"Watch Ash get reduced to being the disgruntled straight man to an annoying sidekick!"
Evil Dead: Regeneration proves the old adage that says the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. The logic behind the game is obvious: The Evil Dead is a popular horror series, Bruce Campbell's Ash is one of the most recognized and beloved characters in the genre and those of us who play games never get tired of shooting and disemboweling monsters. With a good budget and inspired writing, there is most definitely a great game waiting to be made based on those movies.
This isn't it, though. For some reason, Crazy Pants Software decided that what The Evil Dead really needed was for Ash to have an obnoxious side-kick to banter with for hours while completing tiresome escort missions that take place in an obviously low-budget setting. Instead of doing justice to its source material, Regeneration comes off as a cut-rate marriage between God of War and The Suffering, with combo-heavy battling in a survival horror setting.
So, remember how Evil Dead II ended? With Ash somehow transported through a vortex to a medieval world that set up Army of Darkness? Well, that didn't actually happen. Instead, Ash took a one-way trip to the local insane asylum, a location headed by an evil doctor interested in using the powers of the Necronomicon to become godlike or whatever. The plot thickens when Ash's lawyer obtains Professor Knowby's diary, which is crucial to the doctor's plans. Next thing you know, his ceremony doesn't go off as planned and Deadites take over the asylum.
As Ash, you'll leave your cell and enter The Suffering at the moment Torque escapes death row due to paranormal influences. You'll see people getting dragged into cells, only to explode into masses of blood and detached limbs. You'll hear strange voices, and you'll think it could almost be effective if it had the production values of that superior game. A dead security guard gives Ash his first weapon -- a puny pistol. Around this time, Deadites start attacking him, so you get to awkwardly fight them. Since the pistol is very ineffective at even slowing down these animated corpses, you'll find yourself bashing them with a crude melee attack and peppering them with bullets when they're down.
Things get easier after a while, once you're able to pick up his trusty chainsaw-and-shotgun combination, which makes it child's play to toss out combination attacks to utterly destroy multiple Deadites in seconds. It's just like God of War, if enemies in that game were a bit more willing to wait for you to dispose of their comrades before lunging at you. Occasionally, you'll deal with quick-time events when Hellhounds pounce on you or your chainsaw "clashes blades" with the weaponry of Blocking Deadites. After an early-game boss, Ash gains a super-powered evil side that he's able to unleash to really maul foes. Just like The Suffering -- except without being tied into any sort of morality system determining what ending you get.
Anyway, to get back on track... After defeating a boss and escaping the asylum, your mission is to stop the evil doctor by closing a bunch of portals that grant Deadites entry into the world. Up until now, Regeneration had been a somewhat effective (if crude, simplistic and linear) game. Things change for the worse when Ash leaves the facility. You see, one of the doctor's experiments was a bizarre human-Deadite hybrid named Sam. The diminutive chap is essentially immortal, as his curse of unending life causes him to quickly respawn if anything smashes him. He's also amazingly annoying. The game's dialogue descends into a never-ceasing, circular argument between him and Ash, concerning the truly astonishing amount of casual banter the l'il guy is capable of emitting. Bruce Campbell is reduced to spending the majority of his voice-acting playing the role of exasperated straight man to Ted Raimi's Sam, with dialogue reminiscent of a particularly lackluster Looney Tunes cartoon. To save readers the experience of actually listening to any of this, here's a summary of their dialogue.
SAM: Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk, talk.
ASH: If you don't SHUT UP, I'm gonna PULVERIZE YA!
Man, you'd be amazed at how much mileage all parties involved got from variations of that! After a couple of hours, I might have felt mildly embarrassed simply because I enjoyed the movies in The Evil Dead series, but they sure explored the dynamic of Ash being really annoyed with his chatterbox sidekick, didn't they?!?
Anyway, Sam has more to do in this game than just make me strongly consider muting the TV, as many aspects revolve around him. First, you can kick him. Right after you obtain him as your sidekick, Regeneration throws you a bone by placing you in a room where you can kick him into various pieces of machinery to brutally dissect his body. That's very therapeutic, though not actually helpful. A more useful occasion to abuse him is when you're confronting monsters. A well-placed kick will send him onto their shoulders, where he'll then distract or kill them. This is useful when fighting a crowd of weak foes, and it's downright essential when Deadites are on top of buildings firing projectiles at Ash.
That scenario actually can be fun, though. It's a neat little mechanic that makes Sam useful while also playing into Ash's (and my) dislike of dealing with an ally who's violently opposed to the concept of silence. Other functions of Sam, while certainly useful, aren't as enjoyable. First, we have areas where Ash has to possess Sam in order to send him into places too small for a normal-sized human to fit. While he can fight on his own, typically by shooting Deadites with stunning projectiles before running up to them for a one-hit kill, he's not that good at it and possesses virtually no durability that might allow him to withstand their blows. Therefore, you spend a lot of time re-doing these stages until you can overcome or avoid all the enemies and obstacles between you and your objective. All while wondering why one of the most entertaining and charismatic characters in horror history is playing second fiddle to this yammering weakling.
And then we have the periodic confrontations with a gigantic, soul-eating being that Ash immediately dubs "Peepers". Whenever encountering it, you have to explore the area to find three souls that you can feed it. Whenever you reach one, Sam is temporarily possessed, leading him to run around until he reaches Peepers while Deadites pop up in an attempt to slaughter him. Controlling Ash, you have to follow while disposing of any opposition. If something corners Sam and kills him, you then have to re-collect the soul. Once all three have been fed to Peepers, you're allowed to advance to the next part of the game. The first time I did this, it was a reasonably enjoyable change-of-pace from what I'd been doing. By the time I reached my third go-around with Peepers, I started to get the idea this was the sort of padding inserted into the game by someone of limited imagination who just figured out that simply using The Evil Dead name and its main star only goes so far in creating a quality product. You know, the same path that leads to Ash being saddled with a wacky TV sitcom sidekick!
Despite all this, I'd be willing to call Regeneration a passable "junk food" gaming experience capable of fitting into the tried-and-true "rent, don't buy" category, if only it had a larger budget and a bit more quality control. It's hard for me to describe the character animation as anything better than "awkward", especially in comparison to those larger-budget games I mentioned early in this review. I'd be hacking away at foes, while their comrades were just sort of waiting for their turn, as long as I maintained some degree of motion. While the controls definitely are superior to the tank-like ones in old survival horror games, they also are a bit inferior to what I'd want from a game where you're regularly battling in enclosed spaces. Occasionally, the game would crash on me and, at one point, I opened a door and the next room didn't load in, leading me to fall eternally through an endless gray environment.
So, what does Regeneration provide players? Unfulfilled potential, mainly; just like so many other licensed games I've played over the years. It's not hard for me to imagine a good Evil Dead-based game, but the one in my mind doesn't devolve into a horror-comedy take on mismatched buddy cop films, where players regularly listen to the two leads bicker and argue while traveling through linear stages and undergoing the same challenges over and over again with only minor differences such as Deadites that suddenly gain the ability to throw dynamite. Sure, The Evil Dead was a low-budget film series that became really popular in spite of the lack of funding. That's because "low-budget" and "amateurish" aren't necessarily synonyms. This game, though, is amateurish all the way.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (December 09, 2016)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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