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Evil Ash in Evil Dead: The Game. Image: Saber Interactive

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Evil Dead: The Game is a bloody good time, especially with friends

The Evil Dead game has something for fans of the movies and asymmetrical horror games alike

Pete Volk (he/they) is Polygon’s Senior Curation Editor, with a particular love for action and martial arts movies.

Evil Dead: The Game, Saber Interactive’s new asymmetrical horror game based on the cult classic Sam Raimi horror franchise, has a lot of love for its source material. The game evokes the difficult balance of blood-soaked horror and sardonic humor of the original trilogy, which is no easy feat. But just like the protagonists of the titular franchise, if you want to make it out alive, it helps to have some friends.

Combining elements of survival horror games like Dead by Daylight and action horror games like Left 4 Dead, Evil Dead: The Game’s main mode is called Survivor vs. Demon. In it, you either play on a team of four survivors or as the killer looking to pick them off one by one. You can play this mode in PvP or PvE, depending on your patience for online play — PvE options include playing with human teammates against an AI killer or with AI teammates against an AI killer. Either way, you’ll need an online connection.

The character select screen in Evil Dead: The Game, showing four playable classes, 10 playable characters, and a party comprising Kelly Maxwell, Cheryl Williams, Pablo Simon Bolivar, and Ash Williams from Ash Vs. Evil Dead. Image: Saber Interactive

Survivor vs. Demon features nine starting survivors across four classes: the team-centric Leader and Support classes as well as the more offense-minded Hunter (the ranged specialist) and Warrior (a melee-focused option). All four classes feature an Ash Williams: Ash from Evil Dead is a Support, Ash from Army of Darkness is a Warrior, and so on. All Ashes are voiced by Bruce Campbell, who brings his usual inimitable charm back to the franchise across many different versions of the character (including Evil Ash and Tiny Ashes). And Bruce isn’t alone; the voice cast is filled with actors from the movies and show. It all goes a long way to immerse players in the Evil Dead universe.

As survivors, your goal is to traverse one of the two large maps the game has at launch, finding the scattered pieces of an in-game map while also looking for weapons and other useful loot. After you find the pieces of the map, you must then capture the Necronomicon Pages and the Kandarian Dagger through two separate king-of-the-hill sequences before protecting the completed Necronomicon from hordes of enemies. It amounts to a lot of using your map to search for objectives and communicating as a team to make sure no one gets caught out by themselves. The game’s fear mechanic (which is similar to that in the excellent Phasmophobia), which makes players who are alone and/or in the dark more vulnerable to the Demon, further encourages sticking together. The map is large, and it takes time to find everything; there are cars on the map, but using them will alert the Demon to your location.

The experience of playing as a Survivor is different from many other games in the genre. For one, you can actually fight back, which adds both a sense of agency and dynamism to your attempts to make it out alive. Additionally, the looting and leveling-up mechanics are something you have to make the time for in between completing your various objectives.

As one person in a team of four, playing as a survivor butts up against an issue that has plagued online multiplayer games for as long as they’ve existed: having to trust and communicate with other people. If you have a group of friends to play with, that’s hopefully not a problem for you; the game lets you party up and queue together or set up a private lobby.

Gameplay image of a party in Evil Dead: The Game. Image: Saber Interactive

If you don’t have a group of people to play with, Evil Dead: The Game still has options to support communicative multiplayer. The game has voice chat (although as far as I could tell, no push-to-talk option), but in the matches I played with randoms, no one used it. Instead, players relied heavily on the game’s ping system as well as the general safety-in-numbers approach. We were able to accomplish our goals together, but it was hard not to imagine how much more fun it would be on a group voice call with the whole party in one place.

On the flip side, your goal as the Demon is simple: Kill the survivors before they complete their goals, or destroy the Necronomicon if they manage to find it. Each of the three playable Kandarian Demons has unique abilities, but all of them can possess and control Deadites (essentially zombie minions spawned on the map), Survivors, cars, or even trees (which can attack nearby Survivors). They can all also spawn portals that summon more Deadites, plant traps in locations around the map, and summon a boss. Demons earn the resources to use these abilities by collecting red orbs around the map, which they can only do while not inhabiting a body. In their soul form, they can zoom around the map at high speeds, recalling how the camera depicts the demons’ movement in the Evil Dead movies.

There’s enough depth in the gameplay on both sides of Demon vs. Survivor to reward experimentation digging into it. The compelling atmosphere, straightforward objectives, and satisfyingly bloody combat provide just enough of a framework to keep things approachable for all skill levels while letting the inherent terror of the situation do the rest of the work. If you have a group of friends or don’t mind queuing up with randos, it can be a blast.

But there is also pure single-player content in Evil Dead: The Game beyond the PvE version of the online game mode. It comes in the form of missions, which are discrete scenarios that play out as more action-heavy versions of scenes from the movies and show (the first one has you digging up Ash’s girlfriend’s decapitated head). Playing these missions unlocks characters you can use in the online game mode.

The cabin in the woods in Evil Dead: The Game. Image: Saber Interactive

The mission select screen presents each of these scenarios as VHS covers like you would see at a rental video store (remember those?). It’s a great fit, and it’s a lot of fun to insert yourself into moments from the movies. But the missions are just long and difficult enough to make you wish there was some sort of a checkpoint system (too many times I would slog through 15-20 minutes only to die at the final encounter and have to start over). As it stands, the missions feel more like add-on content meant for unlocking characters rather than the pieces of a substantial campaign mode in and of itself.

All in all, Evil Dead: The Game is a solid addition to the asymmetrical horror genre, bringing in elements from adjacent genres to build a thrilling and fun group experience. It’s also got the blood and guts and creepy atmosphere you’d expect from the source material — one of the Demons has a mechanic that jump-scares a player like those old prank internet videos. When you’re playing as a Survivor, there’s always the sense that the Demon is lurking right around the corner (and the game’s audio certainly plays that up).

Crucially, the game nails the unique tone of the cult classics. Bringing back many of the actors (especially Campbell) goes a long way, but the sounds and sights of the game immediately evoke the movies, down to the eerie details in the infamous cabin in the woods (that cellar door!) or how the characters function mechanically (the Necromancer can summon a skeleton flautist to power up attacks, like in Army of Darkness). But before you dive in, double-check whether you have a crew that will help you make it out alive.