Saturday, May 11, 2013

VGR Evil Dead: Hail to the King

 Ash is back! HAIL TO THE KING!

The Evil Dead lurks Withing The Woods, read these reviews and you'll be Dead by Dawn!

VGR: Evil Dead: Hail to the King
From Heavy Iron Studios/THQ
Played on Dreamcast
Also available on PC & PSX

Type Survival Horror
Year 2000

With rumors of an upcoming PS4 and Xbox 3, it's nice to have a look back at simpler times.

Back in the previous gaming generation there was more room for simpler games, original projects and smaller titles. There wasn't such a distinction between two sides, AAA-games vs. indie games we have now.

We still had random licensed video games every once in a while. Not just tie-ins with current blockbusters.

Starting in 2000, THQ developed several Evil Dead games.

Let's start with the first one, shall we?

Evil Dead: Hail to the King was the first game based on the Evil Dead franchise. 

With no Evil Dead 4/Army of Darkness 2 in sight and still no comic books at the time, this was all the fans had been asking for a while. The return of Ashley Williams in all-new adventures against the deadites armies of the dead.

Hail to the King was developed by the small THQ in-house team Heavy Iron Studios, behind several licensed titles already.

At heart it's a very simple idea, an Evil Dead-themed survival horror game not unlike the first Resident Evil game.

So, what did go wrong exactly?

The story is where it's at.

The plot begins about eight years after Army of Darkness (which is the exact time that had passed since the last film). Ash is now with a girl named Jenny he met after the film while working at S-Mart.

But thing is he is now haunted by nightmares of the things he saw and lived through. He can't shake those things off his head. So Jenny, in quite a smart move, decides they have to go back to the cabin in the woods to put an end to this. Burn down the house or destroy the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, the book of the dead.

But as soon as they arrive there, the hand Ash chopped off in the second film comes back and plays Professor Knowby's tape. Which brings back the deadites around.

Evil Ash gets out of a reflection of Ash into the woods.

Jenny disappears.

And the people nearby get slowly turned one by one into these ugly creatures as well.

Alone, now Ash must put a stop to all this. Again. And get back his girl. While keeping his sanity and avoiding the deadly traps of such a broken game...

The story is easily the best aspect of this game. It's a fun story that comes full circle, tying several elements and ideas left from the films (such as the possessed hand, or the body of the medieval Evil Ash left behind in the past and resurrected in the cemetery level here).

It takes Ash all around the woods, facing an hillbilly family turned deadites, deadly camp scouts and then throws our hero back through time. Again, yes. In Damascus, at the time the book of the dead was translated where it was at its most powerful. Ash chases Evil Ash around to get Jenny back until catching up his demonic half opening a portal for Kandarian deities!

And that's the scenario roughly summarized. It's really fun and captures the spirit of the trilogy. It doesn't really try to be "Evil Dead 4", but it takes some inspiration from all three films equally.

The problem is in the gameplay.

It's a pretty generic and simple Resident Evil clone. And by that I mean like they didn't even try their bast and were okay with the strict minimum.

The game is controlled from a cinematic perspective, with the classic "tank controls". And never have those controls been better compared to a tank... Ash moves strangely and awkwardly behind camera angles trying their best to mimic Sam Raimi's cinematography - meaning always changing disturbing camera angles and quick changes that put Ash in different spots of the screen every second.

Oh, and you won't find any of the useful quick shortcuts here. No quick turn backs by pressing action+down. No change of weapon or health pack. Nothing. At least he can shoot while running...

The problem here is that not only are controls really though to handle and awkward. But the game is insanely hard.

Fitting for an Evil Dead game. Makes passing though spots or finishing the game leaving you feel like Ash. A badass.

But since it controls badly and it's really hard, that only multiplies the difficulty!

