Friday, April 15, 2022

Evil Dead: The Game: Why I'm Excited, Why I'm Concerned, and What I'd Like to See


In the late 1970's, a group of friends set out from Michigan to make a horror movie in rural Tennessee.  That movie was The Evil Dead, and those friends were Sam Raimi, Rob Tapert, and Bruce Campbell.  Though filming took place in freezing conditions and went overschedule by a few years, the result was the ultimate experience in grueling terror.

The Evil Dead spawned two sequels, a remake, a TV series, and Bruce Campbell, king of the chins.  There were also video games.  The first attempt was a Commodore 64 adaptation of the first movie.  The later games, including Evil Dead: Hail to the King and Evil Dead: A Fistful of Boomstick, acted as unofficial sequels to the film trilogy.

2005's Evil Dead: Regeneration was the last time Evil Dead graced consoles, not counting the mobile games and cameos from Ash Williams in Poker Night and Dead by Daylight.  In 2020, Evil Dead: The Game was announced.  An asymmetrical multiplayer experience, Evil Dead: The Game brings together characters and demons from across the franchise into one game.

With the game releasing next month, here are three reasons why I'm excited, three reasons why I'm concerned, and what I'd like to see for the game's DLC.

Why I'm Excited

1. Respect for the Source Material

Developer Saber Interactive has touted the game's authenticity, and judging by what's been shown, the developers have nailed the look and feel.  The roster of playable characters includes Ash Williams.  Not just any Ash Williams, mind you, but all four of his film and TV incarnations.  That's more Bruce than you can handle.

In addition, side characters like Cheryl from The Evil Dead, Annie Knowby from Evil Dead II, and Lord Arthur from Army of Darkness will be playable.  Nearly all the original actors came back and reprised their roles.  On the villain side, gamers will get to play as Henrietta from Evil Dead II, Evil Ash from Army of Darkness, and Eligos from Ash vs. Evil Dead.

The trailers have teased many nods to the franchise.  For example, Deadites can create traps like a box full of little Ash's, or a box with Ash's severed hand, which will temporarily distract the player.  During gameplay, you play as the roaming, evil force, and the movement effectively mimics Sam Raimi's camerawork.

Additionally, survivors will chat during gameplay, and people who played the game said they noticed many callbacks, and I imagine there will be plenty of Easter eggs hidden for fans to find and geek out on.

Fan service is fine, but what about the gameplay?

2. The Premise Sounds Fun

As mentioned, Evil Dead is an asymmetrical multiplayer experience.  Four people play as the humans, one person plays as the Deadites.  The humans need to find the Necronomicon and use it to stop the Deadites.  As the evil force, you must use your powers to stop them.  This set-up will be familiar to those who played Friday the 13th or Dead by Daylight.

What makes Evil Dead: The Game unique is the survivors and demons are split into classes.

When they touted how you can play as different characters from the movies, one thing I immediately wondered was, "Why would I want to play as anyone other than Ash?"  Fortunately, the factions give a reason to play as characters like Scotty, Pablo, or Kelly.

The factions are Leaders, Warriors, Hunters, and Support.  This provides an incentive to try out the roster since different characters occupy different classes and have different abilities.  This is also a clever way to feature four playable Ash's because each incarnation occupies a different class.

As is the case with games like Dead by Daylight or Left 4 Dead, cooperation is key to survival.  If you want to find the book and put an end to the darkness, then you need to work together.  This isn't like Friday the 13th where you could team up or let things devolve into chaos.

On the demonic side of things, each of the three Deadites has their own class and abilities.  Game Informer released a video showcasing Deadite gameplay, and as the evil force, you need to collect energy to do things like summon minions, set traps, or do things like possess players or control the head Deadite.

Unlike Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th or the killers from Dead by Daylight, you're not an unstoppable force.  Managing your resources and knowing when to attack the survivors is important.  Plus, Deadites like Henrietta or Elegos can be killed.  You don't want the humans to win, so play smart.  Play S-mart!  You got that!

3. Single Player

When the game was announced, it was multiplayer-only.  Not long after, Saber delayed the game for extra development time and to add a single-player component.

This is good because single player will allow people to familiarize with the mechanics, or play the game by themselves because their human companions acted like a bunch of primitive screwheads.  Either way, single player features a handful of missions, as well as an offline version of the multiplayer, complete with bots.  Plus, missions let you unlock skins and other free items.

Why I'm Concerned

1. Will the gameplay grow stale?

One problem with a lot of multiplayer-focused licensed titles is the staleness factor.  When you're doing the same thing over and over with little variation, it gets mind-numbing.  The worst case example is Predator: Hunting Grounds.  They spent more time and money getting Arnold Schwarzenegger than they did creating interesting gameplay.

