travel to colonial and Civil War-era Michigan, and it’s neat how his actions during one time period affects the other. This game may be an improvement, but there are issues. The non-linear level design sometimes makes it unclear where you are supposed to go. The enemies are relentless. No matter where you go, enemies will follow. Lastly, the boss fights are a joke. Each boss has one weakness and once you find said weakness, you rinse and repeat until the boss is defeated.
Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick is enjoyable. It’s got problems, but its creativity shines through. Plus, you mow down demons with chainsaws, flamethrowers, and Gatling guns. The Doom Slayer would be proud.
Evil Dead: Regeneration (PlayStation 2, Xbox, PC)
The last game in the unofficial THQ trilogy, Evil Dead: Regeneration was developed by Cranky Pants Games. Whereas the previous two games were sequels to Army of Darkness, Evil Dead: Regeneration is a “What If?” story where Ash is committed to an insane asylum instead of traveling to medieval times. Keeping the trend of changing gameplay styles, the game is a hack and slash cut from the Devil May Cry cloth. Ash unleashes combos and juggles with his chainsaw and boomstick, but he’s not alone. Tagging along is Sam, a half-human/half-Deadite with the voice of an Italian gangster and the clumsiness of the Three Stooges.
The banter between the two is hilarious. Ash’s cockiness mixes well with Sam’s buffoonery. Cranky Pants Games does an excellent job recreating the look and feel of the films, right down to the unique camera angles. The hack and slash gameplay is fun if formulaic. Ash controls great and Sam is integrated well into the action. Ash can punt him onto enemies or possess him to solve puzzles. Plus, the game encourages you to abuse Sam as much as you want. He’s immortal, so dying isn’t a huge setback for Sam.
While the combat is more refined and polished, it lacks the creative spark A Fistful of Boomstick had. The weapon roster is smaller and some gadgets, like the grappling hook, break enemy encounters. Of the three titles produced by THQ, Evil Dead: Regeneration is the best from a technical perspective, while Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick’s gameplay gives it the edge.
Revisiting the Evil Dead Games – Conclusion
Evil Dead: Regeneration was the last console Evil Dead game for many years. Aside from the occasional mobile game or rumored Mortal Kombat appearance, the series shied away from systems. That is, until Evil Dead: The Game in 2022. Touted as the definitive Evil Dead video game, the multiplayer title features heroes and villains from across the franchise. The Evil Dead games mirror the films they’re based on. They may not have cutting-edge graphics or innovative gameplay, but they make up for their shortcomings with lots of charm and ingenuity. Plus, they gave fans more adventures with Ash Williams during a time when the franchise’s future was up in the air.