Welcome to Ghosts of Gaming Past — here we’ll be reviewing older horror games, classics and non-classics we missed when they were originally released. Have a game you’d like reviewed? Send us an email.
Written by Hayden Dingman, @haydencd
In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s Evil Dead month here at Bloody Disgusting in preparation for the new film. One day I was driving down the road in my Delta 88 and I thought, “Hey, there’s got to be some Evil Dead video games out there. We should probably review those for our beloved readers.” Adam agreed.
So there I was. Adam had accepted my pitch, and now I needed to follow through. I was debating how to get my hands on these rare games when the first game found me. I was relaxing with a couple friends when there was a loud crash in the living room of my San Francisco apartment. I walked in to find that a previously hidden trap door had flown open in the middle of the floor. Instead of leading into my downstairs neighbor’s apartment as I expected, it led into a dark, earthen basement.
I entered without a care in the world because my life consists wholly of horror movie stereotypes.
Inside the basement, encased in human flesh, was a copy of Evil Dead: Hail to the King. I can only assume the CD data was encoded in blood. I brought it upstairs, amazed at my luck. My girlfriend was scared, but I thought it would be funny to put the game in my system and boot it up.
That’s when all hell broke loose.
I would rather be attacked by real deadites (probably) than play Evil Dead: Hail to the King again. I count my time with the game as eight of the worst hours of my short life. It was like I was being punished for some unknown crime. My attitude going into the game was much like Ash’s in the original film: “It might not be that bad. It might be kinda nice.”
How naïve. I almost quit within ten minutes of booting the game, I already hated it so much. Hail to the King is everything that’s wrong with old PS1-era games. Awkward tank controls? Check. Game split across multiple discs? Check. Fixed cameras? Check. That special sort of “horrifically ugly graphics” only the PS1 can seem to create? Oh god, my eyes!
Which is sort of a shame, as the story aspect of Hail to the King is far better than I expected, especially in the back half. The first half is your standard Evil Dead story. Ash—voiced by the king himself, the real Bruce Campbell—returns to Professor Knowby’s cabin. For some reason nobody has destroyed that damn reel-to-reel tape of Knowby’s voice yet (seriously, what the hell Ash?), and evil is released back into the world. Gameplay consists of hunting for pages of the Necronomicon in the semi-open world area around Knowby’s cabin. Thirteen-year-old spoilers: Ash succeeds at his menial task and summons a vortex to banish all evil. Things go wrong, however, forcing Ash to also go through the vortex. INSERT DISK TWO.
“Oh great, I’m only halfway done,” I said. Then I poured myself another drink.
It doesn’t help that the first half of Hail to the King is also the worst looking part of the game. You’re just wandering around the forest, meaning everything is rendered in various shades of brown. Trees? Brown. Ground? Darker brown. Cabin? …Tan. Combine it with the PS1’s low-res textures and you’re going to have a hard time seeing anything. Also, tank controls and fixed cameras.
The second half aims for Army of Darkness, transporting you through the vortex to ancient Damascus. Once there you meet a guy named Alzeez who is the original translator of the Necronomicon. In other words, Alzeez is pretty much responsible for your (Ash’s) miserable life. Despite your urge to ram a chainsaw through this man’s face, you instead have to team up and save the world.
The Damascus half of the game is better. It’s still not good, but the dialogue picks up some of the slack. Ash and Alzeez have some humorous exchanges that at least got a, “Heh,” out of me, and one sequence involving an overly-complicated puzzle plays with game tropes in a clever manner. These levels are also more colorful, providing some semblance of separation between the mass of pixels in the foreground and the equally ugly mass of pixels in the background. As far as the game’s mechanics, you’re more powerful at this point so enemies won’t give you as much trouble even as you struggle to do literally anything right.
Did I mention this game has tank controls and fixed cameras? “But Hayden, I like tank controls!” Get out. Tank controls in particular should be relegated to a special video game hell alongside other cardinal sins “unskippable cutscenes right before a boss battle” and “first-person platforming.” In Hail to the King I died fighting the first enemy in the game. Literally one minute in. Oh yeah, the game also doesn’t explain any of its mechanics or tell you any of the controls, so good luck figuring them out by yourself. I assume they were in the manual that didn’t come with my flesh-bound copy of the game, but who reads manuals anyway?
The only awesome thing about Evil Dead: Hail to the King is there’s a button dedicated to making Bruce Campbell repeatedly spout the same one-liners. If the button had any sort of gameplay use, I didn’t discover it in my eight hours of hell. For all I know, the mechanic tied to the one-liner button is the key to making the whole game fun. I just used it to make Bruce Campbell say, “Yo,” over and over again.
To summarize this rant about the control scheme: if you removed my right hand and replaced it with a chainsaw, I’d probably be just as effective at playing Hail to the King.
I forgot to mention the game also implements the old “dedicated save stations” mechanic, so have fun dying repeatedly and having to navigate your way back to the fight you keep failing.
The Final Word: Despite it’s grandiose name, Evil Dead: Hail to the King does not “rule.” If anything, Evil Dead: Hail to the King is the “Evil Dead” of Evil Dead video games. In other words, you can see the potential, but the execution is just so horrendously sloppy you can’t really bear to endure it. If you’re dying for some Evil Dead action, stick to the sequels (reviews forthcoming).
Evil Dead: Hail to the King is available on Dreamcast, PC and PlayStation (reviewed).