The trick to achieving that coveted rank of not-shit movie tie-in is to wait two decades before publishing the game. Some may say that’s a touch tardy to be capitalising fully on the hype but to them I’d say take note: Black Label did it with The Thing as too did Bioware with Knights of the Old Republic. Both games managed to capture the essence of their respective inspirations two decades or so after their counterparts terrified/enthralled audiences on the big screen.
Like those games, that Army of Darkness is based on a film is its final salvo. It doesn’t need the film to justify its existence.
Stepping into the boots of the tawdry Ash Williams, you’re tasked with defending Lord Arthur’s castle from 50 waves of Deadites (undead skeletons brandishing brutal Medieval weaponry), zombie ogres, demonic books and other ne’er-do-wells. You do this – early on in the game anyway – by pounding them into a fine red dust with the chainsaw conveniently shackled to Ash’s arm or by eviscerating them with his steadfast “boomstick”.
As you progress through the waves, you’re drip-fed a wealth of special weapons and soldiers to command in battle; beginning with peasants and moving on through an army of archers, spearmen and eventually heroes, using funds amassed automatically by the Smithy to compensate them for their ultimate sacrifice.
But Army of Darkness is a game as much about commanding a clutch of disposable and inexpensive peasants to their slaughter as it is staring at upgrade screens. Between rounds you fritter away money earned to improve all manner of traits ready for the next near-identical phase of castle defence. With all that room for improvement the routine battles become almost auxiliary. Ash is little more than a glorified street cleaner, diligently sweeping up the gold coins discharged by moribund Deadites even if that means plowing through a knot of swords, spears and arrows. Adding +259 to your Boomshot’s head-removing capabilities becomes more crucial than anything else, least of all keeping your troglodytes alive.
Therein lies Army of Darkness’ hitch. It’s not a game about heroically staving off the Dark Lord’s minions, liberating earth-kind from a life pledged to acting out the perverse sexual fantasies of hell’s dregs. Instead it’s one about leveling up your archers so you can kill more minions in order to amass more money so you can level up your archers again. And reeling off tired one-liners.
On and on this circle goes until your brain finally chimes in to remind you that if you wanted tedium like this all you had to do was ask it nicely to replay your first sexual encounter.
So Army of Darkness game doesn’t need Army of Darkness film to justify its existence – it’s a competent castle defence game regardless – but it sure could do with borrowing a touch of its quirkiness.