Evil Dead: Hail to the King
There is a very fine balance between terror and laughter, a balance which few films manage to strike. They can scare you out of your wits in a way that makes you keep your bedside lamp on throughout the night or they can make you go into hysterics so that you chuckle to yourself for days afterwards. But it's a rare film that manages to do both. Evil Dead was such a film - the balance shifting largely to the area of comedy for the sequels - and we hold a special place in our memory for its triumph of talent over budget. Watching an uncut version at the tender age of ten might have scarred me for life and given me nightmares well into my late teens, but I still have a Star Wars like veneration for it. Now there's a computer game based on it. It won't scare you and it won't make you laugh. But its achievement is almost as great, striking as it does a fine balance between despair, disappointment, anger and frustration.
Dawn Of The Dead
For all you uncultured philistines out there who don't know the story, it goes like this. Ash arrives at an old log cabin in the mountains with a group of friends - or just his girlfriend in the sequel's version - to spend a quiet weekend. There they discover the Necronomicon, an ancient Sumerian book bound in human skin, also known as the Book Of The Dead. They also find a recording by the previous occupant of the cabin, a professor studying the book, who recites passages and inadvertently releases an evil presence from the woods. People get possessed and turn into a terrifying combination of Linda Blair in The Exorcist and George Romero's zombies, while Ash is left to chop everyone to bits with a chainsaw. Not the most sophisticated of plots, I grant you, but brilliantly staged by Sam Raimi's maverick camera movements.
The game is set eight years after the last film, when Ash has settled down with a new girlfriend to a normal life. Soon, though, he is haunted by nightmares of his experiences and returns to the old cabin to put his demons to rest.
On arriving, his girlfriend is kidnapped and he is forced to once again kick some demon ass. It's around here that it all goes horribly wrong.
Army Of Blandness
The intention is obviously to rip off Resident Evil as much as possible, mixing gory action with simple puzzle-solving. And it doesn't work. The graphics are poor, but it's the total lack of atmosphere and the infuriating gameplay that get to you in the end.
Despite starting out in a more or less detailed recreation of the cabin and featuring Bruce Campbell's vocal talents, you never feel like you're in the films. Interaction is selective and makes exploration and adventuring pretty unexciting, but more annoying is the way combat has been implemented. Since there's no one around to be possessed, deadites (floating demons incapable of causing any terror) appear out of nowhere, one after the other. And, because fighting them consists mainly ot waving your axe and your chainsaw in their general direction until they disappear, you soon start biting your lower lip in annoyance. The controls are poor and unintuitive, but here at least the PC has an advantage over the console versions in that you can use your mouse. It would have worked k even better it strafing was of L any use, or if Ash actually did what you wanted him to do.
The pitiful camera angles don't help either. The engine seems to have all the disadvantages of the Nocturne engine without W any of the benefits (such as r incredible visuals). You end up dreading the next monster, not because they're scary, but because the combat is so dull and dying is so frustrating. Since you can hardly move to dodge these waves of creatures, the game lazily solves the lack of balance by giving you health at almost every step. And you need it too. You can only save when you find a film reel and are standing near an inventory chest, and this happens all too infrequently.
Ashes To Ashes
There are so many great things tram the films that never get a look-in or are just badly presented: that disturbing rattling trap door; the raping tree (here it's just a big fat stomping trunk); the horrifying sounds; the camera flying through the air; the cheap but incredibly effective make-up of the possessed, along with their evil laughs. Even memorable scenes like Ash's freshly buried girlfriend bursting from the ground and cackling maniacally are given a risible ghosts 'n' goblins treatment.
Ash, a loveable and idiotic action hero who drops a one-liner every time he breathes, was always crying out to become a videogame character (Duke Nukem was loosely based on him). But despite Bruce Campbell's voice, he still seems a little flat. Fans who see something they love translated into another medium - whether it's a book turned into a film or a comic turned into a TV series - always build fiercely high expectations, only to be inevitably disappointed. But Hail To The King would still be a poor game without the Evil Dead baggage. In fact, it would be downright rubbish without the little magic it has stolen from the films.
There may be no raping trees, but our fond memories have been brutally violated.
Licence To Kill
Or how to disappoint your fans.
Evil Dead isn't the first great film licence to be killed by ineptitude. Almost every Star Trek game with the exception of Voyager is bad, and Star Wars has also been known to produce some real duds. Force Commander, for example, should have been one of the greatest real-time strategies ever made, but wasn't The brilliant Men In Black got turned into yet another unplayable Resident Evil clone, while the priceless Starship Hoopers licence was inexplicably wasted on a very shite strategy game. Then there's The Fifth Element, Blair Witch (parts two and three), Trespasser (Jurassic Park game), and the Die Hard Trilogy. Still, none have yet to achieve the failure of ETon the Atari, which did so badly millions of copies were buried in the desert.
Want to know more about the films?
Evil Dead was made in 1979 for a ridiculously low amount of money, using home-made special effects, released in 1982 and banned shortly afterwards.
The sequel, Dead By Dawn (1987), had a bigger budget and was considered to be as much a remake as it was a follow-up. In fact, only the first 15 minutes or so are a retelling - with a few changes - of the events in the first film (because they couldn't get footage of the original due to copyright). DBD also added more humour, culminating in the farcical trilogy-closer, Army Of Darkness in 1993.