Most Deadites at night, outdoors will pop up indefinitively. You can't kill most cannon fodder of this game for good! "Ghouls", "zombies" and skeleton deadites can't be killed! Sure they'll explode or go down. And usually will leave you some ammo, health or fuel for the chainsaw. But if you don't move quickly another one will appear on that spot right away!

Those in-doors, in passageways and around puzzles can be destroyed for good though.

Which brings me to the other aspect of the gameplay.

Ash can use two weapons simultaneously. The right hand has the chainsaw mounted on. It uses fuel you'll need to keep an eye on. While the left hand is for the handheld weapons, guns. There's a pistol, the "boomstick" shotgun and a rifle. Ammunitions are scare so beware! All those can be upgraded, usually at specific points in the story with upgrade kits you decide to use for the weapon of your choice.

The problem is the game starts you up at the cabin around waves of deadites that can't let you pick up your pace. Spawning all around you while you don't have any weapon or ammo at the beginning! The game doesn't let you start your game properly, it throws you right in the middle of the action and with a big finger at your face laugh while you struggle to master the controls and understand where you are and where you need to go.

Good thing you can have a laugh.

Bruce Campbell himself is probably the highlight of this entire game. He returned to voice our anti-hero Ash.

He's hilarious, perfectly in-character and brings the authenticity that saves this game.

There's even a "one-liner" button. Just because. Using these taunts can often attract deadites in calmer spots... but also make them run away from you in combat! (doesn't 100% work though...)

The gameplay can be described as: Boss fights after boss fights, with some puzzles in between every 3 of them.

The puzzles are pretty basic and will usually have you running around from one place to another to activate or place something. Ash spends most of the game running errands for non-playable character...that turn into deadites eventually!

The bosses were really fun for me. They're basically bigger meaner deadites, or twisted creatures (the possessed tree, a possessed Annie Knowby from Evil Dead 2,..) that have a health bar, take a certain strategy to defeat and won't respawn afterwards.

It had so much potential... but the game is kinda bad. The graphics are simple but decent. The characters look okay, but the still backgrounds look great. That gets the mood right away.

It starts like a blatant copy of the original Evil Dead back at the cabin.

But once the story finally begins to develop into an unexpected direction, things get more interesting and start making sense. The plot only gets bigger over the time. And I could finally see myself get into it.

The humor is particularly fun, Ash breaks the fourth wall here and there (if he's the hero why is he running around for other people?). And Ash even gets to blow up a puzzle near the end.

The music was composed by cult classic game composer Tommy Tallarico. It's simply amazing and really captures the horror of Evil Dead 2 and the epicness of Army of Darkness! The main theme is simply oustanding!

The game had so much potential, but it was almost all ruined by the awful gameplay. 

Hail to the King really shows the exact reasons why most people hated tank controls back then, while those worked like a charm in Resident Evil compared to this.

This game starts awfully difficult, and slow and forces you through so much backtracking. It gets a bit more linear later on yet that works so much better. And by that point you will get around the other main gimmick of this game. Mushrooms. You can make your own fuel and health with mushrooms, those usually spawn all around you. By then the ammo will be plentiful and the spawning enemies won't pop up as often.

Hail to the King can get really tedious at times, but it's not really an awful experience per say. Which goes to show that there's more to a game than its controls. As infuriously difficult it can be at times.

Overall, there's actually a good game beneath all the issues with Hail to the King.

I really believe the game's well worth your time and effort put into it... if you're a fan. And only if you love the series.

That is if you're willing to die a lot, struggle immensely at the start and have to brace yourself to pass some very frustrating bits here and there.

So, okay, perhaps it's a bad game with good intentions.

The atmosphere is straight from the Evil Dead series. Ash kicks ass as always. It's a game with great intentions and promise but an awful execution.

On the Playstation the game was originally divided into 2 CDs. Which can still be noticed on the Dreamcast, the change of tone in the story, the time travel through the past and change in the main menu's theme song. The game does get better in its second half.

I give it:
1.5 / 3 Quacks!

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