In June of this year, I did a rather large Raiders at 40 celebration, as Raiders of the Lost Ark turned 40-years-old. It was a fun and lengthy write-up where I covered a great many Raiders and Indiana Jones topics. Well, another one of my favourite films turns 40 this year, it was originally released in October too (the 15th, if you wanted to know). ‘Tis the Halloween season and all, so why not celebrate four decades of Ashley ‘Ash’ Joanna Williams and his numerous Deaditie troubles with a multi-article The Evil Dead celebration for my annual Halloween special? Kicking things off right, I take a look at every The Evil Dead video game over the years.
A quick thanks in advance to all the YouTuber’s footage I link to, just give the game titles a click.
The very first The Evil Dead game was based on the first film, which was released way back in 1984. Developed and published by British studio, Palace Software and released on 8-bit microcomputers the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and the BBC Micro. The game pretty much follows the plot of the film. You play as Ash in the famed cabin and your friends have been possessed by the demons. Being the last alive, Ash has to kill any Deadites that keep entering the cabin via the use of various weapons that randomly spawn. Find the Necronomicon (The Book of the Dead) and burn it in the fireplace to win.
What is interesting about the ZX Spectrum version is that it was never ‘officially’ released. If you have clicked the gameplay link up there ^^^, then that is clearly explained. The Evil Dead game was actually put on the b-side of the tape to another game called Cauldron. Supposedly, the Speccy version was an unfinished port of the C64 original when it was put on the Cauldron tape as a ‘free game’, as stated on the cover of Cauldron for the ZX Spectrum. Still, The Evil Dead could be seen as an early precursor to the survival-horror genre of games.
Another interesting titbit is that you don’t just go around killing off Deadites in the game, you have to keep closing the windows of the cabin to try and keep the Deadites out. They do eventually break their way in and you have to try to close them again. So, you are in an enclosed location, undead enemies keep spawning and breaking in through the windows and you have to board them back up while fighting off the undead. Does any of that sound familiar? Basically, this was Call of Duty: Zombies twenty-four years before Call of Duty: Zombies even existed.
The Evil Dead was hardly a deep or very involving game, they just weren’t back then though. It was a game you put on for about an hour, had a few goes at getting a high score, then loaded up another game. At the time, it reviewed pretty well with a lot of publications comparing it to Atic Atac. Can’t say I ever understood why exactly, aside from the top-down view and the bare basic idea of killing enemies, they were nothing alike. Atic Atac was more adventure-RPG like, while The Evil Dead was more action/survival-horror (with a lack of any real horror). Anway, The Evil Dead was an okay game back then, horribly dated now, but still a decent romp back in 1984. Just a shame we would have to wait so damn long for the next game based on the films.
Released just a short sixteen years after the first game, came the Evil Dead: Hail to the King in the space year of 2000, developed by Heavy Iron Studios and published by THQ. Storywise, this kind of works as a sequel to Army of Darkness (before the TV show existed that is) as it is set eight years after the events of that film. You play as Ash and he is in a relationship with a fellow S-Mart worker, Jenny. Ash suffers from nightmares over the events of the films and Jenny does the really stupid thing of suggesting that Ash needs to go to Professor Knowby’s cabin to (quite literally) face his demons. Of course, shit goes sideways fast and the famed tape is played, the evil is released (again), Jenny goes missing. After a quick stop off at the toolshed, Ash arms himself with his chainsaw hand and goes out to kick some Deadite bum-cheeks and tries to save Jenny.
Gameplay-wise, this can very easily be summed up as Resident Evil wearing a The Evil Dead hat. Fixed camera angles, stiff tank controls, tight inventory management, game saves by the use of limited ink ribbons (in this case, reel to reel tapes), etc. Copying Resident Evil is all well and good… if it was still 1996. Even by 2000, this game felt dated. Evil Dead: Hail to the King certainly did a great job of recapturing the mood of the films and even expanding on the lore. Obviously, a game set purely in the cabin would be dull, so there are quite a few locations to discover and everything does feel very The Evil Dead, without ever feeling out of place. Plus there’s a ton of references to the films to find too. Oh and there’s a button to press just to deliver an Ash one-liner.
It is hard to outright hate this game as a fan of The Evil Dead, but it’s also easy to spot its many clunky flaws as a game fan. This is a bare basic Resident Evil clone, of which there were endless clones of back then. Sadly, Evil Dead: Hail to the King never really did anything to stand out in the crowded market of Resident Evil clones. It being set in the same universe as The Evil Dead gave it a bit of an edge I guess, just not a sharp enough one. Overall, Evil Dead: Hail to the King was an okay game with some stubborn combat and controls. The biggest highlight of the game was the fact that Bruce Campbell voiced Ash, something he would do for (almost) every game in this retrospective from this point on.
This one was developed by VIS Entertainment and published by THQ and released in 2003. Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick actually serves as a sequel to the previous Evil Dead: Hail to the King. Set three years after the events of the last game, Ash is getting drunk in a bar on the anniversary of the death of Jenny from the last game (she was hit by a bus apparently). The TV in the bar is playing an episode of Mysteries of the Occult, a TV show that focuses on… mysteries of the Occult. Anyway, the show is broadcast live and it plays the last known tape of Professor Knowby’s Necronomicon translation. If you have been keeping up with The Evil Dead lore, then you already know that is a very, very bad thing to do. So yeah, the evil spreads through the town, thanks to that broadcast and it is up to Ash to sort things out… again.
