The Evil Dead series just hasn’t had much luck in its crossover from everyone’s favorite B-movie to video games. Let’s face it, Hail to the King was abysmal and Fist Full of Boomstick was a tad better but that’s just as good as saying Paris Hilton has more talent than the Spice Girls. Is the third time a charm for the franchise? In essence, yes - but before you get your hopes up, Evil Dead: Regeneration isn’t a masterpiece by any means. It’s got a ton of potential going for it, but the experience is marred by some glaring bugs that may cause your hair to turn white out of rage and/or fear. Get it? I made a movie reference. Go me.
Regeneration seems to be a “what if…” tale that takes place after Evil Dead II, assuming that Army of Darkness never really happened. Then again, the movies were never too big on continuity in the first place. The story might sound familiar to some of you. The game starts with a man named Ash who is trapped in a cabin out in the middle of nowhere. To make matters worse, Ash is being stalked by the walking dead, which the series refers to as “deadites”. The cause of all of this madness is the Necronomicon, or the book of the dead to the layman, which not only possesses the power to bring back the dead, but can put an end to humanity all together.
Ash manages to blast his way out of the cabin, but he’s not in the clear yet. Accused of mass murder and only having his outlandish alibi to go on, he’s thrown into the Sunny Meadows insane asylum run by a man named Dr. Vigo.
It turns out the doctor has his own devious plans for the Necronomicon and after screwing up a spell, all hell breaks loose again. Ash, once again in the face of danger, escapes the asylum and gets teamed up with a half-human, half-deadite midget named Sam. From there, they set out to close up the evil portals that Dr. Vigo opened and put an end to his undead tomfoolery for good.
While fans of the series may scoff at the addition of a loud-mouthed sidekick for Ash, he actually fits into the Evil Dead lore pretty well and goes to show the trouble that can be caused by teaming two loud mouths together to accomplish a common goal. Sam is more than a mere sidekick, however, since Ash is allowed to take out his frustrations by kicking him around to accomplish goals. Sam can be kicked at enemies to take them off guard and allow Ash to take them out or Sam will just take care of them himself. There are also special platforms placed in levels that will allow Ash to possess Sam and take control of him to get to places that Ash can’t reach. While in control of Sam, you can take advantage of his deadite powers by hurling paralyzing balls of energy at enemies and jumping on their shoulders and pulling their heads off. He can even get the drop on larger deadites and ride on them to take out barriers and waves of smaller enemies. You’re free to abuse Sam as much as you’d like since he’s able to return from the dead after a few seconds no matter how bad you mess him up, which is great because it’s pretty funny to see what kind of situations you can get him into. While Sam is AI controlled, he does a decent job of taking care of himself and you. You might even find him saving your life once in a while. Either way, Sam makes a great companion and his chemistry with Ash is almost priceless.
Of course, Ash can’t take on the forces of the dead unarmed and luckily there’s a few new weapons to pick up. Since Ash is missing a hand, he’s able to attach weapons onto his nub that you can perform melee attacks with. Of course the trademark chainsaw is here, but you can also pick up a flame thrower and a harpoon gun that you can spear enemies with and pull them towards you for a well deserved blast to the face. You’ll find a good variety of guns like hand guns, the classic shotgun, and a flare gun. The gameplay is a little similar to Devil May Cry to where you can use combos of melee and ranged attacks. You’ll even be able to juggle deadites in the air with your guns or blast them off of your harpoon and catch them with it again in mid air. There’s a targeting system in place here which is helpful in earlier levels, but starts to show its limits later in the game when you have to be fast with it. Sometimes it’s too slow to move to the next target or just doesn’t switch to the correct target at all. Given the fast paced escort missions you’ll be doing later on, targeting can only get frustrating after a while. When enemies take a certain amount of damage, they’ll get a green aura which will allow Ash to perform a variety of suave finishing moves like a behind-the-back shotgun blast or a kick to the junk followed by a blast to the face. The finishes are context sensitive and Ash will perform different ones depending on if the enemy is lying on the ground or standing, but unfortunately there’s not a very good variety of them nor do they change based off of the weapons you’re carrying.
Later in the game, Ash will be able to use his rage to transform into an evil version of himself and wreak havoc on everything that gets in his way. How long this transformation lasts depends on a rage meter that fills when you collect rage orbs that are dropped by enemies. You’re not totally invincible in this form and you’ll actually lose a little bit of life during the transformation, but it’s great if you need to get an upper hand during a boss battle.