Evil Dead: the Game doesn't look like it will fall into the same trap.  With multiple characters, classes, skill trees, plus solo and multiplayer options, there's enough to keep players busy.  However, we'll see a few months after release if it's still enticing new gamers, or if it's been forgotten.

2. The Lack of Marketing

Evil Dead: The Game isn't being put out by a AAA company.  In fact, this is the second game of publisher Boss Team Games.  That's fine, but up until this month, both the developer and publisher have been mum on the game.

We're one month away from Evil Dead's release, and only now are we getting more coverage, including a cover story in Game Informer and a press event later this April.  Prior to this, there was a pre-order trailer and two gameplay trailers, all of which came out several months apart from each other.

Not every game gets a boatload of media coverage, but I'm surprised how only now is the game being properly shown off.

3. Performance

Games like Friday the 13th and Predator were infamous for the long wait times in between matches.  When everyone's wanting to be the Predator or Jason, expect to stare at the main menu screen a long time.  This isn't accounting for the rampant glitches and other issues that plagued both titles at launch and continue to happen to this day.

Hopefully, Evil Dead: The Game doesn't suffer from these issues.

What I'd Like to See

The game has potential to be good, or at the very least, decent.  A $20 season pass is available for the game, a season pass that promises more content at regular intervals.  The Evil Dead franchise offers a plethora of possibilities when it comes to characters, locations, or even modes.

I've seen a lot of demand for characters from the 2013 remake, or for characters like Bobby Jo and Jake from Evil Dead II.  The launch game features one map, a gigantic map, I might add, but it'd be great to see Arthur's castle or Ash's hometown from the TV series as selectable locations.

As for modes, one idea I had was what I like to call "Dead by Dawn," where the humans must hold out until dawn while the Deadites try to possess all the survivors and swallow their souls.  You could set this mode in a small portion of the map and punish players with instant death if they try escaping.

Since characters from Army of Darkness are in the game, why not a survival mode set in Arthur's castle?  You need to protect the Necronomicon from the army of darkness using any means necessary.  This mode could let players drive the Death Coaster, Ash's modified Delta 88.

"Say hello to the 21st century!"

Who knows what Saber Interactive has planned, but these are some suggestions courtesy of a 25-year-old guy with too much time on his hands.

Closing Thoughts

I hated horror movies as a kid.  I found them too scary, too frightening.  Years later, I came across a copy of If Chins Could Kill, Bruce Campbell's autobiography, and read his stories about making the Evil Dead movies.  This motivated me to track down the films and before I knew it, I was a horror fan.

Evil Dead games have had their ups and downs.  For me, I see this new title as a chance to introduce the cult series to a new generation.  This was the case with Friday the 13th as it exposed a lot of people to the gory world of Jason Voorhees.  If the gameplay is good and the fan service is plentiful, then this could be the surprise hit of 2022.

Bruce Campbell may no longer be playing Ash on camera, but video games let him reprise the role with none of the physical hassle.  The same goes for all the other actors who returned for this game.

Only time will tell if the game is groovy, or if it's dead by dawn.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Tiny Tina's Wonderlands (PS4) Review

Believe it or not, I couldn't play M-rated games until I was 17.  While some parents were more lenient with what their kids could play, my parents weren't.  In their mind, games like Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty were how sociopaths were born.

Because of this, I missed out on games like Borderlands.  I had read about Borderlands in various gaming magazines and the premise intrigued me.  A first-person shooter where you collect guns?  That's awesome!  When I finally turned the big 1-7, I went out and bought as many M-rated games as I could, including Borderlands and Borderlands 2.

My excitement waned as I got my ass kicked repeatedly.  I didn't realize Borderlands was both a shooter and an RPG, so imagine my surprise as my level one character died over and over trying to fight level four enemies.  Luckily, I was patient, and once I grasped the game's FPS/RPG mechanics, I was hooked.

Borderlands was the brainchild of Gearbox Software.  The Texas-based developer cut its teeth on Half-Life expansions and PC ports of console games before finding success with Brothers in Arms and Borderlands.  The latest entry, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, is a spin-off set in a fictional tabletop game.

Story Synopsis
Taking place between Borderlands 2 and Borderlands 3, the game follows Tiny Tina, an explosives expert enjoying a game of "Bunkers and Badasses" with the space pirate Valentine and his sidekick Frette.  "Bunkers and Badasses" is a fantasy RPG, and the player, also the character you play as, joins the trio for a game.

In the world of "Bunkers and Badasses," an evil warrior called the Dragon Lord seeks to rule the Wonderlands.  With the help of Princess Butt Stallion, the Dragon Lord is imprisoned, and all is well in the Wonderlands.  Unfortunately, the Dragon Lord is freed by his skeleton army, and now the player must stop the Dragon Lord before the Wonderlands is consumed in darkness.

