Back from the dead again.
During one of the first cutscenes in Evil Dead: Regeneration, Ash raises a disembodied head, the fruit of his chainsaw labors, to his ear. He pretends to listen to the head, shaking it slightly while asking, "What's that you say? You just got your ass kicked by a one-armed nutjob in a mental institution? Wait, what else?" (leans in closer) Now you think I'm your daddy?!" With relish, Ash spikes the head triumphantly into the ground while telling the camera, "Ash . . . is . . . back."
It was enough to make me cry tears of sweet joy.
Sam Raimi's beloved Evil Dead movies have run their course, unless you believe Internet rumors and the little voice in your black heart telling you that Ash will never die. Through three delightfully macabre films, Ash disposes of undead with glee, using his chainsaw arm, shotgun "boomstick" and a collection of sarcastic one-liners to disembowel, de-limb, and deride the so-called "deadites." The most important feature of the films was Ash himself. Bruce Campbell's over-the-top humor and irreverent attitude made the films not so much crusades against the undead, but crusades against B-movie horror conventions.
But sadly, the first two Evil Dead games have not fared remotely as well as the flicks, mixing some ill-guided humor with even worse control schemes, graphics, and gameplay. You can imagine my trepidation, then, going into yet another Evil Dead action romp.
To my surprise, however, this one doesn't totally suck. The game's art direction feels like an extension of Sam Raimi's tongue-in-cheek directorial style. Ash, voiced again by Mr. Campbell, sounds like himself again, delivering the trenchant performance that should have, but did not, win him an Oscar back in '82. Stupid Henry Fonda! Of course, the game doesn't get off scot free - while the action is a bit tighter, it's still a short romp carried mostly on Campbell's wide shoulders. Fans will love it, others will rent it, and the Academy, once again, will spurn it.
In this latest chapter of the franchise, Ash has been put in a mental hospital following the events of Evil Dead II. An evil psychiatrist has stolen the Necromicon and again opened the portals to hell, throwing the proverbial poop on the fan. In the course of saving the world, Ash must escape from the asylum, conquer cemeteries, abandoned mines, and haunted shipyards, and finally travel to the Other Side in order to close the portal and save his girlfriend/lawyer, kicking monster ass the whole way. Groovy.
The third-person action plays adequately, although it doesn't stun you with either graphics or options. In one hand, Ash equips a firearm; in the other - I mean on the other - Ash fits himself with a destructive tool. While the chainsaw does a lot of damage, the harpoon-gun enables powerful combos. Shoot a deadite from sixty feet, drag him to your chest, blast him into the air with your shotgun, harpoon him again mid-flight, and repeat. A flamethrower, dynamite gun, pistol, and heavyweight chainsaw round out the arsenal. It isn't a very wide selection, but experimenting with different combinations makes the mayhem interesting.
At least for a little while. While the action can get pretty hairy, it never requires much more than vigorous hacking and shooting. The button combos are thin and most of the "finishing move" animations are underwhelming. Pretty typical, hackneyed stuff.
In an attempt to throw something new into the mix, Ash is given a half-deadite midget buddy, masterfully voiced by Ted Raimi, who enables a few more moves and a bounty of juvenile banter. By pressing Down on the D-pad, Ash punts Sam into obstacles, onto enemies, or through crevices. Sam dies an awful lot, but since he's already dead, his constant resurrections just provide more fuel for bad jokes. You'll have to use Sam to defeat some enemies and get past some puzzles, but he doesn't add much to the combat elements or combo opportunities. Still, kicking a zombie dwarf into an electrified lake and hearing him scream as he toasts and drowns is disturbingly satisfying. And when he drags himself back up to call you a "dick," you can just do it again. Bully.
Less fun is Evil Ash mode, in which Ash becomes both stronger and faster for a short time. It does what it says, but really isn't explored as anything but a power-up. At least in Army of Darkness, Evil Ash got in some good lines and more than few bitch-slaps in on normal Ash. No such luck here.
Some light puzzle-solving elements offer a welcome distraction from the hacking and hewing. Most of the solutions are more humorous than challenging since they involve kicking Sam at anything you see. Who said kicking is just for little foreign men? In Regeneration, we get to kick back. Take that, Vinatieri! Unfortunately, more than a few of these puzzles are repetitive. You will feed Sam to a ubiquitous, one-eyed octopus (a cyclopticus?) more times than should ever be necessary.
Unsurprisingly, the best part of the game is the writing and art direction. While not every joke works, there are literally hundreds of them in the short duration of the game. They work to liven up a fairly lackluster if operational fighting system and make addictive an experience that might otherwise be tedious. The cinematography is good as well, imitating the low-budget special effects and camera angles that Sam Raimi used to invigorate a ridiculously cheap story. At its best, the game is another intelligent installment of the Evil Dead series; at its worst, it goes for brainless bathroom humor and falls flat.
While the voices and music are excellent, the graphics are not. Frequently cartoonish, the characters lose some of their humor by wearing strange-looking facial expressions. The environments are decent enough, as are the enemies, but the whole package looks a couple of steps back from other recent releases.
One can't complain too vociferously about such shortcomings, however, since at $20, this is one of the better budget games out there. The reduced price is a good idea, since the short play time and lack of replay value (jokes are never as funny the second time) would cripple a full-priced game.
You have to credit Evil Dead: Regeneration for almost living up to its name by breathing some new life back into an abysmal video-game franchise. Still, this regeneration is a far-cry from a revolution and must be content with being familiar, satisfying, and diminutive. At any rate, Ash is again the champion of low-budget. All hail.