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Written by Hayden Dingman, @haydencd
My name is Hayden, and I am a slave. Close as I can figure, the year is 2013 A.D. and I’m being dragged to my death.
It wasn’t always like this. I had a real life once. A job at this site called Bloody Disgusting.
I had a wonderful girlfriend. Together we drove to my apartment in San Francisco. It seems an archeologist had come to this remote place to translate and study his latest find—Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick. Encased in human flesh and encoded in blood, this ancient VIS Entertainment game contained bizarre burial rites, funeral incantations, and demon resurrection passages. It was never meant for the world of the living.
The game awoke something dark in my PS2. Something evil.
It got into my controller and it went bad, so I lopped it off. But that didn’t stop it. It came back, big time.
Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick is…actually pretty enjoyable. After playing its atrocious predecessor, Hail to the King, I didn’t think I would make it through this series of articles alive. I wouldn’t call Fistful of Boomstick an amazing game, but it’s at least playable if you’re really a big fan of the films or Bruce Campbell and want something more.
Fistful of Boomstick is the direct sequel to Hail to the King, apparently taking place some arbitrary amount of time after the events of the preceding game. How did the world solve the weird-but-amazing cliffhanger ending of Hail to the King? No idea. Never comes up.
Ash is drinking in a bar in Dearborn, being all sad and stuff, while a talk-show on TV discusses Professor Knowby and the Necronomicon. The talk show hosts, Trisha Pettywood and Professor Eldridge, decide to play that same damn reel-to-reel tape of Professor Knowby’s voice on live television. Doesn’t somebody have a magnet or something that we could destroy this tape with? Some scissors maybe?
As you’d expect, the Necronomicon raises the dead again and Ash is the only one who can save the world.
Fistful of Boomstick’s story is pretty damn awesome. It’s Army of Darkness gone crazy. You spend the entire game in Dearborn, MI, but not necessarily present-day Dearborn. This time around, you’re visiting Colonial-era and Civil War-era Dearborn, attempting to clean up the mess made by Professor Eldridge and the seductive Trisha Pettywood.
Because you’re always in one physical area but in different time periods, you’ll come across a number of subtle but funny plants and pay-offs the further you get into the game. You’ll affect some stuff in the Colonial era, for instance, and then see those changes when you reach the Civil War era. It’s at least more engaging than the Damascus stuff in Hail to the King, and sets up some hilarious ongoing jokes. Also, the ending of Fistful of Boomstick is just as genius as Hail to the King’s ending, if not more so.
Bruce Campbell’s dialogue (yes, he does the voices again) is also written better this time around. In Hail to the King, Ash barely spoke outside of cutscenes. This time around he’s constantly tossing out comments. If that’s still not enough Campbell to satisfy you, the one-liner button survived into this game. Yes, you can still tap a button solely to make Bruce Campbell shout some random one-liner, and this time he has more than three things to say. The power of DVD storage technology!
As for how the rest of the game plays, Fistful of Boomstick is a brawling hack-and-slash game. You have full movement (no more tank controls), a free-roaming camera, and even a lock-on button when aiming! Other than how lively and mobile Ash seems now that he’s been freed from his tank control drudgery, the game is remarkably similar to Hail to the King.
In your left hand you equip various small-arms weapons, from the eponymous boomstick to flare-guns and even a sword. I think it’s essential to mention that you can lock on to enemies behind you, while you’re running away, so Ash will simply aim the gun over his shoulder and keep firing. It makes you feel like an utter badass, and fits perfectly with Ash’s grizzled characterization in this game.
Your right hand is reserved for your trusty chainsaw for most of the game, though you’ll later get other weapons options. Personally I almost always stuck with the chainsaw, as the other two weapons you get can’t knock back the onslaught of enemies rushing towards you, so you end up taking more damage anyways (even if the other two weapons seem cool in theory). Plus, I mean, come on: it’s a chainsaw attached to your arm. It’s hard to top that.
Even though the fighting is relatively active and entertaining in Fistful of Boomstick, the mechanics start to feel like a grind after a while. I attribute this mainly to the fact that enemies never stop respawning even if you’ve cleared an area a dozen times already.
At one point during the Civil War level I got tired of fighting enemies and decided instead to sprint away from encounters. Imagine my surprise minutes later when I stopped to solve a puzzle and a giant crowd of twenty or so deadites descended on my position like I would descend on Bruce Campbell if I ever ran into him in real life. That’s right—the enemies chased me across the entire map until I stopped. There’s no way to escape enemy encounters. You have to fight them no matter how tedious it is. Oh well, at least you can lock on.
There’s also a magic system, but it requires you to memorize specific button combinations for each spell and tap them out in the middle of combat while enemies keep attacking. While interesting in theory, I found out I’m just as dumb as Ash when it comes to casting magic spells. The system is a bit overly-complicated to use in the middle of fights (your chainsaw and weapons are more than enough to handle most mobs) so I almost never cast spells unless the story required it. The game isn’t very difficult. I probably died twice in the game, and both times it was on a boss fight.
When you aren’t fighting off legions of deadites, Fistful of Boomstick is basically a series of fetch quests. You’ll run back and forth in each semi-open level trying to finish various quests. One small modern annoyance is the game doesn’t feature a mini-map. Some of the environments are a bit same-y, and without a map I got lost a few times. It’s not a big hindrance, but it’s slightly annoying when you end up on the opposite end of the map by accident.
I guess since I ragged on Hail to the King’s graphics I should also address Fistful of Boomstick’s. In this case, however, I feel like it’s really hard to be objective. Want to know how to make early PS2-era games look like masterpieces? Play eight hours of a terrible PS1 game beforehand. You’re not going to be blown away here, but if you’re coming off Hail to the King it’s like being handed a glass of clean water after drinking from the sewers.
The Final Word: If Hail to the King was the “Evil Dead” of Evil Dead video games, Fistful of Boomstick is Army of Darkness. It’s never scary, and it doesn’t take itself too seriously—in fact, it’s heavy on laughs—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I would absolutely recommend Fistful of Boomstick to any Evil Dead fan who doesn’t mind playing a flat-textured, simplistic hack and slash game from ten years ago. Is that a huge market? Maybe not, but I assume it’s bigger than the market for “unfunny, tedious Evil Dead games from thirteen years ago.”
Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick is available on Xbox and PS2 (reviewed).
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