Like a good jump scare, Evil Dead: The Game came out of nowhere. The multiplayer game quietly launched on May 13 (a Friday, of course) with no prerelease reviews and little fanfare. The quiet hype cycle may have worked in its favor, as the game has turned out to be a bit of a pleasant (and gory) surprise.
While the game is an Easter egg-filled treat for Evil Dead fans, it specifically stands out as an asymmetrical multiplayer title. Despite some notable successes, the genre has proven to be as lopsided as its 4v1 teams. Dead by Daylight is a horror hit, but licensed titles like Friday the 13th: The Game and Predator: Hunting Grounds have struggled to capture the same success.
Evil Dead: The Game has cracked the code. It’s the rare asymmetrical game where playing as a human is just as exciting and controlling a monster. That gives it an edge over its competition, even if the game doesn’t feel like it’s built for long-term success.
In Evil Dead: The Game, players are split up into two teams, much like in Dead by Daylight. One side is made up of four “survivors” who must protect the Necronomicon. Players can select from a host of characters pulled from the franchise, from Ash Williams to Henry the Red. Meanwhile, one lucky player takes control of an iconic demon who’s hell-bent on stopping them.
That dynamic presents a trap that most asymmetrical games fall into right away. Who wants to play as a puny mortal when you can control an all-powerful murder monster with fun powers? Whenever I play Dead by Daylight, controlling a human feels like eating vegetables so I can get to my dessert. It’s fun to get scared by a roaming monster, but I’d much rather be slashing than slowly fixing generators.
I don’t have that issue in Evil Dead: The Game – if anything, I might even like playing as a human more than as a demon. That’s mostly because the game’s cast of characters feels more empowered than your typical group of slasher victims. They can fire an arsenal of weapons (from bows to boomsticks), drive through a horde of monsters in a car, and blast intimidating spirits away with an empowered Sumerian Dagger. There’s no hiding under a bed and waiting for the big bad to pass.
That’s thanks to the game’s source material. While Evil Dead and Army of Darkness are horror movies, their protagonists aren’t helpless victims from Evil Dead 2 onward. Ash Williams is a demon-slaying machine who’s as intimidating as any reanimated skeleton. It almost feels like the roles should be reversed, with a team of four lowly demons running terrified from the chainsaw wielding legend.
Rather than giving the “killer” a sizable power advantage, developer Saber Interactive makes the role appealing by loading it up with unique mechanics. As a demon, players will bolt around the map at high speeds collecting energy pellets (it’s like playing a first-person Pac-Man game). That energy can be spent to set traps, summon NPC monsters that players need to fend off, or possess objects like trees and cars.
If the survivors are playing an action game, the demon is piloting a wave defense strategy game. In one round where I controlled a Skeleton Elite, I slowly began messing with my friends by sending a few unexpected monsters their way as they hunted for map pieces. I’d possess a tree to suddenly scare them and get a bit of damage in, allowing me to buff my stats. That was all just groundwork for my master plan. Knowing that the humans were going to get every map piece, I left them alone and made my way to the dagger site, where they’d need to move next. I possessed a nearby car and parked it on the objective, so they’d need to move it before starting it. Then, I set traps around the perimeter to catch them off guard. When they arrived, I sat back and laughed as they fought out of a hectic scene.
The joy of playing as a demon has less to do with power and more to do with dramatic irony. I can see the humans, but they can’t see me. While I need to wander a bit to track them down initially, I’m not Jason Voorhees stumbling around in the dark looking for kids to kill. I get to spy on my victims from the shadows and attack with the element of surprise.
Both the human and killer experiences are very different and rewarding in their own right. I don’t feel like I have to do my time as a human just to get to the fun stuff when it’s my turn as a demon. No matter who I’m playing as, I get to raise hell.
While Evil Dead: The Game is an exemplary asymmetrical multiplayer experience, I’m not sure how long its legs will be. The game feels limited in scope currently with just two maps and a strict set of objectives featured in each round. It’s also exclusively pulling content from the Evil Dead series, so it’s not going to have the Super Smash Bros-like charm of Dead by Daylight with its monster mash of horror icons. I’m only hoping that it sticks around long enough to positively influence the genre, pushing studios to think beyond power balance in the genre. I’ll be more than happy to play as a mortal if it means I can bring my boomstick along.
Evil Dead: The Game is out now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC.