Review: Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick

By James "Bruce Campbell's bastard love-child" Wiles

The budget title has really experienced something of a renaissance as of late. It wasn't long ago that the only games that hit the shelves bearing the scarlet letter of a $20 or less price tag were largely pieces of software of roughly the same quality of a homebrew game from some dark corner of the Internet. We've all seen them: Those games with the glaringly low-rent titles like Racing and Bowling that just sit there on retail shelves, waiting like a flea-ridden, one-eyed, three-legged puppy at the pound for some poor impulse buyer to take pity on them and bring them home. And sadly, some of them do get to go home. Anyone else out there make the mistake of thinking to themselves "Boy, that Spec Ops game sure looks like a good deal?" However, as of late developers have been taking some of their more niche (and perhaps lower quality) titles and releasing them at discount prices. And thus, some of these misfit games that would likely never had a snowball's chance at $50 are given a new lease on life.

Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick follows the further misadventures of everyone's favorite loud-mouthed, chainsaw-limbed, boomstick-toting, time-traveling undead slayer, Ash, as he continues to battle the Deadites in their quest to… well, make Ash's life uncomfortable. After a local talk show host plays the infamous tape of Prof. Raymond Knowby reciting the dreaded demon resurrection passages from the Necronomicon (the ancient Sumarian text bound in human flesh and inked in blood that serves as their gateway into the mortal world), Ash's humble home of Dearborn, Michigan is invaded by the forces of evil. And thus our hero is forced once again to strap on the power equipment and wade into battle with the armies of darkness.

Fortunately, THQ abandoned the survival horror style of the original game for this sequel, and had Vis Interactive (creators of Rockstar's so-so State of Emergency) reinvent the series as a straight-up action game along the lines of Final Fight or the contemporary Dynasty Warriors games, with a touch of light puzzle-solving tossed in for good measure. Much like SoE, the environments are huge, the enemies are numerous, and the blood (and limbs…. And heads…) flows profusely. The textures are a bit bland (expect lots of brown and gray, with a few splashes of color here and there), but the look is true to the films, and there is just enough variety in the locales to keep things reasonably fresh. Character models are also pretty plain (with the exception of Ash, who looks pretty dang cool), but there are enough of them to provide some variety, and they usually will be charging at Ash in such numbers that it will be hard to take much notice. Combat (which is naturally where most of the game will be spent) is smooth enough, with a pretty effective lock-on function for ranged weapons and various attacks for hand-to-hand fighting. There are plenty of weapons available for your dismembering pleasure, running the gamut from the requisite Boomsticks and chainsaws to flamethrowers, various forms of explosives, and even a minigun. Every weapon is upgradable, and sports various forms of ammo.

As the actual gameplay goes, Evil Dead is decidedly on the more visceral side of gaming; Hacking up Deadites is certainly enjoyable, and sending blood and limbs flying is undeniably fun, but the killing does tend to become a bit repetitive after a while. Also, as with pretty much every 3D game that involves a camera and a lock-on system, both can be a bit unruly at times until the nuances of their operation are mastered. The magic system (and yes, I don't have any idea how Ash learned to cast magic, nor would I trust him with such power) is a bit hit-or-miss, with only a few of the spells working their way into everyday use. Pretty much all of the spells look nice enough, and most have at least a couple of pivotal uses, but few will be used more times that necessary.

And then there's the sound. The God of B Movies himself, Bruce Campbell, naturally reprises his role as Ash, delivering a whole slew of new one-liners as he hacks his way through the armies of the dead. Naturally, fans will undoubtedly be instantly transported to camp Nirvana at Mr. Campbell's first utterances. The rest of the game's auditory palette is quite rich as well, with plenty of moans and screams of pain from the Deadites and their innocent victims, all of which sound true enough to the films that they could just as easily have been taken directly from them. The music is admittedly a bit bland, even though it does remain true to the style of the film soundtrack. But it does fit the tone well enough, and even sports some reactivity to onscreen events

As a straight action game, FFoB for the most part succeeds, but it is not without a few significant overarching problems; the game tends to derail when the player is asked to accomplish many of the more specific objectives. Most of the goals are reasonably well thought-out, but there is no sort of in-game map or HUD to guide you to whatever whatzit or thingamabob Ash is trying to track down in the aforementioned sprawling levels. So accomplishing goals often degenerates into running around killing random Deadites in the vain hope that you find the one carrying the precious spoon, stick, or rock that he needs so desperately. Bosses are quite nice-looking, but are significantly less than formidable, often requiring less strategy and skill to defeat than your average boss from a Super Mario Bros. game. Also, the game itself is not exceptionally long, taking perhaps a weekend worth of diligent play to best. And though there is an arcade mode to fiddle with, there's little else to do once it has been beaten.

So, while FFoB is quite a pleasing action title on most accounts, it may not have the depth or longevity for more than a few spins in the average gamer's system. But then again, it has Bruce Campbell… and it's only $20…

James' score: 3 ½ (out of 5)