Evil Dead Review

Why are you torturing me like this? Why?

In Evil Dead by Trigger Apps (out now, $0.99), you play as Ash, the wise-cracking, axe-wielding hero taking on an ancient evil.  Does the latest game to ride the Bruce Campbell cult vehicle live up to its license or is this just one more page in the book of the dead? Steel yourself and press ahead, dear readers…if you dare!

Not even your average cinephile is likely to remember this, but although Bruce Campbell was the original ironic hero in an age before horror-comedy was a recognizable subgenre, the first Evil Dead movie was actually kinda freaky. After all, it featured a woman being ravished by trees, for goodness sake. Those who first enjoyed the Evil Dead franchise with the sequel, Evil Dead 2 or Army of Darkness, which rounded out the trilogy, often feel the first film is the weakest of the three because it doesn’t contain much of the over the top humor of the later installments, and Bruce Campbell doesn’t get to mug for the camera with oft-repeated one-liners like, “Groovy,” or “This is my boomstick!”

It feels like a bit of a missed opportunity right from the start that nothing from the more humorous installments of the series was used in Evil Dead by Trigger Apps, but if they had played up the freakiness of the material a little or focused on tightening up the gameplay a good deal, then this could have been easily overcome. Unfortunately, as it turned out, Evil Dead ends up a neither/nor type of game — it isn’t likely to please fans of the movies nor those looking simply for a fun gaming experience.

It’s somewhat appropriate that one of the very scant voiceovers used from the movie is a Bruce Campbell line that occurs about half an hour into the film.  In the scene, Ash is listening to a tape recording of recitations from the Kandarian Book of the Dead while his girlfriend, Linda, is successfully guessing the playing cards her friend is drawing. Distracted by her call to him, Ash blurts out a sarcastic, “Yeah, truly amazing,” to her moments before all Hell breaks loose. Maybe it’s because this is the closest Campbell comes to delivering a pithy line in the entirety of Evil Dead, but this is the line we get to hear repeated every time a level is completed. It feels extremely out of place in some ways, because we expect something more flamboyant, like “Gimme some sugar, baby,” or maybe, “who’s laughing now!?” but on the other hand, this kind of annoyed response is exactly what I felt like saying as I progressed through the levels.

The game suffers from very repetitive gameplay, and although there are different objectives throughout the game, you can complete many of them by simply avoiding enemy contact.  Sure, it means your score will suffer and you might miss some of the in-game achievements (which are not connected to Game Center, by the way), but there is basically no challenge to the game whatsoever, and after the first 6 or 7 levels, which should take you about 15 minutes to complete, you will have pretty much seen everything the game has to offer in terms of the gameplay experience. I kept hoping the game would take off at some point and get more exciting and challenging, but it never really happened.

Level objectives mostly boil down to, “go from one place to another in the woods,” or “kill all the enemies.” Sometimes there are slight variations thrown in, like, “take the book from one place to another,” and there are a couple of what could be loosely described as bosses, basically the same as normal enemies but with slightly different abilities and a higher threshold for damage. It would have been nice if the game had included some different difficulty levels for increased replay value, because right now it’s an extremely short affair—an average gamer will have no trouble completing the game in its entirety in an hour or two, at most—and the only reason to go back to it would be to earn a higher cumulative score on the single Game Center leaderboard. It seems kind of surprising that there isn’t an unlockable survival mode or something else to bring you back, but on the other hand, the game’s combat doesn’t really lend itself well to a frantic and fun arcade mode.

Part of the problem there is that you’ll find yourself fighting the controls as much as the deadites, which is almost an accomplishment in itself considering that dual-stick shooters generally are very good fits on touch screen devices. In this case, however, the right stick which you’ll have to aim when you use the shotgun lacks finesse and can be unresponsive at times. When you’re using one of the other two in-game weapons, the axe or the chainsaw, you simply face the direction you want to attack and press a static button. In the case of the chainsaw this delivers a wide swath of damage, but the axe requires greater accuracy and the hit detection seems off at times, not that it matters much considering the game’s low level of difficulty.

The poor hit detection also seems to go both ways when, in later levels a robed cult member tries to hit you with a sickle which may often pass through you with no damage. Actually, due to the unimpressive character animations it can be hard to tell exactly where the axe or sickle are going at times. The combat is slow-paced and stiff overall and you never face more than a few enemies at once, which makes the action feel uninspired and low-impact. As Evil Dead performed less than admirably on my iPod Touch 4G, however, suffering from a lowered framerate every time enemies popped up on the screen, it’s probably a good thing that there are never more than a few enemies onscreen at once.

Despite the lackluster character animations and performance on 4th generation hardware, if there’s any area in which Evil Dead shines, it’s in its visuals, which have a fun and cartoony look to them. Even better are the splash screens which tell the story between levels and the two animated cutscenes that occur at the end of each of the two episodes. These inject some much-needed character into the game. The story, while loosely following the first Evil Dead movie in the first part of the game, veers off into its own territory for the second half and gets a bit convoluted. I’m fine with that, honestly, except that this doesn’t translate to the levels progressing in a meaningful way. In one level, you’ll have a shotgun, and in the next, for no discernable reason, you’ll be using the frustrating axe again. Sometimes you can go find the shotgun, sometimes not. The best of the three weapons, the chainsaw, makes intermittent appearances with no apparent cause. I’d mention the story doesn’t really make sense in the context of the original movie, or in the context of the game, for that matter, but to be honest I’d just like to see some more cohesive level progression.

There is a gimmicky “wipe the gore from the screen” feature in the game, but it soon becomes annoying. Fortunately you can turn it off from the main title screen, which you will surely want to do after playing a stage repeatedly wiping cartoon eyeballs and veins off your screen. As for the game’s sound, aside from the missed opportunities of all the franchise’s best lines being absent due mostly to licensing, I’m sure, it doesn’t draw any real positive attention to itself. Over reliance on Ash’s lines, “truly amazing,” and “thanks,” for when you find a weapon or health powerup (the only powerup to be found in the game other than the weapons and extra bullets for your shotgun, by the way) gets pretty tired rather quickly, just like the game as a whole.

iFanzine Verdict: As a fan of Evil Dead and dual-stick action games, I wanted to love this take on the cult classic, but a laundry list of missed opportunities, underwhelming gameplay and poor design choices left me wanting.  Although not a truly horrible game, Evil Dead does not live up to its license and if you’re not a die-hard fan of the franchise, let alone the first movie, I recommend giving this one a miss.  If you love all things Evil Dead related then for the low-risk cost you may want to give it a try, but I suggest you temper your expectations considerably.

[xrr rating=2/5]