Unlike the previous game, which was pretty dated and restrictive, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick is actually more open. It’s not full-on open-world stuff, but the areas in the game are partially explorable and not always on a linear path. In terms of the gameplay itself, it’s more like a 3D scrolling, hack ‘n slash game over a Resident Evil clone. There’s much more of an emphasis on action (and some light puzzle-solving), Ash is armed to the teeth with weapons to blow the Deadites away. There’s also a lot of interactions with the various residents and numerous characters through the game, they give Ash jobs to do that are added to your ‘to do list’.
While still a bit ropey and rough around the edges, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick is a vast improvement over the previous game. There’s just so much more to do and the game feels much more open. It may be nothing more than just a 3D scrolling beat ’em up, but it’s a pretty decent one overall and a far better use of The Evil Dead IP.
Released in 2005 from developer Cranky Pants Games and published by THQ (again), Evil Dead: Regeneration sets up a whole new timeline. Though still taking place after the events of the first two films (Army of Darkness never happened here), it actually changes and retells the events of Evil Dead II to form an alternate story. Instead of Ash being sent to medieval England, he is put in an insane asylum for killing all of his friends at Professor Knowby’s cabin. Ash’s doctor, Dr Reinhard, has gotten hold of the Necronomicon and wants to use the book’s evil to ‘reshape the world’ (his words). So of course, Dr Reinhard reads from the book, unleashes the evil and it is up to Ash to clean things up… again… again.
As with the last game, this is a hack ‘n slash type of game with a few minor puzzles. Ash taking out Deadites with an arsenal of weapons. The game mechanics are simple and shallow, but really damn satisfying nonetheless. There is one gameplay mechanic that is both brilliant and brilliantly annoying, Sam. See, quite early on in the game, Ash meets Sam and Sam is a twisted experiment of Dr Reinhard. He’s an undead, half-human half-Deadite. Sam (voiced by Ted Raimi) is used to help Ash in his quest and can be abused and killed over and over again as he regenerates (title!). It has been said that the Sam character is named after the director of the films, Sam Raimi, and the fact that you can kick, punish and kill him so much in the game is payback for all the times that Sam Raimi (lovingly) punished Bruce Campbell when making the films.
Overall, this is the best Evil Dead game made so far. It’s hardly high art and its mechanics are basic hack ‘n slash stuff. Yet, it is still really damn good fun to play. The interactions between Ash and Sam are genuinely funny, the locations in the game are varied and it all feels very Evil Dead. I think that most (if not all) Evil Dead and game fans would have this as their favourite Evil Dead game.
There’s really not much to say about this one. It’s a very typical castle/tower defence game for mobile devices. You indirectly control Ash as he fights hordes of Deadties trying to steal the Necronomicon from the castle. You know the climactic final battle in Army of Darkness? This whole game is based on that scene. Use Ash and various troops to take on the relentless Deadites. Earn upgrades, power-up Ash and your troops upgrade the castle, take on more Deadites. Rinse and repeat for several hours.
This is not a very involving game, but to be honest, very few castle/tower defence games are. Still, for this sub-genre, Army of Darkness: Defense is perfectly fine. Unlike the previous games (with the exception of the 1984 game), Bruce Campbell doesn’t voice Ash directly in this game, but speech samples are ripped straight from the film instead. So technically, Bruce is still voicing Ash, I guess? As far as I am aware, this game is no longer available to download (licensing issues I believe)… or perhaps that should read that Army of Darkness: Defense is no longer available to ‘legally’ download…
And that is it for all of The Evil Dead games. For a franchise as loved as it is, the games side of things really let it down. It’s not that they’re bad, because they’re not. All of those games up there are certainly playable. But it is more a case of that there just haven’t been enough games based on the IP over the years. There’s a lot of scope there to explore too, what with portals, time travel and as Evil Dead: Regeneration proved, alternate timelines and stories to play around with. They could’ve made so many more games and had a lot of fun along the way. But that is the lot, a very basic survival horror game from 1984, a very average Resident Evil clone, a couple of hack ‘n slash titles and a castle/tower defence mobile title in forty years since the first film. That is a pretty weak lineup for such a much-loved franchise.
Okay, so there are a couple of quick games I need to mention before I end this one.
Released in 2014 from Telltale Games was Poker Night 2. This was a… wait for it… a poker game. You remember back when everyone and their mother’s were playing poker? Anyway, the game featured four characters from other franchises and one of those characters was Ash Williams.
Now, you couldn’t play as Ash (or any of the other characters), you just played poker against him. In Poker Night 2, Ash was in full-on Army of Darkness mode, cocky, arrogant and full of one-liners. For the first time in a game (excluding the 1984 one), Ash was not voiced by Bruce Campbell but by Danny Webber instead. This was actually a pretty decent poker game with quite a few unlockable extras.
Then finally, there is this. As yet unreleased and now delayed twice. Evil Dead: The Game will be a multiplayer co-op and PvP game. The most recent delay is said to be because the developers want to include a single-player mode. Looking very much like a Friday the 13th: The Game, Dead by Daylight asymmetrical type of thing. Taking assets from the entire Evil Dead franchise from the first film through to the TV show (I don’t think the 2013 remake is included).
It looks like you can play as either the good guys or the Kandarian demons. I’d expect some heavy team playing here with different characters having to use their strengths and weakness to take out the opposing team. I’ve actually had a review code request for Evil Dead: The Game since December 2020 when it was originally announced. Hopefully, I’ll get it and can do a review when the game is finally released early 2022… if it’s not delayed… again.
I have more The Evil Dead groovyness coming up all through October to celebrate, not just the awesome franchise, but Halloween too.