Evil West is the quintessential blast from the past. Part Gears of War, part Godhand and part Van Helsing, it’s all of your favourite nostalgia hits smashed into one gory, bloody package. It’s a third-person action game of old, complete with linear level design, crunchy combat and more testosterone than a bull festival.
Transporting back via Evil West [Steam Link] to the early 2000s was a surreal experience at first. It even triggered flashbacks of chain-sawing locust and shotgun blasting my mate’s face clean off in the original Gears of War. Good times. Better times.
All of this then begs the question of whether a game that would fit all-too-easily into the era of Eminem’s Encore album and V for Vendetta, could succeed in 2022. Well, for the most part, it does. Bare your fangs, sheathe your gauntlet, get your best cuss’ ready. It’s vampire slayin’ time, old west style.
Best of The West, and The Most Foul-Mouthed, Too
The end of the 19th century beckons. Gunslingers are still in full-force, saloons are still in their peak and vampires roam amongst the population. This is the wild west, but not quite as you know it. Taking on the role of Jesse Rentier, you’re a part of the Rentier Institute – an organisation relied upon to protect the cowpoke from the dangers of the bloodsuckers.
Evil West’s alternate take on the era Marty Robins sang so much about is pretty good. Our protagonist and band of comically brash logheads are burly, with broadside cannons for arms and a general distain for any form of normal communication. While half the dialogue barely makes sense in terms of how people actually talk to each other, there are some genuinely funny moments.
Be prepared for tirades of expletives, intentionally cringey “epic” lines and brash dudes punching each other as affection. It’s silly and immature, as is Flying Wild Hogs’ way at this point, but it’s fun and enjoyable.
The amount of story was actually somewhat surprising, with plenty of cutscenes to connect the 16 levels together and an abundance of exposition dialogue. There’s a primary antagonist on the vampiric side who has some backstory and there’s a couple of very mild twists thrown in. Additionally, there’s plenty of lore to discover via notes, coupled with a glossary of jargon. Ticks, familiars, nagals, highborns, there’s plenty to keep track of, if you’re so inclined.
I wouldn’t say the story is particularly great, as it’s easy to tune out at times and focus more on the action, plus the characters aside from Jesse are relatively forgettable, but there’s enough contextual stuff in here to make it a worthwhile endeavour. Harrow is a highlight – a hilariously overblown idiot beaurocrat, he brought back some amusing memories of Bulletstorm’s General Victor Sarrano.
Jesse’s journey through this alternate, steampunk-ified wild west has him up against murky characters, a shady conspiracy and potential war between the Dracula’s and the George Washington’s of the world. Not only that, but he’ll also have to travel across 19th century America to face them down.
Evil West takes place across multiple locations and the various backdrops you’ll be carving through vampires in is one of its most striking features. Moving between an electrified oil field to a traditional western town and then into the suffocating darkness of a forest keeps each mission relatively fresh.
Some of the concepts are genuinely gorgeous and I’d challenge you not to stop and bask in the sunny glows and vibrant skies at times. It’s unfortunate that some of the level design itself doesn’t quite match the aesthetic around it, with exploration routes often looking identical to the main route, locking you out of some exploration.
Moreover, while the recreation of the old west and creature design is superb, the levels and world themselves feel somewhat… lifeless. I could feel the sense of each level being an empty shell, devoid of anything except the scripted combat sequences I was supposed to be battling in. The world looks fantastic, so it feels like a bit of a missed opportunity here.
The central hub world epitomises this flaw perfectly. It’s a saloon that should feel full of life, complete with swashbuckling music and NPCs. In reality, I just found it to be very static and passive. It feels like more was planned for the hub in terms of interactivity, but it’s relegated to a glorified mission briefing for much of the game.
Repeating Rifles and Gutting Gauntlets
I mentioned these levels being somewhat lifeless and while it may be true of the game’s design, Jesse bears some of this responsibility too. The reason being: you’ll be doing some killin’. A lot of killin’.
The Rentier Institute is at the forefront of technological research into various weapons of vampiric destruction and as such, Evil West certainly doesn’t slack in the combat and armament department. From the off, Jesse has a gauntlet attached to his right arm (this is where Godhand comes in) which can do basic melee combos. Once upgraded and developed, it’ll be able to zap you into foes, pull them in and unleash electrical special moves, including a hulk-esque ground pound and a supercharge mode.
Not content to mash faces in at close-range however, Jesse gains access to an array of armaments across the campaign. Power weapons like your rifle or flamethrower are used to hit weak points and deal damage at range, however they run the risk of leaving you open to attack with slower wind-up times. Equipment like your revolver and shotgun are used for rapid-fire disruption but deal little actual damage.
You have a regenerating heal that you’ll have to manage sparingly, while all of your equipment and weapons have cooldowns (reloading ammo or recharging power). At the start, Evil West relies on melee and basic ranged attacks to whittle down easier foes. However, by the middle through to the end of the campaign, you’ll be hastily throwing out punches, pulling out last-second shotgun stuns and flailing around trying to hit weakpoints before powerful attacks are sent hurtling your way.
Once it gets going, Evil West demonstrates a brilliant suite of weapons, tools, powers and attacks you’ll need to be constantly intermixing. The combat is fast, frantic and frenetic. However, button-mashing really won’t get you far, nor will trying to hide away or pop enemies from range. Combat arenas tend to be tight and your only means of survival is swapping between all of your available combat systems.
Combat is when Evil West shows off its strength. Each kill is met with a parade of blood and shattered limbs. Your electrifying E-combo mashes creatures into a seismic pulp. Popping off a heal with barely a second to spare as you blow up a TNT to take the relentless pressure off smacks the dopamine center in the brain.
