Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows (Reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Release Date: 21 November 2022
Price: – $69.95 AUD / $49.99 USD Available Here
It’s been a while since I saw the first trailer for Evil West back when it was announced. It looked very promising, perhaps a bit too much. Fast forward to the present time, the game is finally in our hands. It’s the fast paced action game combining shooting and brawling that I wanted it to be with some caveats. With that out of the way, let’s take a deeper look at how everything falls in place.
In the old, wild, weird west, vampires are a real thing. To combat them, a secret organization was created. Named after its founder, the Rentier Institute was able to harness the power of steam and electricity to create weapons that instill fear among the vampire ranks. A group of rogue vampires fear that humanity has gone too far, and they then decide that it’s time to conquer humanity once and for all. As one of the last capable field agents from the institute, Jesse Rentier must confront the vampire menace.
This is a great premise for an action game; a properly characterized “cowboy” secret agent facing hordes of powerful undead creatures using a variety of steampunk contraptions in the wild west. Unfortunately, the story leaves a lot to be desired. After the first few stages which set up the war against the vampires, the writing takes a deep dive in quality, and it feels mostly like filler until the final stages where it picks up the pace again.
Evil West may look like an over-the-shoulder third person shooter (TPS) at first glance, but that’s not the case at all. Your pistol and rifle act more like support weapons: They’re mainly used to interrupt distant or flying enemies. There are other ranged weapons that you can acquire, sure, but they have a cooldown period between each use and are more of a tool for crowd control or when facing bosses. Jesse’s main weapon is the versatile Rentier gauntlet, which you’ll use to punch, eviscerate and electrify enemies. In fact, Evil West shares a lot of similarities to games like the newest God of War – questionable game design choices and all – but it never devolves into a QTE fest – it gives full control to the player even if it’s mind numbingly boring at times. Surprisingly, the combat feels a lot like a beat ‘em up with precise controls and cool mechanics.
Missions play out like you’d expect from a modern action game which means that there’s a lot of exploration, skills to unlock as you level up and also some “puzzles.” This RPG-esque foundation that Evil West uses is a very simple blueprint of “go from point A to B while taking slight detours to gather money, skill “scrolls” and notes from characters that try to give more flavor and context to what’s happening overall. What this means in practice is that there’s a considerable amount of downtime between waves of enemies. Also, the player has no agency when choosing how to engage enemies. Sometimes you can see them prancing inside a corral like cattle. You draw your rifle and shoot only to be met with an invisible barrier. You need to literally jump the fence to start a brawl. Once enemies are defeated, you go back to pressing switches, pushing carts so they’re neatly positioned to be used as bridges or watching some cutscenes and dialogues. Sometimes I almost dozed off as I was looking for the next glowing platform to climb.
The good news is that the combat is fairly good, even if it’s repetitive and somewhat limited; a few stages in and you’ll have all the basic tools that you’ll be using for the rest of the game. Take the zapper function of your gauntlet for example; you can use it to pull or dash towards enemies stunning them on contact. It’s an essential ability that allows you to isolate some enemies or even use it as an evasive maneuver. Trust me when I say that you’ll be using the zapper a lot throughout the game especially on harder difficulties. It’s a cool ability, and it also helps the combat feel fast and fluid. What’s disappointing is how the skill tree is set up so that new abilities are mostly upgrades or variations of the base ones. Enemies are varied in design but not that much in regard to their moveset. Evil West’s estimated playthrough is 15 hours, meaning that will encounter the same enemies over and over again. This, coupled with an unimaginative set of skills for your character and also how battles play out in such a similar fashion almost made me give up halfway through. The solution for my dilemma was cranking the difficulty up to hard; battles became less predictable that way. The amount of enemies thrown at you and their damage output was also increased. This provided me with a good challenge that kept me invested until the end. Boss battles are few, but they are well designed and fun.
Evil West features simple but beautiful graphics with sprawling and varied areas that feature awe inspiring vistas. The lighting and fog effects are very well done fitting the game’s themes to a T. Textures are detailed and crispy for the most part. Jesse’s model is intricate and cool looking although the same can’t be said about the rest of the cast.
The sound design is also well done but a little lacking in ambient sounds. The soundtrack is mostly quiet “wild west music” which is disappointing to a degree. As for the sound effects, I expected more variety and impact. Jesse’s and Edgar’s voice-overs sound cool and appropriate. All I can say about the rest of the cast is that they are able to land their lines well enough.
Evil West offers an interesting take on the “weird west” concept. Its mix of TPS beat ‘em up-shooter gameplay is something that I definitely want to see done more often. Despite suffering from padding issues and unimaginative level design, Evil West’s combat is solid and fun.
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