What is that? A one-on-one multiplayer horror show in the Evil Dead universe.
Expect to pay: $40
Developer: Interactive Saber
Editor: Interactive Saber
Reviewed on: Windows 10, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2070 Super, 3.00GHz Intel Core i7-9700, 16GB RAM
Multiplayer? Four survivors against one killer
Link: Official site (opens in a new tab)
The idea of an “Evil Dead video game” has a distinct mid-2000s flavor. B-movie franchises have traditionally been fresh meat for enterprising publishers and developers looking to make a quick buck, that is to say, I didn’t rush into Ash’s latest adventure with high expectations. The Evil Dead is a low culture classic, and given the brutality with which its contemporaries were treated by the video game industry (ghost hunters, Rambo, The Sopranos), I belted myself out for another botched gouging. What I didn’t expect was Evil Dead to be the best multiplayer horror experience since at least Dead By Daylight. The game is absolutely exhilarating – one of the true left-field sleepers of 2022 – and I let it swallow my soul with impatience.
Saber Interactive, the studio behind Evil Dead, clearly took inspiration from Dead By Daylight for its primary inspiration. Four players are chosen as survivors – all drawn from the boomstick-wielding zombie slayers of the movies – and a fifth takes control of an invisible demon that zooms across the map, opening portals to hell, hoping to extinguish all living beings. The good guys must go through a haunted forest and find a series of artifacts to rout the forces of evil within 30 minutes. The Dungeon Master tries to neutralize the party before this can be accomplished.
This all culminates in a final endgame sequence where, if the demon player has yet to defeat the protagonists, they will have a hectic chance of destroying the excavated Necronomicon before being banished to the underworld. If you’re a DBD veteran, you already know the basic beats here. Survivors will spend a lot of time looting, as wielding extra ammo, weapons, and health potions isolates them from the onslaught. During this time, the evil player will accumulate experience points and equip a formation of talents in order to melt through these defenses.
The difference is that Dead By Daylight takes the form of a simple manhunt, more Jason than Freddy. You pursue humans with a variety of bespoke murderers and toss their battered carcasses on hooks before hunting more fresh blood. The only challenge is how effectively you can corner your victims. Evil Dead, on the other hand, puts you in control of an entire battalion of ghouls. The three factions that ship with the game contain a trio of distinct units (basic, elite, and a monster boss), all of which have their own individual abilities. At any time, demon players can jump behind the wheels of one of these summoned NPCs besieging Ash and company. The modularity of each’s strategic approach is almost overwhelming, and since the demon player can literally possess one of the survivors if certain thresholds are reached, they must have a clear-headed understanding of the mechanics of the other side at all times. Evil Dead offers an incredibly high skill ceiling for a licensed game, to the point that it could seriously work as an esport.
When it all comes together for the demon player, you’ll hunt down heroes all over the atlas, trap rooms, cracks in reality, slowly striving to find their resolution. Party members are at constant risk of being possessed, which means there is always an exposed flank outside the line of sight. You know how a League of Legends team fights snowballs to disaster once one side gains momentum? Evil Dead looks a bit like this. Experienced demon players will likely understand the roles of all ally characters, so they can focus on the healers and supports left behind in the chaos. Well-trimmed survivors know how to drop their firearms when vulnerable to domination, starving the demon of precious ammunition. It’s the same cat-and-mouse dynamic I love in other horror games, but multiplied at the height of the galactic brain.
Evil Dead can be a bit overwhelming for anyone expecting goofy, gory fun. I’m a main killer in Dead By Daylight, and I got completely stomped on my first few laps of piloting the deadites. (I eventually bucked the trend, but not after consulting YouTube for metagaming advice.) As always in games of this type, playing a protagonist is significantly less stressful than being a villain. Evil Dead urges its players to stick together, often allowing the more talented members of the group to compensate for those new to this particular underworld. Saber ensured that the protagonists always had a chance to fight their way to victory. if anyone in the party dies, they can be resurrected on stone altars that dot the arena. But the demons are alone, spinning plates, desperate to stop the Ash clan from snowballing to victory. There are so many quick decisions to make, so many strategic wrinkles to consider, that a game of Evil Dead often leaves me as exhausted as after a white-knuckle StarCraft duel. Believe me, I say that as a compliment.
But there are also plenty of times in Evil Dead where its wonderful cinematic signs overwhelm everything I do in the stats screen. Henry The Red is alone in the woods, on the verge of a full-blown panic. I placed a dozen sneaky traps in his path, bringing him to his knees as he buzzed between them like a child in a haunted house. Henrietta, the main character of the Warlord faction and one of the great Evil Dead villains of all time, has this move where she simply extracts life from a player’s skull. This can only be stopped if she is attacked, making her an especially satisfying fat shot when everyone else in the party is downed. The demon can possess the rusting getaway cars in the forests, which means a clash can be interrupted by a burning mack truck towards the survivors. Multiplayer horror games need to retain their wonderfully youthful feel as they give human beings more agency, because no one wants to experience the gloriously macabre universe of Evil Dead only through cold mechanics. and desensitizers. Saber threads the needle and wraps up all of the series’ goofy tendrils in a package that hits with a ton of competitive intrigue. This is a video game that lets you upgrade your undead horde with a flute-playing skeleton. It’s both hilarious and often the difference between victory and defeat.
Saber also recreated the red guts of the 80s that made the films so iconic. Blood splatters abound, and the developer does a great job of detailing the kind of bewitched shacks and burial campgrounds that are so crucial to Evil Dead’s aesthetic. In the heat of the moment, when a legion of gibberish Viking skeletons spring from the breach, you sometimes want to sit back and watch the action as if it were the climax of a Total War campaign. The frame rate stuck at a silky 60 throughout my matches, which is impressive considering how many marauding zombies you could handle at once. I found a few stray patches of jank during my exploration – some hotkeys not triggering and some floating animations – but overall the Evil Dead package is airtight, especially compared to Dead By Daylight which is still flagged by some round-ruining bugs six years after its release.
That said, Evil Dead is very much a multiplayer game. There are a few single-player, cosmetic-related challenges available on the home screen, as well as a bot-only mode for tentative zombie slayers, but if you’re playing this game in its intended state, then you rate other souls from everywhere. the screen. This means that Evil Dead is tied together by a meta-progression system, unloading tiers of talent points into your favorite demon tribes or heroic survivors, slowly granting them higher perks. I feel like Saber would like to build Evil Dead into persistent MOBA-style platforming; filter new characters with each patch. But the movies contain a fairly small universe, and there are already four different versions of Ash Williams to choose from in the character select screen. I’m no expert on the Necronomicon timeline, but I don’t know how much juice is left to extract from the source. I don’t usually like to judge games on their growth potential, but honestly, after delving into the 13 heroes and three eldritch forces that shipped in the retail code, I was already hoping more was on the way on the horizon.
That’s the nature of game development in 2022. Countless great multiplayer experiences are pushed back in hopes that they’ll latch onto an audience, so the team can just keep working on them. Sometimes it works, and sometimes you find yourself waiting 20 minutes to get into a Spellbreak match, wondering what could have been. Evil Dead certainly doesn’t feel unfinished, but it feels like a first step towards something bigger. Saber has an excellent multiplayer game that aspires to be a juggernaut in the hobby, and I hope players take notice.