Dead on arrival.
The Evil Dead film series is all about packing a visceral punch. Remember the insane zombie-girl trapped in the basement in the first movie? Talk about psychological impact! She was just playing Uno with her friends five minutes ago, and now she's spouting satanic verses and biting everyone on the arm. Or how about in Evil Dead 2 when Ash's own hand turns against him and kicks his ass until he cuts it off with a knife? Not to mention the blood geyser that rockets out of the pit in Army of Darkness.
Unfortunately, THQ's Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick for the Xbox packs more bore than gore. An interesting but poorly implemented combo system, cartoony graphics and worthless situations (here's 20 zombies, kill 'em!) make this just another weak game banking on a popular license.
There are two modes in Fistful Of Boomstick to choose from: Story and Arcade. In Story mode, the tape that was played at the beginning of the first Evil Dead is broadcast by the local TV station in Ash's town, turning lots of Deadites loose on a population apparently comprised of only hookers and cops. As Ash, you must find the notes of Dr. Knowby (the man on the tape) and figure out how to send the Deadites back from whence they came. Unfortunately, this involves killing hordes of zombies with a limited and poorly conceived combat system and solving lame find the key/pass/item puzzles to access the next area.
What is especially lame is that the keys/passes are either just lying there on the ground or are dropped by certain significant Deadites. For example, one Deadite you kill is the boss at the lumberyard. However, you only know this because after you kill him he drops a key. He otherwise looks and acts exactly like any of the other zombies.
And that's one of Fistful Of Boomstick's main flaws: all the zombies act like all the other zombies. There need to be fewer zombies, they need drastically different patterns and behaviors and they need to be a lot tougher to kill. Fistful Of Boomstick's zombies are individually worthless, presenting no challenge or threat until they're thrown at you in groups of about a dozen, at which point they become seriously difficult to manage. I suppose that's in tune with general zombie theory, but that doesn't make it very fun.
The combat system involves a right-hand weapon (your chainsaw) and a left-hand weapon (shovel, shotgun, dynamite, pistol, etc.) You can execute combos with melee weapons such as the shovel and chainsaw based on an interesting press and release system. Your basic combo is to hit the attack button repeatedly up to four times. However, if on the second or third button press you hold the button down, Ash will pull his arm back for a more powerful attack. This system works well with the shovel and is well synched with Ash's movements. You can smack a Deadite, then whack its head off with a power attack, then charge up another finishing attack and slam the zombie into the past tense. It's not as smooth when using the chainsaw, but at least it works.
The targeting system is actually pretty solid. You can chainsaw one enemy, press the L button and blast another incoming enemy without skipping a beat. While you can't attack with both weapons at once, you can stun enemies in front of you with a couple quick attacks, and then shoot enemies behind you with your shotgun while the enemies in front of you gain their bearings.
These behind-the-back shots are accompanied by the animation of Ash lolling his shotgun over his shoulder and firing. This looks slick and is a nice detail, but the game doesn't go the distance and offer more of that tongue-in-cheek action from the films. While the movies featured acrobatic zombies flipping and zipping all over the place, in the game Deadites just run straight at you in large mobs and killing them all just requires a decent sense of timing and rationing of health packs.
If you aren't killing mobs of Deadites, chances are you're looking for a key or spell. There are tons of keys in Fistful Of Boomstick, and you get to look for all of them. Fortunately, most are found at objective sites, so you don't have to look very hard. Spells are found just as easily and are basically smart bombs. A mana meter is charged by collecting the souls of Deadites ala Onimusha, and spells are cast by holding the 'R' button and pressing the correct sequence of buttons.
However, the spell system is no fun. You just press the buttons and enemies die, no jumping or flipping or strafing or anything. The fact that the developers felt they needed spells should have been a clue to them that their game had gone seriously awry. A shotgun and a chainsaw should be enough if you work at making it enough. Attempting to make up for mediocre combat by throwing in smart bombs disguised as spells was a bad idea.
Making the graphics so cartoony was a bad idea, too. The edges are too smooth and the game lacks grit. The animations are pleasant, but don't make up for the fact that this game does not look anything like Evil Dead. It looks more like State Of Emergency, which makes sense since it's running on the same engine.
Fistful Of Boomstick sounds fine thanks to good effects and the voice talent of Bruce Campbell. The shotgun blasts and chainsaw choppin' sounds are cool, the music is just right and Campbell kicks ass. His part isn't well written in this game, but I still can't hate on the guy.
Overall, Fistful Of Boomstick is a weak game with some good features; namely, the combo system and the fact that it sells for only 20 bucks. Yep, 20 bucks. However, waves of meaningless enemies, stupid objectives and a very limited shelf life make it quite evil indeed. After an hour or two, you might want to cut off your own hand...