Review: Evil Dead: A Fistfull Of Boomstick (PS2)

“Enter the Matrix . . . . . out.”

“NBA Street 2 . . . . out.”

The bad part about getting a game review assignment on Friday night is that none of the new releases are available. Well, almost none.

“Wolverine’s Revenge . . . . all copies in.”

What’s scarier: The thought that you’ll never get to rent a game you’ve been dying to try out (I STILL haven’t found a copy of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance) or the knowledge that a game as hyped as Wolvie’s Revenge must suck that incredibly?

Fortunately, I came across a game that I had heard about only the previous weekend. Two copies available, with one already rented out. Respectable. Like that indie movie that your friend tells you about, which you go and find a copy of and spend the rest of the year gushing about to your friends. A lot like that actually, because this is the latest in the series that started with the ultimate indie horror film; and if you think I mean “Blair Witch” sit down and take notes, cause I’m taking your butt to school, Junior. The movie is “The Evil Dead.”

Game: Evil Dead: A Fistfull of Boomstick
Platform: PS2
Venue: The 60″ projection TV (what, you think I can afford plasma?) in my living room
Snack: Oatmeal cookies and Pepsi

“Stop, collaborate, and listen. Ash is back with a brand new edition.” Ash Williams, as voiced by Bruce Campbell, is back to save the world from the Deadites . . . again. Dearborn, Michigan is getting overrun by the undead, and it’s up to Ash to chainsaw his way through the bodies. A la “Army of Darkness”, he gets to do some time traveling through four different eras of Dearborn’s existence. It starts in present day, then takes turns through Colonial Dearborn (circa 1695 . . . don’t think too much about it), Civil War Dearborn (complete with Union and Confederate armies. Again, don’t think too much.), and Evil (in a taken-over-by-undead way, not a typical-Detroit-suburb way) Dearborn.

Ash slashes through the four worlds, and a total of 7 levels, in the typical fight-find item-finish objective-fight boss-wash-rinse-repeat pattern. Not terribly innovative, but come on; it’s Evil Dead. It’s not like they’re going to have Ash wander around a mysterious island by himself solving puzzles for 300 years. They’ve got to play to their strengths, and that’s one thing they do exceeding well with this game.

And what are those strengths? First: blood, and lots of it. Get a lucky shot with the pistol and see the zombies stagger around for a few seconds with a fountain where the head should be. Swing that chainsaw and watch the crimson arcs fly, in perfect sync with the motions of the blade, I might add.

Strength #2: Ash. The people at THQ have done an excellent job of making the lead character . . . . ASH. (This is an archetype lost on anyone who hasn’t seen an Evil Dead movie.) For example, if you target somebody behind you using L1, and fire the boomstick (shotgun, for the uninitiated) at them, Ash will put the gun behind his head and pull the trigger. If you hold down the button and fire off all rounds, Ash twirls the shotgun — STILL behind his head — as it reloads, then resumes firing. If you hold down the chainsaw attack button at a specific spot in the middle of a combo then release, Ash thrusts the chainsaw THROUGH his victim’s torso and lifts them off of the ground for a couple of seconds as the blade whirs through them. Not an efficient killing move (don’t try this when 50 Deadites are coming after your ass) but a fun one, and completely in character.

So, if it looks like Ash and it moves like Ash . . .

Strength #3: Bruce Campbell’s voice and some really good writing. The story, while simple, completely follows the campy feel of the three movies (alas, I have never played Hail to the King, so I can’t compare). Of course, Bruce Campbell could read King Lear and make it sound campy (“I have a journey, sir, shortly to go; my master calls me. I must not say no.” Admit it; it would sound funny if he said it.), and it’s not like anybody else could really voice Ash. Still, even the best voice talent can’t save a hackneyed script (see also: Jungle Book 2), and Bruce doesn’t have to here.

The in-game sounds are just as good, if not better. There’s a taunt button that enables you to hear Ash-isms at will, but the best stuff comes out on its own when Ash kills something: “I’m the disease, and you’re the cure. I . . .,” “We’ve secretly replaced this Deadite’s head with my chainsaw blade. Let’s see if he notices,” “Hey! I think I’ve found a cure for ugly!” My personal favorite was the Vanilla Ice paraphrase I used at the beginning of this review. The Deadites talk too, although it’s a raspy, groany, undead kind of talking, but it’s a nice touch. The weapon sounds are good in the horror-movie-foley-artist way. The other character voices are just as melodramatic as they need to be. The music could have used a little variety; when it pervades your dreams, you’ve listened to it for too long; but it wasn’t annoying, per se.

The action takes place from that GTA3-ish slightly removed 3rd person viewpoint which makes it lousy to see what’s sneaking up from behind the fourth wall sometimes. The environmental graphics were on par with anything else out right now. (I’m really not going to be impressed with graphics anymore until they get to photo realistic, although I was almost impressed with the cutscene graphics.) The game did a good job of shepherding you through the intermediate tasks without getting the story disjointed, as can happen with adventure games sometimes. The tasks were a bit on the easy side, and the bosses were almost dreadfully easy. I thought it was a little short, but going back and playing it again, knowing absolutely everything I needed to do to win, it still took me 4 hours. My biggest complaint is that you can’t fast-forward through some of the cutscenes, particularly the ones right before a boss. (Hey, I said they were easy, I didn’t say I was perfect.) Still, if that’s the worst thing . . . .

A neat feature is the Arcade mode. Once you win the game, you unlock the ability to play in the maps of the regular game, with the objective of killing X number of Deadites in a given time; this helps the replayability big time. In addition, there is a really good “making of” video extra on the disc, featuring a lot of Bruce Campbell.

This is a game for fans of the Evil Dead franchise, as most of the humor will be lost on anybody else. It really does a fine job of capturing the uniquely Evil Dead combination of 1 part scary to 5 parts funny, but people unfamiliar with the Ash character (i.e.: younger players) may find it a bit stale. Myself, I own a copy of Army of Darkness on DVD, so you know which category I fall into. Rated Mature, but only due to some fairly tame sexual innuendo and lots of Deadite blood. I can’t even think of any expletives in the script (although I may be wrong).

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 9.5
Gameplay: 8
Fun Factor: 10 for Evil Dead fans, 7 for everybody else.