Sam Raimi once described the Evil Dead movies as dreams, which is the more creative way to explain away the vast inconsistencies between the films due to licensing rights. For the record, I think Evil Dead 2 and Army of Darkness are hilariously entertaining, while The Evil Dead just grosses me out. Longtime fans of the saga, starring the great Bruce Campbell as Ash, have wanted and frequently demanded an Evil Dead 4 for over a decade.
As the years go by, the greenlighting of a fourth Evil Dead movie seems less and less likely due in part to Campbell’s aging and Raimi’s direction of the highly profitable Spider-Man franchise. But as fans continue to hope and pray for the further adventures of Deadite-slaying Ash and his boomstick, I am happy to bring word that Evil Dead: Regeneration is a fantastic substitute.
The game picks up in the middle of Evil Dead 2, with the film’s chronology slightly altered for the sake of a combat tutorial, and soon finds Ash in a mental hospital pending trial for murder. It seems the authorities didn’t quite believe Ash was actually slaying demons when he slaughtered his possessed friends at a cabin in the woods, so they have locked him away in a hospital overseen by the nefarious Dr. Reinhardt. Once Reinhardt reads from the infamous Necronomicon ex Mortis, aka the Book of the Dead, portals open across the city and pure evil is unleashed on an unsuspecting public. Ash must once again take up his handy chainsaw and shotgun, and kick Deadite butt to save the world.
Oh, and this time he has a four-foot-nothing half-Deadite “ex-wise guy” named Sam helping him close the portals and track down his missing attorney, Sally. Since Sam is magic-oriented, he can repeatedly die only to quickly respawn. Not only does this lead to some seriously sick comedy, but Ash now has a sidekick to trade hilariously wrong quips with. If your nose is already turned up at the thought of punting a surly half-dead dwarf into a spinning fan just for the fun of it, then stop reading now because this is not the game for you. For everyone else, let’s get to why this is some of the most fun to be had for a $20 budget title.
I’m surprised that any game retailing for $20 looks as good as Evil Dead: Regeneration does, especially on the PS2. There is some grit to the textures which actually add a home-movie feel to the game. The low-budget feel of each film made them feel like supernatural snuff films, especially the first one, and Evil Dead: Regeneration perfectly captures the look and feel of the movies. I loved the little in-game details like the skeletal woman dancing at the beginning, the quick return of the hand, and the complete over-the-top nature of the violence. It looks so cool when Ash pins a Deadite to the ground with his chainsaw, then casually blows its head off with his shotgun. With the impending release of the next generation of consoles, the graphics here already look dated compared to what is soon to come. That being said, they not only serve the game well, but also greatly enhance the story and atmosphere and that’s exactly what’s needed for a game starring a protagonist with a chainsaw for a hand.
The combo moves Ash performs with his chainsaw and other tools work in conjunction with his weapons, and it looks glorious when he launches a Deadite in the air with a speargun and keeps it in the air with multiple shotgun blasts. The character models are especially spot-on. Campbell’s trademark chin is front and center the entire game, and gamers will finally have the feeling of controlling the one, true Ash through an Evil Dead adventure. The combination of quality animations and Ted Raimi’s vocal work make Sam one of the most memorable video game side-kicks this side of Murray from The Curse of Monkey Island, and that’s not small praise. The Deadites all have an air of rotting malevolence to them, and the boss monsters are heavily detailed as well.
Of particular note is Evil Ash, a power Ash can tap into during the course of the game. Fans of Evil Dead 2 will recall how Ash was fully possessed at the beginning of the film, only to have the demons retreat when the sun came up. In Evil Dead: Regeneration, Ash can fill up an energy meter, itself a nod to the movies, and become Evil Ash once the meter is full. At this point, Ash becomes a hulking monstrosity whose attack power is vastly increased. I loved the yellow lightning effects for the change to and from Evil Ash, as well as the blood-streaked look the game takes on once Ash goes bad.
The sound is where people will be heavily divided. There is no Ash but Bruce Campbell and he more than delivers in a terrific performance. I’ll grant that sometimes he sounds like Bruce Campbell reading lines in a studio instead of actually acting like Ash, but for the most part he’s convincing enough as the world-weary defender who just wants to get some shut-eye. His one-liners and quips throughout are vintage Ash, and fans of Army of Darkness in particular will enjoy his verbal abuse of Sam, the half-Deadite sidekick. This character is the one that will divide fans because if you don’t find either him or his situations funny, then you may as well stop playing because he’s in the rest of the game after he shows up.
