Self-described as a love letter to classic neo-noir shooters — notably Max Payne and Dead to Rights — El Paso, Elsewhere takes a deeper and darker dive into issues of drug addiction, revenge, and race. So while protagonist James Savage will be firing so many bullets at vampires and werewolves that it would make Dean Winchester blush, the game will explore the consequences of what happens when you recover health by popping painkillers. And what happens when the target you’re after is not only the female lord of the vampires, but also your former lover.
I don't know about angels, but it's fear that gives men wings.
Xalavier Nelson Jr., the studio head of indie developer Strange Scaffold, chose James Savage as the hero of El Paso, Elsewhere in part to offer better, more well-rounded representation of black male protagonists in games. With fully-voiced dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place if it were from Sin City, James will acknowledge what it’s like to take pharmaceuticals after being sober for six months. Still scarred, he suffers from the trauma of having Draculae, a vampire from the 1800s, be his ex-lover. James was able to escape from this toxic relationship, seemingly by the skin of his teeth, but after learning that she’s trying to complete a world-ending ritual beneath a motel in El Paso, Texas, he’s the only hero we’ve got. He’s commited to stop her no matter what it takes.
In the thirty-minute alpha demo of El Paso, Elsewhere that I played during GDC 2023, I played several levels spread across the depths of a motel, which unnaturally gained another 46 stories beneath it due to the ritual. If the polygonal character models and environments are strange to you, the game intentionally looks like a PS1 or PS2 demake, if just to wear its Max Payne influences on its sleeve.
That said, this leaves plenty of room for the level designers to go wild. Most of my time in the demo was spent running and gunning through floors that don’t have a ceiling. Instead, a hellishly trippy pattern surrounds the space as a backdrop, which I believe is meant to illustrate a literal descent into hell as much as a psychological descent into madness.
Dodge this, blood-sucker!
Along the way, James needs to amass enough ammo and weapons to become a one-man army against the monstrous hordes. Exploring every nook and cranny of the level will usually give James enough pick-ups to make sure his pair of pistols, uzi, assault rifle, and shotgun are tapped out. Meanwhile, breaking anything made out of wood, be it furniture or doors, will fill his stock of stakes for instant kills against enemies that manage to get close to him. I recommend taking some time to look at the paintings too as some are adorable, easter-egg photos of dogs from the developers.
Early in the demo, I was somewhat careless with shots and I found myself running out of bullets by the time I had to face down multiple werewolves that thrashed James to shreds. At that point, I used my slow-mo ability more frequently and more carefully, making sure I lined headshots so that I could conserve my ammo. That made defeating grunts in an underground graveyard and possessed suits of armor in a haunted mausoleum far easier than before. It also gave me enough breathing room to appreciate the original hip-hop soundtrack, particularly a song called “Human Sundae” that had me vibing as I blasted the demons away.
El Paso, Elsewhere is slated to release in Fall 2023 for Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC via Steam. In case you want to check out how this game plays, a prequel for the game called El Paso, Nightmare released in October 2022 on PC.
This preview is based on a hands-on PC demo build provided by the publisher at GDC 2023.
Nick Tan posted a new article, El Paso, Elsewhere is a supernatural, monster-hunting love letter to Max Payne