Levels are equal parts combat and puzzle solving. You’ll find yourself fighting through a couple rooms of enemies like skeletons, zombies, and some outlandish giant and flying creatures, then have to solve a puzzle or transform into Sam and venture off to find a way to let Ash proceed. There will also be some scenarios where you’ll come across a huge one-eyed monster guarding a portal that you’ll have to feed spirits before you can pass. These turn out to be some of the most frustrating parts of the game since the spirit will have to possess Sam and you’ll have to protect him while he runs back to the portal monster, because if he gets killed, you’ll have to venture back to the spirit egg and get him repossessed again. Once possessed by a spirit, the once smart Sam becomes dumb as bricks and runs off at full speed, with you running to catch up to him to make sure he doesn’t get killed. While he’ll backtrack most of the time or leave behind glowing footprints, a lot of times you’ll totally lose track of him while you’re taking care of enemies in pursuit. This puts you into the predicament of looking for him while he’s getting killed somewhere else. Since Sam comes back from the dead right away, you can get right back to repossessing him as opposed to having to restart from a save point or reload your game. Thank god for the small things.
Of course, everything’s not candy canes and gumdrops here. There are some glaring technical issues that get in the way, and in some cases, can break the game and force you to restart a level. A few key scripted events will break and cause you to be trapped in a level with nowhere to go until you restart and hope that it doesn’t happen again. One example was a part where you have to use the harpoon gun on a mine cart to move it and reveal a platform to transform into Sam. Twice in a row it only moved halfway only to work on the third attempt. It almost makes you scared to save at any of the save points in fear that you might eventually save a broken level, though from what I’ve read that has yet to happen.
There are a good variety of environments to go through like caves, ghost towns, forests, and shipyards. They’re all decent sizes and you never really get sick of them. You’ll start to notice certain patterns in puzzle solving and action sequences after investing a few hours into the game and it all becomes second nature since the developers seemed to repeat a few of the puzzles, just with slight variations. Though there are different combos and moves to perform, you’ll find that sticking to basic combos will get you through the toughest situations without a problem.
Visually, Evil Dead: Regeneration is decent. Ash is designed well and while he doesn’t look totally realistic, he seems to have a cartoony and over exaggerated look to him that really helps during some of the funnier moments of the game. All of the secondary characters look great as well from Dr. Vigo to Professor Knowby, who fans will remember from the movies, who acts as your spiritual guide (ha, get it?). Sam pulls off a half-human, half-deadite really well and while you may not like him at first, he’ll grow on you as him and Ash exchange insults and quips.
A lot of the effects from the movie are carried over here. You’ll have the endless plumes of blood coming out of objects (which Ash doesn’t absorb a drop, another series staple) and a scene taken straight out of Evil Dead II with the possessed cabin laughing at him.
The same technical issues carry over to the visuals as well. During cutscenes, the video will sometimes wig out and cause a bunch of colored blocks to appear onscreen. There are also issues with lockups after testing on two machines as well as the “blue hell” issue where the textures fail to load. Not that the game is strife with these issues, but they do happen from time to time. Ironically, clipping issues are sparse.
If there’s any reason to get this game, it has to be for the voice acting by the always brilliant Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi as Sam. While you’re walking around and exploring, Sam is always talking and Ash is always telling him to shut up in different ways. Some of these exchanges will make you laugh out loud due to their randomness and a lot of them sound ad-libbed, making them even funnier. There’s nothing like walking through a creepy mine shaft and all of a sudden Sam comes out of left field with “did I ever tell you that I wet the bed as a kid?” The best part is that these exchanges aren’t repeated often and even at the end of the game, you’ll be hearing new material from both characters. The best way to put it is that they have a Shrek-Donkey relationship and it’s pulled of flawlessly.
The deadites will also have lines of dialog with varying degrees of quality. Some of them sound like they were voiced by people around the studio and don’t make the characters seem like the minions of evil they’re portrayed to be.
The soundtrack does a great job of setting the mood and you’ll even get different music while in possession of Sam which fits in quite well with his gameplay despite being totally different from the rest of the game.
While it didn’t have much to contend against, Evil Dead: Regeneration is definitely the best game in the franchise. Any casual fan or gamer might want to rent this one first since they may be put off by the technical issues. On the other hand, any fan of the movies owes it to themselves to get a decent Evil Dead game; at $19.99 the price is right. Especially when you take into consideration that this could be the last Bruce Campbell adaptation of Ash with the impending Evil Dead remake coming out next year with Ashton Kutcher. Yeah, that will be fun.
- Brad Hicks (Dr. Swank), SwankWorld Media