Story, Writing, and Characters

Years ago, Gearbox made a DLC for Borderlands 2 called "Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep."  The DLC was a fun send-up of tabletop games and the fantasy genre.  With Tiny Tina's Wonderlands, the developers take the idea of a fictional fantasy board game and run with it.

From a writing perspective, it's better than Borderlands 3.  Well, mostly better.  Borderlands 3 felt like it was written by a 40-year-old who spent way too much time on Reddit.  Tiny Tina's Wonderlands feels like it was written by someone who plays a lot of tabletop games, and I mean that in a positive way.

I love the interplay between Tiny Tina, Valentine, and Yvette.  Their banter feels natural, and it sells the idea this is a group of friends hanging out and having fun.  As the one hosting the game, Tina acts as an unreliable narrator.  When she's not narrating your quest, she's changing the scenery or bending the rules to make things easier or harder.

This leads to some clever sight gags.  A sunny mushroom forest becomes a dank mushroom forest at a moment's notice.  Characters might suddenly turn from evil to good, or be given incredibly elaborate backstories for no reason, other than Tina thought it was cool.

No one in the Wonderlands is safe when Tiny Tina is the game master.

The funniest bits are the interactions with But Stallion.  Butt Stallion is a diamond unicorn and ruler of the Wonderlands.  What makes these scenes funny is how everyone can understand her whinnies and tell the player what she's saying.  Plus, it's not every day you play a game where you get knighted by a diamond unicorn, yet the game plays these absurd moments as straight as possible.

Since this is a spin-off, you don't need intimate knowledge of the series to understand the story.  A few familiar faces like Claptrap and Brick show up, but that's it.  The Dragon Lord, Wonderlands' antagonist, is delightfully smug.  His personality is shades of Handsome Jack, but I like how he's aware that he's the creation of a hyperactive teenager.

As much as I enjoyed the humor, not every joke sticks the landing.  The game loves making pop-culture references and spoofing popular media.  Take, for instance, a mission where you help a tribe of trolls called the Murphs.  Get it?  It's the Smurfs.  The bad comedy would be excusable if the dialogue wasn't so relentless.

Characters are always talking.  It doesn't matter if it's the hero, the villain, the civilians, the enemies, EVERYONE IS TALKING.  Again, there are some genuinely funny moments, but they are drifting around in the overflowing sink that is the game's dialogue.


The best way to describe Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is its Skyrim with Guns.  Take a fantasy game, give the wizards and warriors guns, and you have Tiny Tina's Wonderlands.

For the uninitiated, Borderlands is a looter shooter.  You slay enemies to earn XP and cash, search chests for loot, and complete a lot of quests.  Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is no different.  Yet, when the looter shooter formula is mixed with fantasy RPG elements, the results are fascinating.

Instead of choosing a predetermined character and their class, Wonderlands lets you create your own character and choose your own class.  The character customization is robust.  You can modify their height, hairstyle, gender, voice, etc.  There are six classes to choose from, each with special abilities like being able to summon minions or unleash a spinning barrage of melee attacks.

Each class has a secondary ability, a feature introduced in Borderlands 3.  However, Wonderlands goes one step beyond Borderlands 3 when it comes to character building.  Halfway through the campaign, you unlock the option to choose a second class.  From there, you are free to either continue building your current class or swap to the one you unlocked.  I love how versatile and experimental this new system is.

Instead of three separate skill trees, Wonderlands opts for one universal skill tree for each class.  This makes the classes more focused, in my opinion.

In previous Borderlands games, you picked a class, that was it.  If you wanted to try a different class, you had to start from scratch.  By letting you mix and match how you want to play, it encourages creativity and rewards you with a stronger, deadlier warrior.

Navigation is another element that's been overhauled.  Fast travel is still an option, but traversing the Wonderlands itself is done by navigating the board game.  It's fun to explore and look for secrets like dungeons, shrines, and shortcuts.  Just be sure to punch any enemies that get close unless you want to get pulled into a random encounter.

Combat is identical to Borderlands 3, but since this is set in a fantasy game, certain aspects have been tweaked. Instead of grenades, you use spells.  Spells vary in their abilities.  Some spells let you cast a bolt of lightning, some let you unleash a barrage of projectiles, some conjure a shield, and others summon a meteor out of thin air.  In addition to guns, there are crossbow variants that deal extra damage.

Melee combat, something of an afterthought in previous entries, is fleshed out.  There are melee weapons like swords, maces, and clubs to find and equip.  Melee is a satisfying alternative to guns and spells.  It's fun to smack enemies around and watch them fly.

