I spent the better part of an hour ruminating on how to start this review. I considered talking about how much I love the Evil Dead films and Bruce Campbell, about how I wish the games made from the series would get a bigger budget, and how I like the idea of decent games coming out with a $20 price point.
However, at the end of that hour, the thing that kept coming back to me was this: If you love the Evil Dead films, you will enjoy this game. If you don't get giddy every time someone says "say hello to my boomstick," then you're probably better off just skipping this game and the review.
I can spend 1,500 words talking about cameras and voice acting and combo systems and graphics, but this game really transcends all that and comes down to one thing: Are you an Evil Dead fanboy or not? If you are, this is a diamond in the (very) rough. If you're not, this is cheap action game that occasionally has potential, but never realizes it. It's that simple.
Naturally, being a fan of all things horror (and specifically Evil Dead), Regeneration is a diamond in the rough to me. It's not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but the presence of not only Bruce Campbell but also Ted Raimi makes up for a whole lot of flaws. Seeing Ash spout new variations of some of his classic one-liners often made me forget how terrible the occasional platforming element was or just how flawed the targeting system could be in a crowded room. Regeneration is a game, but it's also something of a love letter to the fans. Because of this, it's a tough game to review. (That's why they pay me the big bucks, though; to review those games that decry easy categorization.)
The game opens up at the end of Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn. Ash is trapped in the cabin surrounded by evil Kandarian demons, but instead of getting sucked into a portal that dumps him in the middle ages (which was the set up for the third film, Army of Darkness), Ash is instead arrested for massacring his friends with a chainsaw and remanded to a psychiatric institution.
Unfortunately for him, the evil Dr. Reinhard has obtained not only the Necronomicon, but also Professor Knowby's diary on how to use it. As such, he's opened portals into alternate dimensions, allowing the Deadites to return to Earth. Who can stop this potential catastrophe in the making? Ash. Of course, he can't do it alone this time out. Coming along for the ride is a half-human half-Deadite named Sam who can get into cramped spaces and help with all the undead slaying.
What ensues is a startlingly short action game wherein Ash and Sam bicker with each other endlessly while closing portals in locations as diverse and astonishing as "the cemetery," "the swamp," and "the ship docks." The game follows an essentially linear progression through each area with the occasional side path leading to a hidden goodie in the form of pages from the Necronomicon. These pages unlock bonus materials, most of which are Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi talking about Evil Dead or doing their lines in the sound booth. For the Evil Dead geek, this stuff is actually pretty sweet.
Each area plays out in pretty much the same fashion. Ash and Sam show up, they kill hordes of Deadites, they free three souls to feed to a gatekeeper, then they move on to a boss fight. Within each level there's usually a spot where Ash has to possess Sam and send him to an unreachable area to advance. Sam is technically undead, so he can get killed time and again with no penalty. As he achieves a goal in each area, players are treated to yet another gruesome death for Sam. These never get old, nor do the conversations between Ash and Sam. There are some genuinely hilarious dialogue exchanges between the two characters, and I found myself often just stopping and letting them stand idly so I could see what they'd say to each other.
Despite the puzzles and the rare bit of platforming, the core of the game is centered on combat. Ash will find a variety of tools and weapons as the game progresses and he can dual-wield throughout. The game features a surprisingly robust combo system that makes the early levels a lot of fun. Whacking the undead with your chainsaw hand then finishing them off with a shotgun blast to the head is definitely cathartic.
There are, unfortunately, two problems with this set up. First, it's entirely possible to wade through enemies early on with the standard generic three-tap combo and finishing move. Second, latter stages of the game feature a few weapons that are so unbalanced players will rarely deviate from a "target and strafe" plan of attack. This makes the endgame feel repetitive. Add in that there's no need to ever find more ammo for any weapon and the game is even more simplistic than the last Evil Dead game, A Fistfull of Boomstick.
My other "major" complaint with the game is the camera. Yes, developers have been making 3D games for roughly a decade now, and no, they still haven't really figured out how to implement a camera that doesn't screw over the player at nearly every turn. The camera in Regeneration is not terrible; it's just sluggish and has a tendency to get caught on objects in the environment. Because of this, it's all too easy to be targeting enemies who are actually behind the player instead of the one standing right in front of them. Add in a slightly wonky targeting system (which manages to target everyone but the enemy the player needs to hit most of the time) and the game can be a little frustrating in spots.
This frustration is short-lived, though, because Evil Dead: Regeneration can be completed in under eight hours. The lack of difficulty settings or unlockable in-game extras means this is essentially a "play it once and put it on the shelf" title. Since it retails for a mere $20, the short playtime isn't a deal breaker, but I was pretty surprised to find myself at the last boss after two playing sessions.
All of which brings me to a rant. I'm delighted to see Evil Dead in videogame form. Ash and the story of the films are perfect for a game. (And if you don't believe me, just take a look at how many videogame characters in other franchises have been inspired by Ash…starting with Duke Nukem.)
So why does THQ insist on releasing these budget-priced titles that never live up to their potential? Why not give one of these games a standard development budget and run with it and see what happens? As an Intellectual Property, Evil Dead is certainly something with enough of a hardcore following that people would shell out $50 for a title that actually delivered. Ash is a cult figure…so, why not capitalize on that and make these games into a legitimate franchise? Sure, that Dreamcast Evil Dead game wasn't a budget title and it sucked, but I think the time is right to give it another shot. These characters deserve a bigger canvas on which to tell their tale…