Every Friday, AV Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
The moment I kind of fell in love with Evil Dead: The Game is the moment that I realized it was actually Sam Raimi Simulator 2022.
That is, I went from thinking the new licensed multiplayer game was pretty much just a moderately capable clone of the Friday The 13th game from a few years back — mixed with a bit of good, old, dead Evolve—until the exact moment that I first played as the titular Evil. (Instead of the Survivor team, made up of a lot of Bruce Campbells, and a few other characters from throughout the franchise). Which is when I discovered the single genius idea that elevates this entire package above those gnarly roots: When you play as the Evil in The Evil Dead, you do not just play as a bunch of Deadites or evil clones or skeletons. You play as Raimi’s camera, careening madly through the woods to hunt people down, leap inside their bodies, and unleash chaos.
In other respects, Evil Dead will remind you of those other asymmetric multiplayer games listed above; Survivors run around completing objectives (in this case, gathering a magic knife and pages from the Necronomicon) while the Evil is functionally on defense. The Survivor gameplay has a few interesting quirks, including a class based structure to differentiate Evil Dead‘s Support version of Ashley Williams from the Warrior version found in Army Of Darkness. (Evil Dead 2 Ash is a Hunter; there vein non-Ash characters, but are you really going to miss out on all those newly recorded Bruce Campbell quips by choosing them?) As with lots of games of this ilk (dating back to the evolving tactics of the Left 4 Dead games), much of the focus is on locking down enemies so they can not use debilitating attacks to split up the party. It’s all fine, probably.
I would not really know, though, because after one Survivor-side match, I went Evil and never looked back.
It’s just too goddamn fun: Racing through the woods like an improvised Steadicam, setting up ambushes and fear-inducing traps, and then exploiting that fear by possessing the Survivors to make them attack each other. Saber Interactive may have only done a so-so job of recreating the feeling of being Ash and his pals, but the sense of being the invisible hand orchestrating all the chaos that goes down in these movies is damn near perfect. (Including an energy system that forces you to give your victims a breather before initiating a new burst of chaos.) I have cackled so many times while playing with my fresh meat: Spawning a bunch of Deadites to swarm a team, only to have one back into an Evil Tree Trap that thrashes them, allowing me to possess the pathetic mortal fool so that they can open fire on their buddies. Their friends run to grab supplies from a chest to recover — boom, evil hand leaps out and throttles them.
If Raimi’s great revelation was in spotting the slapstick heart beating under so much slasher horror, then Evil Dead: The Game embraces that principle. You always got the sense that Raimi was having just a bit too much fun torturing his old pal Bruce, and the game successfully exports that sensation, encouraging you to be a monstrous bastard even before Evil Ash starts stomping across the battlefield, summoning his skeletal army . After just a couple of days with it, I’m having an absolute blast.
Will I be playing it two weeks from now? Hard to say. There’s only a handful of (big) maps, and there may, in fact, be a limit to how many times I can chuckle evilly as an enemy team falls into fear and despair. (God or Evil God or whoever save us from a solved multiplayer meta.) But I’m having a damn groovy time with it right now.