As voiced by Ted Raimi, Sam doesn’t mind that Dr. Reinhardt’s experiments left him looking like a shorter version of Two-Face. Sam and Ash’s banter is constant and several of their conversations left me in stitches. Raimi does such a good “wise guy wannabe” impression that I kept forgetting that he was the one voicing Sam. The verbal interplay between these two is perfect, and since Ash isn’t smart enough to grow as a person, the animosity between them remains constant throughout. In short, it’s gloriously funny stuff, and it’s all hurled at the player so fast that if one joke bombs another is fired off a few seconds later.
The sound effects of the Deadites, the weapons, and the “Evil Cam” are all pulled straight from the movies. In particular, the “Evil Cam” remains as inspired as it was in the films (this is the first-person shot that races across the ground and through buildings), and it’s used to truly funny effect. Ash’s shotgun also uses the over-the-top explosive sound effects from the movies, and the chainsaw roars appropriately. The Deadites all sound menacing enough as they taunt Ash, right up to the point where Ash pins them to the ground with the chainsaw and blow their head off with his shotgun.
The controls for Evil Dead: Regeneration are pretty easy to pick up. The X button jumps, the circle button uses the melee weapon, be it Ash’s fist, chainsaw, or something else, the square button is for weapons such as the boomstick, and the triangle button is the all-purpose button. This button is reserved for opening doors, climbing, and performing finishing moves on Deadites. The L1 button blocks, holding the R1 button manually targets enemies, and hitting the right thumbstick while manually targeting will cycle through all available targets. The bottom two buttons cycle through either weapons or prosthetics, with the L2 button assigned to firearms and the R2 button assigned to the different arm extensions.
The real fun comes with the up and down directional pad buttons. The up button will kick Sam in whatever direction Ash is facing. Wherever Sam is on the map, he will automatically appear in front of Ash’s boot when the player hits the up button, and Ash will wind up and punt. If Sam is involved in Deadite wrangling, then Ash has to wait until Sam is free again before he can kick him. Punting Sam winds up as not only an integral part of puzzle solving, but a great way to simply pass the time. The down directional button activates the Evil Ash powers, and another hit of that button will revert the player back to Normal Ash.
Evil Dead: Regeneration is some of the most fun I’ve had in a game this year, but I was afraid of paying $50 for it due to how short it was. Then I checked the stores and found it to be $20. This game is an absolute steal at that price point, and any Evil Dead fan absolutely owes it to themselves to pick this up. Campbell and Raimi’s verbal bantering combined with solid graphics and non-stop Deadite-destroying action make Evil Dead: Regeneration a solid winner.
There are even some quest elements in the game that break up the action sequences. Ash and Sam will sometimes come across a soul eater, which requires them to find three souls to feed it before they can pass. The souls are scattered across the level and they have to take each one individually to the monster. Once Sam picks up the soul, he instantly becomes the target of multiple spawning enemies and Ash must provide cover as they both work their way back to the soul eater, at which point Ash must kick Sam into the soul eater’s mouth.
Other puzzles will kick off whenever Ash encounters a platform with a blue skull. Ash can step on this platform and instantly possess Sam, at which point the camera switches to a wall-eye third-person view. Sam can throw a magic bolt that stuns enemies long enough for him to jump on them and tear their head off, and can crawl through small holes. This lets him reach different parts of the level and open up previously blocked areas. Once he does, he’s killed off in ever-increasingly destructive ways. Another fun mini-game involves Sam and a giant Deadite, but the player is better off discovering this one on their own.
Players can also find pages of the Necronomicon scattered throughout Evil Dead: Regeneration which unlock different extras. The extras are videos shot during the voice over and production of the game and feature Campbell and Raimi. Campbell tells some pretty funny stories, including a guffaw-inducing one about Friends star Matthew Perry, so finding the pages is a highly recommended side-game. Most are not that tough to find with just a little investigation, and sometimes the player will also find platforms that increase the health and Evil Ash power meters.
So why is the replay value score so low for a game that I truly enjoyed? Because there isn’t much left to do once you complete the game, which will be between six to eight hours at most. Evil Dead: Regeneration is nothing if not short, and it’s a lot of fun while it lasts, but other than a few extras and some hugely funny comedy, there isn’t much incentive to immediately replay it. I liked looking for the Necronomicon pages to unlock the extras, some of which demand viewing, but there’s nothing left once everything is found. The prior game in the series, Evil Dead: A Fistfull of Boomstick, had a lot of extras to find plus variations on weapon upgrades, and being as it was even shorter than Evil Dead: Regeneration, demanded immediate replay. I fully intend to play Evil Dead: Regeneration again more than once, but not for the near future.