Ever since noted horror author HP Lovecraft first mentioned the infamous "book of the dead' aka The Necronomicon, the book has become a staple element of horror fiction and cinema.
Perhaps the most famous series to use the infamous tome as a plot device is Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies. The Evil Dead trilogy has become a cult favorite, thanks to a humorous storyline involving lovable doofus Ash (played by the inimitable Bruce Campbell) and his seemingly never-ending battle against the Deadite hordes who are resurrected when The Necronomicon's incantations are read aloud. Gory, funny, and wildly entertaining despite their low-budget origins, the Evil Dead films are certifiable classics in the field of horror cinema.
It's no surprise then that THQ appropriated the rights to the series in order to create videogames based on the license. The first, Evil Dead: Hail To The King, was a miserable flop that appeared both on the Dreamcast and the PlayStation. With a mixture of Resident Evil-styled gameplay and shoddy graphics, the game tanked. However, the Evil Dead license was just too good to be dumped after one poor game. So, THQ and developer VIS (the guys responsible for the mega-hyped failure State Of Emergency) began work on a new Evil Dead game: Evil Dead: A Fistful Of Boomstick. While not a great game on any level, the game does at least improve upon its predecessor.
In the simplest of terms, Boomstick plays a lot like State Of Emergency and Hunter: The Reckoning. Players take control of Ash and travel through Dearborn, Michigan dispatching Deadites with extreme prejudice and trying to seal some sort of inter-dimensional doorway that's been opened when a local occult expert reads from The Necronomicon while on live television.
To accomplish this task, Ash will have to make full use of a variety of weapons. Some, such as the infamous chainsaw that has taken the place of his right hand and the "boomstick' shotgun of the title, will be familiar to long time fans of the films. Other items, like dynamite, are solely inventions included to increase the gameplay mechanics of the title.
Armed with these new toys, players will guide Ash through the city, completing various mission-like objectives that are assigned by the non-playable characters he encounters. The missions are all relatively simple, and involve fetching an item (or in some cases, items) to complete an objective. Like many of the other games in the survival horror genre (which this game is sort of tenuously linked to), the fetching often involves backtracking all the way across an area to find said item.
Fortunately, slaughtering the evil dead is pretty fun. Ash can equip two weapons at once, with each one assigned its own face button on the dualshock controller. This allows players to get a little creative in terms of dispatching the undead around them. Combos can be achieved through some experimentation, although none of them are essential to getting through the game. In other words, hacking and slashing will get the player through—but if he wants to look cool, he'll have to experiment a bit. It's this experimentation that keeps the game's tedious gameplay from becoming completely overwhelming.
To keep things from being totally hack-and-slash, the title attempts to work in some spells for Ash to use to aid him on his quest. It's a shame that none of the spells are very useful outside of a few very plot-specific situations. Sure, players can use them all whenever they choose, but they never really serve much purpose.
Visually, the game is ugly—there's just no other way to say it. Sporting some low-res graphics, weak character models, one of the blandest (and darkest) color schemes to come along in awhile, and some really lame texture work, Boomstick isn't going to be collecting any awards for its graphical prowess. The Ash character model looks okay (well, except for his face—which sort of looks like he ate too many prunes before starting the adventure), but it's the one life preserver in a sea of visual mediocrity.
Of course, the cheap visual look almost fits in a way. The Evil Dead films were all low-budget affairs that got by primarily on the hyper-kinetic directorial work of Sam Raimi. Unfortunately, none of Raimi's visual tricks make the transition to the game (with the one exception of some neat 'you are there' camerawork when Ash casts the possess deadite spell), which is unfortunate.
Luckily, the game is redeemed thanks to Bruce Campbell's presence as Ash. Campbell's dialogue work is nothing short of entertaining and should please anyone who's loved him in the films. The smarmy intonations, wry asides, and one-liners that make Ash such a beloved character are all brought into the game. Fans of Bruce Campbell and the films will find the game worth playing merely for Ash's various comments on the events transpiring around him.
Ultimately, though, Boomstick is a pretty mediocre game that works almost exclusively because of the license. It's more fun than State Of Emergency (but then, what isn't?) and more interesting than Hunter: The Reckoning (if only because Ash is a more identifiable character than anyone featured in that game), but most gamers will have to ask themselves if that actually means anything since neither of those games were classics to begin with.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PlayStation 2 version of the game.