Aside from the occasional frustrating moment of being boxed into a corner with no means of escape due to sheer enemy numbers, the combat feels largely fair and responsive. A couple of enemy hitboxes are unfairly punishing, particularly during longer encounters, but the depth of mechanics means you can usually find a way through these problems.
The Vampirical Method
Jesse and, by extension, you, will have to face off against a plethora of bloodthirsty creatures if you’re to succeed. Evil West does a great job with its variety of enemies to rip apart and blast to pieces. One moment you’ll be cannonballing (uppercutting then blasting into the ground) fodder into giant brutes to smash their shields before you’ll be ducking and weaving from a Highborns assaults.
Towards the end, Evil West throws the entire kitchen at you, never mind the sink. You’ll be desperately rattling off attacks against devastatingly powerful group compositions of foes. At times, it was breathless stuff, barely scraping by. The pacing is handled well as you get the opportunity to face most tougher brutes in 1v1 clashes before they start being mixed into larger, more diverse waves.
Evil West has a handful of bosses which simultaneously show off the best of the game’s mechanics while also subtly showing some of its inherent design flaws. They’re visually epic and intimidating, involving waiting for gaps in attack patterns and strategically utilising your combat tools to succeed.
However, a couple of attack combos are nigh-on impossible to avoid without relying on equipment excessively and bosses have area-of-effect type moves that can feel unfairly punishing. Add in that some will call in lesser enemies periodically during the fight and it gives the impression that their difficulty has been inflated through unbalancing the odds instead of offering a fairer challenge.
Playing on normal, this wasn’t too much of an issue as I was able to get through the game with only a handful of deaths, but I can imagine the frustration will be doubled on a higher difficulty. Getting boxed into a corner and mauled into oblivion is also even more of a rage-inducing experience too when you’ve been duelling with a boss for a chunk of time.
Outside of these uncomfortable niggles however, Evil West has a powerful bite thanks to its enemy variety and satisfying combat systems.
Gears of Electrical War
Between combat arenas, you’ll do some light traversal and a few simple puzzles to break up the pacing. Scattered around each level are coin pouches for upgrading your weapons or equipment, intel files for lore exposition and special chests for perks and cosmetic items.
I touched on it briefly before, but the level design involves following a mostly linear path, with short branching alleys to find the collectibles. Problem is, Evil West aesthetically doesn’t really differentiate these pathways, nor does it actually direct which route is the “main one”.
I’m a completionist and I hate nothing more than going down the “main” path before I’ve scoured every inch of the current location first. I admit this a minor and subjective gripe, but I missed more than a few collectibles from accidentally wondering too far down the main path and being blocked out of returning arbitrarily. I just jumped over the knee-high wall, why I can’t I jump back over it?!
Anyway, there’s some straightforward puzzles to solve – pushing/pulling minecarts, carrying an electrical surge to a control box, shooting grapple points, that kind of thing. None of its too taxing and although it’s brainless, it does offer a respite from the otherwise relentless combat. Which you’ll actually appreciate, as the constant barrage of conflict would likely become fatiguing otherwise.
There’s a host of upgrades for each weapon and unique piece of equipment, making exploration worth your while. Your trusty Rentier rifle will feel positively earth-shattering come the end, while equipment can have significant properties change as a result of upgrades.
Levelling up allows you to spend perks on core combat or your electrical gauntlet abilities, which again provide a wealth of unique moves, improved combos and substantive enhancements. Unlocking the ability to smash enemies back into the earth after uppercutting them never got old, never mind having a cannonballed enemy explode on impact. Violent, filthy, awesome stuff.
One Round Short Of A Six-Shooter
I think it’s worth reiterating at this stage that Evil West is supremely engaging and superbly fun. It’s visceral, punchy and bloody combat is supported brilliantly by a wonderfully brutal graphical performance and (mostly) buttery smooth framerate.
Evil West remained rock solid at 60fps throughout the experience, frequently hitting 100-120 frames. For a game so reliant on instant reactions and gloriously violent action, the FPS goes a long way. Having said that, I did experience a massive frame rate dip 3 times on the same boss which almost tanked my battle against them. I also had a persistent audio glitch which required me to restart a handful of times during my playthrough, which was annoying.
Once you’ve completed the roughly 10 hour campaign, the only incentives to return are for collectibles, unlocking all upgrades or enjoying a New Game + supped-up playthrough. The entire experience can also be blasted through in co-op with a buddy, should you want to shatter limbs in tandem. Be aware however, that only the host has their progress saved, so you don’t end up in that tragic realisation of having to replay the whole thing again if you were the unlucky guest player.
Putting its issues aside however, Evil West is an old-school third person action game that brings back all of those now left behind mechanics of the 2000s era. For better and for worse, it’s a true return to the machismo and unrelenting style of games that aren’t really seen much nowadays. It’s an absolute blast to shoot, crack, slam, decimate and utterly destroy vampires. It’s been a while, Gears of War and Bulletstorm, but we may have finally found a title worthy of your boulders for characters and unapologetic, violent carnage.
Smashing your way through hordes of vampires in a style reminiscent of Gears of War and Godhand, Evil West is a limb-tearing, frenetically great time. It’s a ridiculously over-the-top title with intentionally garish dialogue, balance issues and some questionable decision choices, but when you’re mashing a 10-punch combo into a bloodsucker’s deservingly battered face, you’ll forget all about logic in favour of a rip-roaring good time.
Evil West is launching on PC (review platform), PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X and Series S on November 22nd, 2022.
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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