Horror movies have been popular for many years now, though rarely liked by critics who often dismiss them as some kind of lowly, salacious art form. Fans of the genre, on the other hand, can be rabid in their desire to see more; more gore, more death, more witty one-liners. Indeed, it is hard to imagine the genre without one of the founding fathers of modern horror – The Evil Dead. Released in the early ?80s, The Evil Dead introduced the world to the ?necronomicon ex mortis’ – the book of the dead. As well as being perhaps the most notorious horror movie of its time (having been banned in England for almost twenty years, post release), it also introduced genre fans to perhaps the most interesting anti-hero of all time in Ashley J. Williams, or Ash, as his friends, enemies, and legions of fans would grow to know him. Publisher THQ, along with developer VIS Entertainment have decided once more to entice fans into the shoes of Ash, as he travels through time in his fight against the Deadites.
First impressions of Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, will very much depend on the ?B-movie’ factor. That relates to two things: firstly, how much you like cheesy horror themes, and secondly, how much you like the work of Bruce Campbell. The game starts out in Dearborn, Michigan, which is Ash’s hometown. Sitting alone in a bar, he remorsefully recounts his experiences to a glass of bourbon and the resident bartender. Meanwhile, at the local television station KLA2 (any Evil Dead fan should understand the significance of that!), an obnoxious television presenter fronting a show covering the supernatural is interviewing a stuffy archaeologist about the necronomicon, and decides that playing an extract from the book of the dead over the airwaves would be a good idea. It isn’t. Shortly after this, Ash once again finds himself on the streets trying to save himself, and the town of Dearborn, from hordes of the undead.
The gameplay in A Fistful of Boomstick makes little pretence of having more to offer than wave after wave of deadites to slaughter. There are some simplistic ?find key, take to door’ puzzle elements, but in reality they do little more than encourage backtracking through which the gamer can lay waste to more legions of the undead. The one thing that will keep many fans playing is the abundant use of Evil Dead related trivia and inside jokes in most aspects of the game (like the previously mentioned television station). Another interesting element is the fact that Ash will travel through various time periods in Dearborn’s history, although this also proves to be one of the games biggest drawbacks. The entire game is really played in a slightly altering version of the same basic level, and this lack of variation will probably not keep regular gamers engaged for long.
Anybody who has played State of Emergency should get an immediate sense of d?j? vu from this title. The developers have used the same engine as in the aforementioned title?and it shows. Whereas State of Emergency had low quality character models running around en masse to use as an excuse for low performance, this title has a lesser amount of characters displayed, but it does little to take the onus away from the poor character detail. In graphical terms, the main character model for Ash is pretty good, and provides a humorous, yet accurate portrayal of both the character and Bruce Campbell. Some of Campbell’s signature moves are also on display, such as his arrogant, over-the-shoulder firing technique. Of course, he would not be Ash without the iconic combination of double-barreled shotgun and chainsaw hand. While there are many different weapon combinations, including new attachments for his right stump, most players will find that the shotgun and chainsaw combo will comfortably see them through the majority of the game. The remaining character models, which encompass both friends and enemies, tend to be simplistic and somewhat poor in their texture work. Animation is also rather stiff, and while the deadites can get away with this (in the early movies they had kind of an erratic stagger), on the human characters it just seems plain awkward. The environments are okay, but seem blocky and uninspired, utilizing mainly flat coloration with little variation. This tends to apply across all the playable time zones within the game, which unfortunately lends itself to a feeling of ?been there, done that’.
Sound, along with the rest of the package, proves quirky. The general music is fairly subtle when not in combat, and proves to be quite foreboding; it always has a rather good sense of dread permeating through it. However, the music played during combat, is upbeat and overly dramatic. This can be seen as either ill fitting, or faithful to the Fistful of Boomstick’s ?B-movie’ ambience, but one thing is for certain, the dynamic soundtrack changes abruptly, rather than smoothly. The big benefit of the soundtrack should be the verbal musings of Bruce Campbell, and while they do prove entertaining in the context of the game, they do not seem as witty as Ash should be. This is probably due to an almost mundane script, which displays little knowledge of the source material, and certainly pales when placed alongside some of the visual in-jokes.
The replay value of Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick is painfully absent. While there is an arcade mode that can be accessed once the levels are unlocked, there is precious little else to draw a gamer, or a fan, back for more once the final credits have rolled. In summary, despite the vocal work of Campbell, which entertains above its mundane writing, and the cult subject matter, this game has too many flaws when compared to its benefits. The game is fun, yes, and arguably more so for a Sam Raimi/Bruce Campbell fan, but the game is even going to prove just rough enough around the edges that even they will see its glaring flaws. Like State of Emergency before it, Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick retails for just $19.99USD, and this fact has not been ignored during the writing of this review. Evil Dead fans take a look, but do not expect the triumphant return of Ash. Gaming public at large – rent before purchase.