Ever seen Evil Dead 2? Well you should have. It's great. It's a fantastic argument for never reading archaic texts aloud, particularly those bound in flesh and called "The Book of the Dead". It's an even better argument for never going out to a cabin deep in the woods, particularly a cabin belonging to an erstwhile occult-obsessed doctor. Other tips: never play his tapes, never go into his basement, and, oh yes, blood works surprisingly well as part of a boomstick/chainsaw ensemble.
It's a film we can all learn from, including VIS, it would seem, because surprisingly enough for the team behind the execrable State of Emergency, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick is almost worth the 25 quid they're demanding. Not least of all because it comes strapped to a copy of Evil Dead 2 on DVD...
Dead and loving it
Fortunately for Ash, our one-hand-short-of-a-clap anti-hero, nobody's too bothered about him any more, and his favourite bartender is only too happy to line 'em up in the quaint hick redneck nowhere of Dearborn. Sadly though, a moronic professor has gotten hold of Dr. Knowby's Necronomicon-tainted recordings, which caused so much hassle back in the day. And he's only gone and played them out on a local television show called "Mysteries of the Occult".
Cue Deadites in their masses hauling themselves from the ground and lurching, blood-curdlingly through the streets, flesh bars, parks and schools of the neighbourhood, sinking their foul-smelling teeth into anything with a pulse. Ash has a pulse, so he's fair game, which is why he has to put a couple of rounds through his bartender's cranium, not to mention hundreds more over the course of the game. Craniums, that is, not bartenders. Generally speaking, when a Deadite gets the crap chopped out of it, it gives up the ghost, if you'll pardon the pun, so it's just a matter of hacking them up with a wrist stump-mounted chainsaw and shotgunning akimbo, tossing the odd stick of dynamite and banging the odd head with a shovel.
Like the film, Evil Dead is all about blood-spilling violence and comical horrors, which need severing from the mortal coil by any means possible. There are six huge levels punctuated by a few bosses, and each level is packed with Deadites who break out of walls, reanimate themselves from the grave upwards, and generally spill onto the streets where they run around manically until they catch wind of you. Progress is based on finding keys and other plot devices, and talking to NPCs - who all seem rather worried. Surprising, when you consider that they're indestructible, no matter how many shotgun shells you fire or shovel swings you aim. Oops.
On the whole, it's all very basic. You saunter around grabbing L1 to target the nearest enemy, and when he, she or it gets close enough, the reticule turns red and you can boomstick them to buggery with square (left hand weapon), or lay into them using a chainsaw (X, right hand weapon), spade, minigun, flamethrower or what-have-you. The targeting means that you can pull off some fairly stylish kills, firing over your shoulder or under your arm, or impaling someone on a chainsaw then blasting them off with the shotgun. Every so often an enemy will drop health or ammo pickups, revitalising you and your ordnance when you need it, and occasionally you'll come across a spell, which can be incanted by holding R1 and performing its button combination. Spells give you super-strength and different attacks, and can be found a few paces off the beaten track at irregular intervals.
But apart from mentioning the block move (circle), the inventory and the save tokens scattered around the game world, we're just about done. The gameplay doesn't vary much over the six levels, and neither do your enemies, though they increase in number and resolve. There's lots of voice acting, a mixture of good and bad in-game cut-scenes (guess which ones are unskippable), and Bruce Campbell's input raises a smile here and there, but it's hardly worth the asking price alone. Meanwhile, the AI isn't all that special, with one real attack per enemy and a constant desire to swarm you, and the game engine is the same as State of Emergency's.
In terms of actual design, it's one of 'those' games; a basic, third person action title which doesn't push the technological boundaries and has no problem enforcing your playpen, with doors that can't be opened and the lack of a jump command. If you carved off the blurry, low-res textures and mopped up the unconvincing swathes of blood, Ash would be a mouse in a very boring maze. Apart from the odd "hidden" key which unlocks a park or lumber yard, there isn't much to uncover, and there isn't a great deal of thought behind the layout or tasks on your To-Do list. At the end of the first level, for example, Ash needs his super-strength spell to open the TV station gates, but unless he chainsawed his way through a bit of wooden boarding next to a jack-knifed lumber truck, he won't have found it. Cue half an hour of scouring every corner of the level, chopping down respawning Deadites and groaning frustratedly until we figured it out...
Equally annoying, Ash regularly gets caught in the midst of loads of enemies, unable to break free because his roundhouse chainsaw attack animation keeps getting cut off by the prodding of Deadites before it does any damage, and keeping an eye on them as you run for cover is a pain because the camera (right stick) doesn't turn quickly enough, and Ash slows down when he fires.
Then again, you're probably paying the best part of 15 quid for this on top of the DVD - which is a must own - so it's difficult to be too nasty. As a game you wouldn't pay 40 quid for it, because it's shallow, derivative and repetitive, but as part of this package it represents a reasonably enjoyable evening's worth, and it's tough enough that you probably won't complete it in one sitting, especially if you get embroiled in the Arcade mode with its ranking system (although that's a bit too masochistic for our liking).
So, if you've already got a copy of Evil Dead 2, you're not missing much. There's an original story here, but it isn't very exciting, and it lacks the style and incessant comedy of its big screen brethren. Evil Dead just didn't need a game, and it's no surprise that this is what we ended up with. Then again, if you've never seen Evil Dead 2 and have a thing for unimaginative slashers, get your wallet out...