I've spent a morning or two with Evil Dead, and from the off it's looked the part. Sam Raimi's horror classics have a definite visual style, and it's all there on the screen: the cabin surrounded by grasping trees, the lights strobing through branches, a variety of Bruce Campbells to play as. My cup runneth over. Is that an Oldsmobile to pootle around in? Yes please.
And it played...well, at first it was decent multiplayer horror stuff. For a morning I played in part of a gang of survivors online, four of us against a single demon player. Your job is to collect a bunch of stuff and then nuke the big baddies at the end of it all, while a timer ticks down and every major action you attempt - grabbing a map fragment or the magical dagger you need - brings the horde.
It was fun, and it looked like Evil Dead - so many Ashes! But it didn't always feel like Evil Dead. It felt like a multiplayer horror game, albeit a decent one, albeit a decent one without much in the way of basic accessibility features. The same is true for what I think is the single-player stuff. I headed out as Ash and quickly got into serious deadite trouble. The woods looked perfect - but it felt like a lot of other horror games.
At this point I had a spiel prepared. Evil Dead is a difficult ask for a horror game, because it's a horror series but it's also a comedy series. Deep down, it's the Three Stooges. It's a Warner Bros cartoon. And it's both sophisticated in its staging and wonderfully handicraft in the practicality of its effects. A puppet headless body with a chainsaw! An eyeball on fishing wire while the film runs backwards! This is the kind of Little Big Planet stuff I love about these films - how do you capture that?
What I was missing was Evil Dead's most successful offering - both its most successful as an entertaining horror game, and as an Evil Dead game in particular. Back to the 4x1 matches. But let's play as the 1. Let's play as the baddies.
Already it's a billion times more Evil Deady. Deep in the woods, I'm a disembodied malignant camera zooming over the ground. I'm collecting little gobs of power-up stuff which allows me to do mean things like spawn traps and possess mobs, but I'm also just zooming through the trees like the evil force in the movies - and not just zooming through the trees, I'm knocking over fences and highway barriers. Watch me go.
From there it's basically a case of tracking the four human players as they go about their tasks and giving them hell. Spawn enemies, place traps - including Ashe's disembodied hand - level up to conjure bigger and badder nasties, right up to a boss. Possess trees! Possess. Trees.
This is where the game shines, I think. And it's given me a fresh insight into what I love about these movies. When I think about the Evil Dead, sure I think about Ash and chainsaws and cabins. But what I really think is Sam Raimi, and about how much fun directing a horror movie must be, just lobbing endless cobbled-together horrors at a brilliant, charming, physical performer like Bruce Campbell and watching the results. Evil Dead: The Game works best when it allows you to be the demon, which also means allowing you to be the director. Gimme some sugar, baby.