Kill. The. Vampires. No, don’t ask any questions. Just take this steel gauntlet and punch those bloodsuckers out. And take these guns too, so you can shoot them in the face. Now get your ass out there and don’t come back until you’ve saved America!
Evil West knows what it is and doesn’t make compromises. Developed by Flying Wild Hog who’s best known for the Shadow Warrior series, it’s a linear third-person action-adventure about smashing monsters and taking names all across The Wild West. The game makes a literal reference to the cult classic From Dusk Till Dawn and even has a trailer that features Danny Trejo, so you can imagine that this won’t be about vampires who sparkle in the sunlight. Sure, there’s a story that follows field agent Jesse Rentier as he defends The United States as a hero of the Rentier Institute that his father founded, but it’s really about purging every last varmint and supernatural baddie with bullets and superman punches from sea to shining sea.
Punch first, ask questions later
Through the campaign that lasts around 12 hours, depending on the difficulty setting and your diligence for light exploration, Jesse Rentier transforms from being a badass into an even bigger badass. Right from the start, he can uppercut monsters into the air and perform aerial juggles, in a small tip of the hat to Kratos and the God of War reboot. If the reference wasn’t clear enough, Jesse will also smash chests using his gauntlet, not unlike Kratos opening chests by punching them. For ranged attacks, he can whip out a revolver or rifle, both of which never run out of ammo, taking advantage of enemy weak points from afar and allowing you to play the keepaway strategy if you don’t want to risk facing a monster up close.
Pretty much every new chapter sees Jesse gain a new ability, weapon, or gadget, on top of earning perks from leveling up and new weapon upgrades by spending cash. Progression is simple to follow, being about as complicated as the original BioShock, with multiple skill trees that target different aspects of Jesse’s abilities. Figuring out where to put the perk points was tough for me at the start, but once I unlocked Jesse’s electrocution abilities with the gauntlet, I focused on them almost exclusively. Not only can he pull enemies toward him as well as zoom toward a foe with lightning speed, both of these moves will leave most enemies stunned by electricity, allowing Jesse to unload a satisfying barrage of punches that would make Kenshiro from Fist of the North Star proud. Near the middle of the game, he’ll even learn the ability to go into a transformed state that turns him into a supercharged blaze of electricity that would fit neatly in an inFamous game.
That said, despite Jesse’s scrappy arsenal of gunslinging abilities and melee skills, he’s just one man against hordes of enemies. He’s essentially an expert at single-target DPS, taking out one foe at a time, but he’ll frequently be interrupted by other monsters on the field. Bosses and mini-bosses have no trouble sending their allies to overwhelm him. It’s not until you get the boomstick, a field-wide electric shock, and a shocking quake special move that Jesse gets some countermeasures against groups. These area-of-effect maneuvers, though, tend to have a long cooldown, so you’ll need to be quick with dodging and to make sure that the behind-the-back camera has a wide enough angle to survey as many monsters on the field as you can. Certain finishing moves, like the barrage of punches on a shocked foe mentioned earlier, will force enemies to drop health pickups too, extending Jesse’s survivability during prolonged fights.
That dog won’t hunt
While one of the strengths of Evil West’s gameplay is its back-to-basic approach, it runs into the issue of repetition. Particularly around the middle of the game, you’ll face the same mini-bosses with more or less the same standard group of enemies. The introduction of a new skill and a new monster about once every level does help mitigate this, as well as the occasional platforming puzzle, but regular battles tend to stay roughly the same regardless. Some fights have a bad habit of adding more enemy reinforcements for the sake of it, and they can become predictable over time. The game could have changed up some of the objectives or overall strategies to give more variety to the combat. The camera can also get too tight if Jesse gets caught in a corner, and the lack of a lock-on ability can make aiming melee strikes and strafing more cumbersome than it needs to be.
The narrative is fairly done for a game that is as action-driven as it is. It won't be winning any awards nor does it delve that deeply or interestingly into any character struggles. There's also a lack of transitions between locations, with Jesse sometimes saying that he needs to head somewhere and, poof, he's there in the next scene. But the story doesn't overstay its welcome, and there's enough work with the lore on the Rainier Institute and the monsters to keep the momentum going without getting into the weeds. A good portion of lore is fully voiced as well to keep the action flowing.
It's surprising that online multiplayer exists at all in Evil West, though the implementation is rather restrictive. The monsters get tougher if you have a partner by your side, but in exchange you can revive each other and it's a bit harder to get outright flanked. The co-op partner, however, won’t receive any story progress, even if the player is at the same point in the story as you are. Co-op is also restricted to those on your friends list, at least on the Steam version I played, and for now there’s no crossplay and no local split-screen co-op either.
Graphically, Evil West performs reasonably well. For what it’s worth, the environments are finely crafted for as linear as they are and the character models are detailed enough to pass muster. I was able to play the majority of the game on the Epic preset (on a rig with an Intel 7 CPU and AMD RX 6700 GT), though I encountered the same severe game-breaking glitches three times during the first boss fight. I had to drop the graphics down to Medium setting just to get through it, which caused some screen-tearing during the cinematics as well, but this will hopefully get sorted in a day-one patch or some update later down the road.
Will die standin’ up
Evil West is a straight shooter. It doesn’t pretend to be something more than it is — a game about cowboys slaying vampires without mercy. Despite being a tad unvaried, the combat is viscerally gratifying and confidently uncomplicated. And for that alone, the game is largely able to overcome the hiccups with the limited multiplayer, graphics crashes, and awkwardly edited story. Though the campaign is fairly short given the asking price, it has a permadeath mode and new game plus for replayability. Evil West may be rough around the corners, but it’s worth a shot of whiskey down at the nearest saloon.
This review is based on a Steam copy of the game supplied by the publisher. Evil West comes out on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, and Xbox One on November 22, 2022.
- Visceral, satisfying combat
- Simple, straightforward progression
- Fair enough story and graphics
- New game plus
- Fights can get predictable over time
- Co-op at least exists, but it's limited
- Crashed a few times