Added to the lair: 3/14/21
Evil Dead: Hail to the King
Good? Bad? I'm the guy with the gun...
I love the Evil Dead series, I love survival horror, I’ve never had issues with tank controls, and I have more patience and appreciation for old janky games than most, so I think I'm about as squarely in the target demographic for Evil Dead: Hail to the King as one can be but uh... man... it really doesn't do it for me at all. Ordinarily I only release games that I have a moderate amount of appreciation for, so chalk this one up squarely in the “because some people asked for it” category.
Resident Evil 4 is typically pointed out as the impetus for a shift in the survival horror genre into something more action-oriented than in days past. Now there are certainly earlier cases of this - games like Dino Crisis 2 for example - but Resident Evil 4 is when it really took hold and had a significant impact on the genre as a whole. Games like Dead Space, for example, owe a significant portion of their DNA to that title. The survival horror games that predate Resident Evil 4 that attempted a more action-oriented take on the genre had widely varying degrees of success, with games like Dino Crisis 2 near the top, Nightmare Creatures somewhere in the middle... and games like Evil Dead: Hail to the King near the bottom.
I found the combat in ED:HttK to be extremely clumsy and awkward. You have two weapons at a time - your chainsaw and then one other - and you'll continually flail these back and forth at enemies, sometimes turning on your chainsaw for extra damage. Then on top of this you want to shout taunts at enemies as you have them in your chainsaw's death grip and finish them off by an attack with your other weapon which makes them drop more items - a bit like an early (and terrible) version of Doom 2016's glory kills. In theory this sounds okay, but in practice it just comes across as a clunky half-baked mess. This might not be so bad were it not for the fact that there's so much of it. Games like Silent Hill don't have particularly good combat either, but they can fall back on the fact that they're not combat-centric to begin with, and indeed you spend most of your time trying to avoid combat because the game leaves you perpetually ill-equipped for it (by design). In ED:HttK the combat is front and center nearly all the time which is a problem when it's so bad. The game constantly throws enemies at you, and those enemies have way more health than they should, making it extremely tedious just trying to get around. To make matters worse, some enemies even respawn infinitely. Things get a little better over time. In fact I’d say the beginning is the worst section of the game by far because of the annoying enemies you’re faced with, a very annoying forest maze, and not being able to use the converter initially (which you use to create more health packs and fuel for the chainsaw) - for some reason they decided to front load the game with all the worst bits. The combat is never good at any point, but once some of the annoying peripheral elements are eliminated it’s more tolerable at least.
The story is a continuation of the Evil Dead storyline following Army of Darkness. It’s probably the game’s strongest asset, but that isn’t saying a whole lot. Some of it is kindof nonsensical gibberish but that isn’t necessarily out of place in this setting. Bruce Campbell provides the voice for Ash, so that’s a definite plus. It starts with you returning to the cabin from the first two films and eventually leads to a shift in scenery through another vortex ala Army of Darkness, which is where things get a bit better. I just wish you didn’t have to trudge through the constant hassle of tedious combat to get to it.
Survival horror games are at their best when they play on your anticipation of the next encounter. Building that tension is the magic sauce that makes the genre work - even the more action-oriented entrants generally understand and embrace this. It’s what makes some of Evil Dead’s design decisions so misguided. Its insistence in constantly bombarding the player with enemies completely undermines any possibility of tension, replaces it with annoyance, and then adds insult to injury with awful combat - if you’re going to throw a constant stream of enemies at me, you'd better have some top-notch combat to at least make that enjoyable, and they absolutely don’t.
As a constant evangelist (or perhaps apologist at times) for the games of yesteryear, I try to look on the bright side of these things and appreciate them despite their flaws - sometimes their weird, dated idiosyncrasies can have their own unique charm. I feel like I have a fairly good ability to judge a game on its merits within its historical context as well since I was actively playing games when all these were being released - it’s not unusual for me to think to myself “Wow, the graphics in this game are really good!” while playing some 20 year old game; not by today’s standards of course, but within the context of their own time. With all that said, I had a very hard time finding many redeeming qualities here. I really wanted to like ED:HttK but it fought me at every turn. It’s just not for me. I know it has its fans though, so if you count yourself among them, have fun! If not… you’ll probably want to give this one a pass.