Back in the day, when we were all much younger, an Evil Dead video game sounded like a natural move for the franchise. Ash was practically a video game hero already, with his infinite supply of shotgun shells, constant supply of bad one-liners, and ability to brush off attacks that should have, by rights, crippled him. Even better, he fought zombies, which are in the top ten all-time video game antagonists.
Even with that, the Evil Dead series hasn't exactly set the world on fire. The first game, Hail to the King on the Dreamcast and PSOne, was a weird attempt at survival horror, and 2003's A Fistful of Boomstick was a deeply flawed budget title that was fun for about fifteen minutes. Even with Bruce Campbell's involvement, neither game's worth checking out; they're pretty much blatant cash runs, grafting Ash's face and voice onto unremarkable action games.
Evil Dead: Regeneration, by comparison, is a big step in the right direction. When it begins, Ash has been placed into the maximum security wing at Happy Meadows Sanitarium, following the massacre out at Professor Knowby's cabin in the woods.
Ash's psychiatrist, Doctor Reinhart, has acquired the Necronomicon di Morti, the book that holds the secret of releasing the Deadites. In his attempts to use the book's power, he's transformed one of the asylum's inmates--a former ice-cream truck driver named Sam--into a Deadite.
At the same time, Ash's lawyer, Sally, has stolen Professor Knowby's diary from Reinhart, to use as evidence in Ash's upcoming criminal trial. To finish the ritual that'll release darkness into the world, Reinhard needs the diary; to prevent that, Ash needs to reach Sally before Reinhard does. To do that, he'll need to cooperate with Sam, who has the power to find and close the breaches between this world and that of the Deadites.
"Cooperate with," in this case, is a synonym for "kick the ass of." Ash himself is much as you'd expect him to be in this game, with his trusty shotgun and chainsaw, and you can acquire a variety of other weapons as you progress, like a .45 pistol, a harpoon gun, an explosive spear launcher, or the time-honored flamethrower. You will use these weapons with reckless abandon to blow the heads off of many Deadites, from standard-issue shamblers to horrible and massive new creatures.
The central gameplay dynamic in Regeneration, other than festive decapitations, revolves around what you do with Sam. He'll be your constant companion after the first two levels, and as a Deadite, he cannot be permanently killed. Do whatever you like to him, and he'll crawl back out of the ground a few seconds later.
As such, the game's puzzles and comedy both involve killing Sam somehow. One early obstacle requires you to toss Sam into a crematorium oven; another, you've got to boot his spiritually charged ass into the mouth of a starving demon.
If nothing else, this is a proud moment in the history of the abuse of undead midgets, and commands respect on that level alone.
Sam can also be used to lock down various enemies, either killing them or keeping them busy so Ash can finish them off. In some sequences, you'll be able to take control of Sam, who's equipped with a potent spiritual blast, and send him into smaller areas that Ash's too big to reach.
Sam's presence also gives Ash someone to talk to, which allows for some funny exchanges. There's a fair amount of Ash-speak in Regeneration, but it doesn't feel like it's shoehorned in for the sake of being there, or worse, blatant rehashing of famous lines from one of the movies.
All told, I've had a lot of fun with Regeneration, but it's definitely not without its issues. Boss fights, for example, are slow wars of attrition, where Ash has to whip out his old .45 and give you carpal-tunnel as you mash the fire button. The music's forgettable, the graphics have a bad case of multiplatform-itis, and, above all else, this game is aimed straight at Evil Dead fans. This is a love letter to a particularly fanatical fandom, and other gamers may find it too aggressively cheesy. I like the movies, and even I find it too campy and self-aware at times.
As a straightforward action game, though, Evil Dead: Regeneration makes for a good rental. It's not fancy and it's not amazingly deep, but it does let you chop up an awful lot of zombies. It's entertaining for what it is.