Developer: Cranky Pants Games
Release Date: September 13, 2005
Set in the world of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead films, Evil Dead: Regeneration attempts to bring the beloved mix of gore and comedy once again to current-generation consoles. Shooting for simplicity but nailing simplistic squarely between the eyes, Regeneration achieves a reasonable level of amusing Evil Dead atmosphere while skimping on the visuals, story and especially the combat. A solid step up from 2003's Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, Regeneration is still not the game that Ash and his Deadite pals deserve.
...Danger for Dinner
The Necronomicon Ex Mortis, or The Book of the Dead, promises the ability to summon the powers of darkness to those who learn its secrets. Ashly Williams, a.k.a. Ash, has tangled with the Necronomicon before, losing his right hand to an infectious evil and finally landing in Sunny Meadows Asylum. Not much for inmate rehabilitation, Dr. Reinhard is experimenting with the Necronomicon, trying to harness the book's power without losing his human soul. Things go wrong, evil Deadites run amok, and Ash has to escape the asylum with his new half-Deadite pal, Sam, who, by the way, claims to be in Sunny Meadows for attention deficit disorder.
Getting out of the asylum with your life is just the beginning, as Dr. Reinhard is only a diary entry away from fulfilling his evil designs. You play mostly as Ash, but also as Sam for brief sequences in each level, to shut down several portals to the dark realm before Dr. Reinhard ends the world of the living. In practice, saving the world means lots of blasting Deadites into chunks with your boomstick, slashing them with the chainsaw attached to your stump arm, reeling them in for the kill with a harpoon, and several variations thereof as you find more weapons and fight stronger enemies.
As you progress from the asylum to the mines, the shipyard and beyond, you come up against a decent variety of Deadites large and small – transformed miners, one-eyed soul eaters guarding key areas and exploding gas bags that provide some of the more frustrating gameplay moments. As novel and fun to kill as some of the Deadites are, the basic gameplay pattern varies little from level to level. Enter an area, get sealed in by dark magic, dispatch the Deadites, and move on.
Sam's at your side during all this, and you'll enjoy his company, as he provides much of Regeneration's Evil Dead spirit. Being half Deadite, Sam can die and come back to life as often as you care to kill him. The game teaches you the sadistic beauty of Sam's regenerative power immediately upon his introduction, giving you a mulcher and a ventilation fan to kick him into. He gets chopped into bloody bits and then crawls out of the ground at your side, reassembled and ready for more abuse.
Sam quickly proves his usefulness in combat. Target a Deadite and kick Sam, and he'll land on its shoulders and twist off its head, sometimes with a funny quip ("pop goes the Deadite") and sometimes with one that may have been funny the first time but has since lost its charm. Larger Deadites and some bosses that resist boomstick blasts and chainsaw blades get distracted when you kick Sam onto their heads, making them vulnerable to your attacks until they shake him off.
Sam will also help with environmental puzzles. Kick him into a crematorium's furnace, and he'll explode to open a new path. When something more hands-on is called for, you can possess Sam to crawl through caves and other tight squeezes and even ride some huge Deadites to smash fences and other obstacles too massive for Ash to bust through on his own.
Ash himself also can tap his inner evil to better battle the Deadite hordes. As you slaughter Deadites and bash crates (even wood boxes can hold pure evil), you fill a meter with yellow evil essence that powers your transformation into Evil Ash. Evil Ash kicks more butt harder for a limited time, though his power drastically unbalances some boss fights in your favor.
As fun as it sounds to harpoon Deadites and juggle them in the air with chainsaw-shotgun combos – and it is fun for a couple of hours – the joylessly repetitive level designs soon take their toll. Boss battles at each portal are simplistic pattern-identification trials that yield little sense of accomplishment. Unlimited ammo lets you blast about blindly and still have a shot at coming out on top. Worst of all, elements reminiscent of other games, like dynamite-tossing Deadites that recall the TNT-toting enemies of Resident Evil 4, only emphasize the unrealized potential.
Guns Don't Kill Deadites, People Kill Deadites
Appropriately simple for a game this straightforward, the controls don't impress with precision, but perform well enough given the lack of any seriously aggressive enemy AI. Several combos mix up jumping and chainsaw slashing, chainsaw slashing and boomstick shooting, and so on. Save for portal bosses and the occasional Deadite capable of blocking regular attacks, however, Regeneration offers little incentive to put combos to use. Once the novelty wears off, they just slow you down.
Interacting with Sam, whether kicking him or seizing control of him entirely, is smoother than the game's other rough edges would lead you to expect. A simple tap up on the d-pad makes Sam appear in front of you, ready to be booted at Deadites. Press and hold, and Sam turns into a kickable bomb that deals a little more damage. When you possess Sam, he has his own ranged and melee attacks, as well as a finishing move, that are as easily executed as shooting and slashing with Ash.
AI is more of a problem. Sam often attacks Deadites under his own power as you're taking care of your own business, but he's not entirely unlikely to get stuck running at a wall instead of following at your heels. If you're not careful, he'll also run directly at certain exploding Deadites if you don't take them down first. Deadites aren't much brighter, dimly stumbling at you and offering little urgent menace as you juggle one of their own in the air with boomstick combos. Their strength is definitely in their numbers, not their wits.
Regeneration's visuals are positively intricate compared to the boxy, designed-by-an-apprentice-wax-sculptor look of Fistful of Boomstick. Improvements aside, Regeneration remains well behind current-gen standards. Ash and Sam are a blocky pair, with expressions that look painted-on. Weapon-switching animations are absent; changing from chainsaw to flame thrower results in the flame thrower appearing instantly on Ash's arm. When carrying spirits back to feed soul eaters, Sam's ectoplasmic footprints float above the steps and other surfaces. Repetitive environment design and ghastly clipping problems would push the bounds of respectability if Boomstick hadn't set expectations so low.
When a game depends on banter for such a huge portion of its atmospheric appeal – and when you have Bruce Campbell and Ted Raimi handling the voice-over – it's worthwhile to have both a deeper pool of wisecracks and wisecracks that are, well, wiser. Sam's nonstop chatter amuses from time to time with Ted Raimi as the voice behind the half-Deadite, but even the sure thing "my bad" gets old quick. Bruce Campbell's Ash has a similarly weak repertoire of quips ("suck on that" and "damn, that felt good"). The actors do their best, but more often than not, the writing doesn't live up to their talent. The unfortunate, aggressively wacky guitar that kicks in when you possess Sam ends up being the most memorable aspect of the sound design.
The Cheap and the Dead
The biggest problem with Evil Dead: Regeneration isn't that it's not simple fun, but that it never rises above that in any way that Evil Dead fans might hope, or that comedy-horror genre fans might expect. With little in the way of inventive combat, challenging enemies or dazzling visuals, Regeneration has a difficult time holding up after you exhaust the fun of kicking Sam around and snatching Deadites from rooftops with your prosthetic harpoon. At 20 bucks, Evil Dead junkies may want to pick it up just to check out the further adventures of Ash, but don't go in expecting anything more than a brief, so-so experience.