Written off by many hardcore horror fans, AOD isn't really a horror film at all, but a medieval comic caper with plenty of gore served as a side dish. Ironically, while the film is more accessible to the general public and conceived as a big production, it flopped badly at the cinema. Sam Raimi was only 20 when he directed the first one, and it was his first feature movie. His current project is the massive Hollywood blockbuster Spiderman.
Download Evil Dead: Hail to the King
Fans of the psychotic Evil Dead trilogy will be pleased to hear that Heavy Iron Studios is working on an Evil Dead game that takes place a few years after the madness in Army of Darkness. Ash (to be voiced by none other than Bruce Campbell) must return to the infamous cabin in the woods to battle the evil forces that are crossing over into our world, no thanks to the Necronomicon, a.k.a. the Book of the Dead. The game boasts full-motion, layered 2D backgrounds, 24-Bit textures, upgradable weapons, non-linear gameplay, puzzle solving and all the humor and gory action that made the Sam Raimi flicks such cult favorites. We'll have more on THQ's highly anticipated fall release in an upcoming issue.
Due out in time for Halloween, Evil Dead: Hail to the King takes the Bruce Campbell cult hit and straps it to Sony's 32-Bit console. Have shotgun and chainsaw, will travel. Get ready to take on the Deadites through a vast array of prerendered backgrounds that give "survival-horror" a new meaning. Let's hope THQ and Heavy Iron get the gameplay thing down in time for its release.
Ah, the Evil Dead Trilogy. Few films in the horror genre are as quoted, imitated or revered. Fans of the franchise have been begging for a new installment since Army of Darkness hit theaters in 1993, to no avail. At this point, fellow splatter buffs, it seems that we will never bear witness to a fourth film. But fear not... Heavy Iron Studios has made certain that we have not seen the last of Ash, the series' knucklehead warrior. This brand-new interactive chapter brings him back to the malevolent woods that set the stage for Evil Dead 1 and 2. Wanting to determine if the experiences chronicled in the films were real or elaborate dreams, Ash and his girlfriend drive to a familiar forest cabin. Once there, a sinister specter abducts our hero's gal, forcing him to load his shotgun, fuel his chain saw, and kick some ass.
Then, midway through the game, a second act begins, sending our hero back through time. Just as in Army of Darkness, Ash enlists the aid of medieval clansmen to continue his quest. The hero's interactions with these ancient citizens makes for some hilarious dialogue, reflecting the third film's comic tone. A new series of conflicts arise: Will Ash reclaim his girlfriend from an evil incarnation of himself? Can a spinach-chinned scribe help our hero return home? Is Ash's jalopy capable of starting up after travelling through time and surviving a crash landing?
Hail to the King uses the Resident Evil series as a template for presentation and control --if you have battled through any of Capcom's survival horror adventures, navigating Evil Dead should be second nature. Ash rotates on a fixed axis (no matter what direction you face, pressing up always moves your character forward). You can run by holding down a shoulder button and the backgrounds are prerendered. Axes, firearms and various saw blades are on hand to slice, smash and blast through phantoms that stand in your way. If an undead goon gets too close to Ash's chainsaw, it'll get impaled on the blade and spun around like a pinwheel. You'll want to dole out your vengeance selectively, though: Ammo is quite limited. And be choosy about what you hold and what you leave behind: Ash can't carry his entire inventory at one time, and anything that can't be held must be stored in a wooden chest. Getting caught without a key item or enough ammo is a very real danger. Sound familiar? The prerendered backgrounds are dark and atmospheric, invoking a mood that Sam Raimi himself would be proud of. Interiors are lovingly detailed to match the film sets to a tee--pop in the DVD of Evil Dead 2, compare, and come away astonished. Exterior environmental effects bring the settings to life: Trees sway subtly in the wind, day turns to night, and fire gives an orange hue to surrounding foliage.
It's clear the developers are die-hard fans of director Sam Raimi's work--they really tried to re-create both the horror and the humor of the feature films. Take the inclusion of a "taunt" button, which allows Ash to break out with some of his legendary one-liners. Thought it was cool to hear Duke Nukem shamelessly quote Evil Dead's famed protagonist? Imagine getting to hear the words come from the man himself: Bruce Campbell. The actor provides Hail to the King with all of Ash's witty verbiage.
Hail to the King puts its audio to work in other areas as well. Ever gone to a horror movie and seen audience members cover their eyes before something creepy is going to happen? Audio cues can often do more to keep viewers on the edge of their seat than any amount of explicit gore can. The Resident Evil and Dino Crisis games are proof positive of that. If the pouncing chord that accompanied the mass of outstretched zombie arms in Resident Evil 2 made you jump, just wait 'til you hear the demons in Hail to the King giggling like children. Creaking doors, crackling campfires and howling winds make this game a great one to play in a room with a stereo surround setup.
It all sounds good so far...so what, then, could keep this from being a "must-own" title? For starters, the characters in this preview could use some work in the animation and texture departments. The control scheme can also be quite frustrating when you're being charged from all sides by regenerating enemies. And hopefully, the instant 180 turn--now a survival horror staple-- will be added.
All in all Heavy Iron Studios seems to have a firm grasp on what has made the film series a cult favorite, and they've gone to great lengths to bring it home to the consoles. Now it's all up to those crucial final weeks of polish.