Borderlands games are known for their extensive arsenals, and Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is no exception.  Enemies drop loot, chests are filled with loot, and completing quests earns you loot.  Be sure to keep a look out for 20-sided dice, which give you a chance to roll for even more loot.

Loot includes guns, shields, as well as rings, amulets, and tunics that grant buffs like increased gun damage or reduced cooldown for your ability.  A rarity scale determines how valuable items are.  The rarer the gear, the more powerful it is.  Brighthoof is the game's hub.  Here, you can accept additional quests, customize your character, reclaim any lost loot, or buy capacity upgrades.  If you sack is full, you can sell your gear or deposit them into a safe.

That's what we call a loot-splosion.

Going back to combat, the enemy roster isn't the usual bandits, skags, and robots.  The primary enemy is the Dragon Knight's skeleton army, but there are also thieves, goblins, mushroom men, pirates, cyclops, landsharks, and dragons.  Certain enemies are more susceptible to elements like fire and corrosion.  Freeze is the most damaging element since it's capable of slowing down and immobilizing most enemies.

Difficulty-wise, I'd say Wonderlands is on par with previous Borderlands games.  Choosing the right skills and the right guns betters your chance of survival.  If you go down, you have a chance to save yourself by killing an enemy before time runs out.  The combat is fun but repetitive.  For most of the campaign, you fight skeletons and once you've dismembered one spooky skeleton, you've dismembered them all.

My biggest problem with Wonderlands is the side quests.  The side quests aren't bad.  On the contrary, they are cool and take you to places you won't explore during the story.  Plus, some of the situations are amusing, like a mission where you help a villager woo someone by summoning a goblin, dressing it up, and getting it to recite a love poem.

The reason I'm 50-50 on them goes back to the writing.  With how relentless the dialogue is, completing some of these quests felt like a chore.  I wouldn't mind saving a town stuck on a beanstalk if Brick wasn't constantly reminding me about killing the source of the beanstalk.  Your mileage may vary on your tolerance for chattering chatterboxes, but for me, it was nails on chalkboard.

Beating the game took around 15 hours.  Completing the story mode unlocks the option to pick a new secondary class and an arena called the Chaos Chambers.  The Chaos Chambers let you fight waves of enemies.  In between rounds, you may pick modifiers that make fights easier or harder.  Your reward for enduring the chambers is crystals for buying rare gear.

It's not a fantasy game if there aren't any dragons.

The Chaos Chambers will feel familiar to those who remember the Circle of Slaughter arenas from previous games, and I think it's a great way to earn some loot and farm for experience.  If nothing else, you can complete any side quests you missed or hunt down collectibles like scrolls, dice, or marbles.  Borderlands games thrive on replay value, and Tiny Tina's Wonderlands offers plenty to keep you busy.

Graphics and Sound

Visually, the game's art direction is stellar.  I love the look and feel of Wonderlands, particularly the environments.  You'll explore medieval villages, sunny coastlines, gothic castles, and frozen tundra.  There a lot of little details to appreciate, like the pieces of food littered on the game board or how if you look closely in some spots, you can spot other locations far off in the distance.

I played the game on PS4 and while the game ran well, I did notice some texture pop-in when loading into a new area, plus some framerate dips during intense firefights.  Towards the tail-end of the game, I noticed my shields were always at half capacity.  I'm not sure why this happened, but I imagine patches will rectify these issues.

The voice acting is great and features some star power in the form of Andy Samberg, Wanda Sykes, and Will Arnett.  All three do a stellar job voicing their respective characters, and the rest of the performances are good.  The dialogue might be non-stop, but at least no one is phoning it in.

Closing Thoughts

I was pleasantly surprised by Tiny Tina's Wonderlands.  I expected plenty of looting and shooting, and the game delivers on both.  What I didn't expect was how integral the fantasy element would be.  What could have been a back of the box gimmick is a fully realized component.  After four games of exploring the wild west of space, it was refreshing to explore the Wonderlands.

The gunplay is familiar, but the additions like spells, melee weapons, and expanded character building help set Wonderlands apart and not feel like a copy and paste job.  Building your ideal warrior is made more satisfying with the option to swap between character classes, giving you a greater level of freedom than before.

All these skeletons wouldn't look out of place in Army of Darkness.

The meta-narrative of playing a game within a game means plenty of amusing sight gags and fourth wall breaks.  When the writing is good, it's good, and when it's bad, it's bad.  It's a step above Borderlands 3 because my eyes weren't constantly rolling from the cringey comedy or obnoxious characters, but the endless chatter wears you down.

Despite this, Tiny Tina's Wonderlands is a refreshing take on an established franchise and shows how unfamiliar concepts can be mixed with a familiar idea to create something remarkable.

Final Score: 8/10