Experiencing the Horror- The Evil Dead

On December 4 of 2000, THQ released Evil Dead: Hail to the King for the Sony Playstation, with a Sega Dreamcast version of the game following on December 17’th and a Windows version on March 27’th. It was a notable release of a fantastic game, mixing the vivid imagery of The Evil Dead films with the survival horror gameplay of the Resident Evil game series. Most who have played it agree that it is an underrated classic, and I would go so far as to call it one of the unrecognized gems of survival horror gaming.

We will not be reviewing that game.

The title screen of The Evil Dead on the ZX Spectrum

Instead, we will be looking at something that, much like the “Naturan Demanto” (Book of the Dead) from the film, is much older, more obscure, and possibly sanity-rending; The Evil Dead for the ZX Spectrum console. For those who aren’t familiar with the system, the ZX Spectrum essentially was England’s answer to the Commodore 64. An early 8-bit computer, the Spectrum was released in 1982 and lasted a decade before being officially discontinued- although, apparently, it gained enough of a fanbase to still have a thriving homebrew scene, undoubtedly assisted by the fact that the Spectrum’s games were distributed on easily-pirated cassette tapes.

The Evil Dead was released in 1984 for the Commodore 64, but did not appear on the Spectrum until the following year, and only then as the b-side of a Spectrum version of another game, Cauldron- a game that itself began life as an adaptation of John Carpenter’s Halloween, but which appears to have become a stand-alone property when the Halloween license proved unavailable. Thankfully, it isn’t currently necessary to have a functioning ZX Spectrum computer and a copy of the incredibly obscure Cauldron game to play The Evil Dead. A website archive of Spectrum information and emulation called World of Spectrum allows newbies to experience everything about the Spectrum and its games.

Apparently in 1984 this was considered a good representation…

…of this.

It is interesting to consider the context of this game from a historical perspective as well. The film version of The Evil Dead was included on the infamous list of ‘Video Nasties‘ in England and subject to severe censorship. Could this account for why the game of The Evil Dead was released as a standalone product in the US and Canada for the Commodore 64, but only released on the U.K.-based ZX Spectrum as the ‘B-side’ of the game Cauldron? Circumstance and historical context aside, even by the standards of the time The Evil Dead is an atrocity. You REALLY will have to use your imagination with this one; brick lines represent the wooden walls of the cabin, light blue lines delineate the front porch. It took me a minute before I realized the white box moving back and forth at the bottom of the blue area was supposed to represent the porch swing from the movie.

The game itself is barely playable. The objective of the game is to keep all the doors and windows of the cabin closed, to prevent the demons from possessing your friends. You WILL fail at this- there are eight points of ingress into the structure spread across three static screens, making it literally impossible to keep them all closed at all times under even the best of circumstances. Moreover, the controls for closing the doors and windows are broken- to close a door, you supposedly just hit the ‘fire’ button. However, in practice, hitting the button only resulted in the window closing about one out of every ten attempts. In most cases I would stand in front of the door, repeatedly hammering the fire button to no avail as the monsters happily climbed in and out of all the other windows in the building.

Have fun trying to keep all those entrances to the cabin closed.

When the monsters touch one of your friends in the cabin, they become ‘possessed’ and leave you no option but to kill them. But the combat in this game is as broken as the mechanic for closing the doors and windows. To fight a monster, you stand directly facing it and press the ‘fire’ button repeatedly. Whenever the monster is in contact with your character, it does damage to you. You have no clear way to tell if your pressing ‘fire’ is damaging the monster unless you defeat it, at which point it vanishes into a puff of smoke. Pray that the monster does not manage to trap you with your shoulder to an object like the wall or a bed- you will be unable to turn and face the monster and it will continually damage your character until you die without ever having had a chance to defend yourself. Moreover, since you will respawn immediately in the same spot you died in, and there is no post-hit invincibility in this game, it is extremely easy to find yourself trapped by an enemy in a corner and killed repeatedly, leading to an immediate game over. The life bar is rendered something of a joke anyway when one considers that simply moving your character around the screen decreases your available hit points.

You are provided with an absurd array of weapons in the game, most of which- other than the shovel and the sword- are unidentifiable. The only one that was present in the movie was the shovel. One would think it would have been a simple decision on the part of the designers to include the axe or the shotgun as they appeared in the movie, but apparently the designers decided that ‘yellow blob that looks like a fairy wand’ and ‘greenish red blob that looks like a hockey stick’ were more appropriate choices for a video game based off The Evil Dead. It’s an irrelevant point anyway, since as near as I was able to tell, the weapons do nothing. They show up in your inventory after they are picked up, but they did not make any difference in combat that I was able to discern, and after a short time they disappear from your inventory and reappear in random spots on the cabin floor, waiting to be picked up again. Enemies include ‘shambling blue pants’ and ‘red octopus squiggle’- I guess I missed those guys in the movie.

Look out, there’s one of those horrific red octopus squibbles!

If there is a win condition for this game, I never found it. It seems the game just progresses, sending more and more monsters into the cabin until such time as you inevitably die. Like many games of the time, it included a points system, and perhaps the point of the game was to score as many points as possible before one’s demise; but as I pointed out in my review of Ghosts ‘N Goblins, the collection of meaningless points seems vapid in the modern era of plot-oriented gaming.

You can see your meaningless points in the bottom left corner of the screen, and the tombstones next to them represent how many of the inevitable deaths you have already experienced. Are we having fun yet?

Had I been playing video games and watching horror films in 1984, I probably would have been psyched to learn that a game based off The Evil Dead was available. I can only imagine how disappointed gamers and horror fans of the time were when they actually played The Evil Dead and learned how truly godawful the game was. Twenty-eight years later, the game has not improved with age.

You get to see a ‘high scores’ screen when you die. Better get used to the way it looks, you’ll be seeing it A LOT.

If you should ever find yourself confronted with the choice of playing The Evil Dead on a ZX Spectrum or actually going to a cabin in the woods to face demons who want you ‘dead by dawn’, do yourself a favor and pick the cabin. You’ll suffer less.

~ by Redgoateerob on November 15, 2012.

2 Responses to “Experiencing the Horror- The Evil Dead”

  1. […] in November of last year I spent some time reviewing The Evil Dead tie-in game for the ZX Spectrum, an English computer that preexisted the Commodore 64 by a few months and […]

  2. […] earlier review I described the unfortunate win conditions that created the absurd impossibility of The Evil Dead for the ZX Spectrum. Even thinking back to the very first game review I penned for this site, I described the brutality […]

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