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Written by Hayden Dingman, @haydencd
Okay, reader, I can hear you puzzling this out in your brain. “If Hail to the King was the ‘Evil Dead’ of Evil Dead video games, and Fistful of Boomstick was ‘Army of Darkness,’ then Regeneration must be…Evil Dead 2!”
And you’d be wrong.
Evil Dead: Regeneration is a serviceable game, just like Fistful of Boomstick, but it never finds that perfect balance between funny and scary exhibited in Evil Dead 2. As far as I can tell, Regeneration doesn’t want to be scary. Or, I hope that’s the case, because it isn’t. Ever.
I’m afraid I have to say Regeneration is also the Army of Darkness of Evil Dead video games. “But that doesn’t make any sense!” I hear you scream. Too bad, I do what I want. Groovy?
In fact, this game is perhaps even more deserving of the Army of Darkness award than Fistful of Boomstick. Regeneration takes place in an alternate time line from the last two Evil Dead games—one in which the actual Sam Raimi film Army of Darkness never happened. In other words Regeneration picks up after Evil Dead 2, if that film concluded without Ash getting sucked into a portal and into the past.
Unfortunately, that means no resolution to the ending we saw in Fistful of Boomstick, and that means the Evil Dead games are 0 for 2 in terms of actually resolving their damn cliffhanger endings.
Regardless, Regeneration’s tutorial picks up back at the Knowby cabin with Ash reliving a few of the memorable moments from Evil Dead 2. After escaping from the deadites at the cabin, Ash is sent to a mental hospital. Nobody believes his story about the Necronomicon and the evil beings who attacked him. Instead, everyone believes Ash is some ranting psychopath who butchered all his closest friends. Poor guy.
Unfortunately, the man in charge of the mental hospital does believe Ash, and uses the Necronomicon to welcome evil back into the world. Ash is forced to hunt down this evil Dr. Reinhard and try to banish the deadites a second time.
Regeneration is, in many aspects, a modern game. Combat and animations are fluid and dynamic, the sound design is a damn sight better than the last two games, and textures are almost pleasant. If you looked at screenshots of the game you might not be impressed, but at least you wouldn’t throw up.
On the other hand, there are so many glaring flaws with the fundamental design of the game, and they’re all related back to one character. Early on in the game, the ghostly, disembodied head of Professor Knowby makes it clear Ash needs to take along a sidekick to finish his task.
What the hell? I am Bruce “the king himself” Campbell. Bruce “chainsaw attached to my arm” Campbell. Now you’re telling me I need a damn sidekick?
Your sidekick, Sam, has some practical uses. He can be “killed,” but he’s already undead so he just respawns again nearby. Sam’s death mechanic is actually built into most of the game’s puzzles, as well as the combat. You kick Sam into objects in the environment, he breaks them or tweaks them in some way, then dies in some occasionally-funny way and the path ahead is cleared. It’s not exactly a bad mechanic, though also not one requiring a ton of thought. Myst, this game is not.
Unfortunately, Sam (voiced by Ted Raimi) also sounds like Gilbert Gottfried’s even-more-annoying cousin. I didn’t think that was possible, but there it is. His voice was literally one of the most grating sounds I’ve ever heard. I can see what the developers were going for. Many times over the course of the game (as in, practically every two minutes) Bruce Campbell reiterates how annoying Sam is. Obviously Sam is supposed to be irksome to Ash too. Here’s the problem: they made a character that’s actually annoying and you have to put up with him the whole damn game.
And it’s not just his voice. Sam’s humor isn’t nearly up to the quality I expect from the Evil Dead series. While Evil Dead is mostly funny because of Bruce Campbell’s ridiculous one-liners (in my opinion), Sam’s jokes are consistently flat. He’s slapstick at best, juvenile at worst. At one point I even groaned out loud. Ash and Sam get expelled out of some demon’s rear end (something which happens four or five times during the game, actually) and Sam ends up with a big corn-studded turd on his face.
Sam is also responsible for introducing another of those cardinal sins of game mechanics—the escort mission. Now, of course, an escort mission doesn’t have to be bad. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is one long escort mission and it works great.
Regeneration does not work great. Not even close. At various times during the plot, Ash’s path is blocked by a giant monster named Peepers (a.k.a. the pooping demon mentioned above). Peepers eats souls. Three souls each time, to be exact, before the path will open. These souls are tucked away down very long corridors full of enemies. Do you see where this is going?
In case you haven’t guessed it yet, Sam is the only one who can bring these souls back to Peepers. He has to absorb them into his body and make it back to the starting area, where you kick Sam into Peepers’s mouth in order to transfer the souls. Along the way, Sam is attacked by an onslaught of enemies. Sam is literally useless in most fights, and it’s easy to find him getting his ass kicked by fodder enemies while you try and fight off the more dangerous mobs. If Sam dies, you have to go back to where you picked up the soul and try again. Oh yeah, and all the enemies respawn.
Things get even more frustrating later in the game when Sam is under attack by enemies that explode, killing him in one hit. Terrible design. I could almost picture Ash’s severed right hand giving me the finger all through the five or six times I repeated these sections.
Oh man, I haven’t even talked about the sections yet where you have to play as Sam, while weird, repetitive nu-metal music plays on a loop in the background. You know what? I don’t even want to talk about these sections. Sam is going to make me have an aneurysm.
I apologize to all the people who really love this game. I actually think the game itself isn’t that bad. The combat, as I said, is slick. There’s no ammo counts so you can just cut your way through enemies with ease, and even the novelty weapons are fun to play with before you switch back to your chainsaw. The game also has a couple of great, humorous moments. I laughed out loud a couple times, because Bruce Campbell’s dialogue for Ash is absolutely on point in Regeneration. He’s hilarious, and I looked forward to his lines each time.
It’s just Sam.
The Final Word: If you’re an Evil Dead fan, Regeneration is probably the best full-scope console game out there in terms of mechanics, and there are a few great laughs in the script. It’s a shame the game is hamstrung by the addition of an obnoxious sidekick and way too many tedious escort missions.
PS: While I rarely watch the “Extras” included with games, most of Regeneration’s collectables unlock videos featuring Mr. Campbell himself. My personal favorite? He talks about whether Evil Dead 4 will ever get made, and says it depends on Sam Raimi deciding between Spiderman 2 and Evil Dead. Then he looks at the camera, laughs, and says, “Sam, I hope you’ll be able to make that decision.”
Well we might not be getting Evil Dead 4 but we are supposedly getting Army of Darkness 2, so take that, 2005-era Bruce Campbell!
Evil Dead: Regeneration is available on Xbox, PC and PS2 (reviewed).