Evil West asks a simple question: What would happen if cowboys fought vampires? It’s the kind of fancy thinking that gets, and developer Flying Wild Hog certainly gets a lot out of its whimsical concept. Set in an alternate version of the United States of the 1890s, Evil West is the Wild West at its wildest. A familiar backdrop of swinging-door saloons, tumbleweeds, and abandoned gold mines intertwine with Nikola Tesla-inspired electro-steampunk technology and an ensemble of voracious bloodsuckers. Evil West shines in the heat of battle when that initial question can be answered, but its strengths are often diminished by the dated design that surrounds them.
The story is quite a numbers-based affair, pitting a vampire hunting organization against a vampiric enemy force that threatens the continental United States. You’re strapped to the spur-covered boots of Jesse Rentier, a typically gruff protagonist with very little emotion beyond mild indifference. His occasionally pragmatic response to the absurdity going on around him is a bit endearing, but he says I had to look up his name before writing it here. The narrative periodically addresses some interesting topics; for example, one of the Highborn vampires is concerned about humanity’s ever-expanding technology and the threat it will pose to his fellow sanguisuge, but these threads never go anywhere. The one that does revolves around a fawning, misogynistic government official, but his comeuppance isn’t as satisfying as he deserves.
Ultimately, these one-dimensional characters and embarrassing dialogue replete with forced expletives are easy to ignore. The story is little more than a vehicle for its chaotic combat, taking you from a dusty city to a murky swamp in search of new monstrosities to extinguish. The most surprising thing about Evil West is that he is more of a brawler than a shooter. The behind-the-back third-person perspective is reminiscent of more recent God of War games, letting you get up close as you pummel enemies to a bloody pulp. Jesse is equipped with a metal gauntlet that adds additional weight to each hit, while a charged grappling hook can be used to launch smaller enemies into the air, where you can follow up with a cannonball strike to send them hurtling into a trap. or conveniently located spike pile. from TNT. Jessie’s melee strikes feel suitably heavy, and the free gore that covers every arena in blood and crimson gore really sells the power fantasy at the core of Evil West.
Eventually, the gauntlet becomes infused with electricity, further expanding your repertoire with a voltaic array of new moves. You can pull enemies towards you or you towards them, sending volts through their bones and giving you a small window to obliterate their helpless shells with a flurry of blows. This also has two uses, as you can either latch on to distant enemies to get out of harm’s way, or pull one out of a pack to deal damage before your friends arrive. Most of Evil West’s challenge comes from the sheer number of enemies it throws at you at once, so having this kind of mobility is key to survival, along with the typical dodge move and a kick that can interrupt certain attacks. . There’s also an electrical ground slam that evaporates multiple enemies at once and a shockwave attack that stuns multiple enemies, giving you a brief moment of respite or a chance to focus on a specific target while everyone else is. locked in place.
It’s not just melee punching, either. Jesse still has an arsenal of deadly firearms that gradually expands throughout the game. Rather than constantly switching between weapons on the fly, most of these vampire killing tools are assigned a button. Pressing shoot will only fire Jesse’s six-shooter, while aiming down will automatically switch to a rifle to deal with long-range threats. Another button fires a quick burst from the boomstick shotgun, and there are a few other special weapons that I won’t spoil here. There is no ammo to collect; instead, everything works on cooldowns. It’s a lot to remember, but the combat feels intuitive and fluid. You can launch an enemy into the air, use the revolver to suspend them with lead, revealing Evil West’s Devil May Cry DNA, before moving on to another enemy and blowing them to pieces with a short-range volley of buckshot. It’s the kind of game that would benefit from having a combo meter, just to keep track of how skilled you are at killing everything in front of you, but sadly doesn’t have one.
Evil West shines in the heat of battle when that initial question can be answered, but its strengths are often diminished by the dated design that surrounds them.
The enemies you face are also initially a varied bunch. From leaping werewolf-like creatures and bulbous humanoids that charge at you before exploding, to bulky enemies with shields with leech-like appendages and creatures that hide underground when they’re not throwing rocks at you. Each one presents a unique challenge, but they also have moments of weakness when executing powerful attacks, indicated by a glowing circle and a noticeable chime. Shooting his weak point with his rifle deals massive damage and an often vital health drop, though the sheer variety of enemies on screen at any one time leads to some frustration when trying to execute techniques like this. It can be difficult to line up a clear shot when there’s so much traffic on the road, and with so much going on, there are some readability issues with knowing when enemies are attacking from blind spots.
Despite these issues, Evil West is at its best when it is most turbulent. It isn’t long before the mini-bosses are reintroduced as regular enemies, becoming another part of the supernatural furniture. You need to use everything at your disposal to survive while being riddled on all sides by an ever-expanding swath of monsters, and it’s hard not to smile when you emerge from yet another scrap by the skin of your teeth. Unfortunately, this feeling starts to fade by the time the third act rolls around and the well of new enemy types runs dry. At this point, the game resorts to throwing the same familiar combinations of creatures at you over and over again. There are only so many times that you can defeat the same group of shielded opponents before the replay begins.
Part of the problem also lies in the formulated design of Evil West. Combat generally takes place within boxed arenas indicated by spike traps and TNT. The boring and predictable layout of these areas isn’t a major problem, as juggling all the abilities at your disposal is more than enough, but it’s outside of combat where it fails. The main path connecting the game’s combat arenas is marked with a shiny silver chain. You can go into barely hidden side passages to find money that is used to upgrade weapons, but this is the lightest of exploration. Most of the time, you’re simply moving from one shiny object to another, where you’ll then see Jessie climb a ledge or go through a gap. It occasionally strays from the norm, putting you on a perilous minecart ride or impeding your progress with a rudimentary block-pushing puzzle, but these moments are few and far between and incredibly mundane nonetheless. There is a level that features an entire city for you to explore while hunting and destroying some monster nests. It’s not an especially large space, but its newfound freedom makes browsing a bit more interesting than usual.
Technical deficiencies are another annoyance rearing its ugly head. I did find a few glitches, including a few moments where one sound effect would suddenly overpower the rest and continue to play even after the match had ended. There were also a couple of cases where I got stuck on the ground and another where the aiming reticle went off-center, meaning I had to aim up and to the left of a target to get it flush. Neither of these issues was decisive, but that could be down to luck more than anything. I managed to get unstuck from the ground the first time it happened, and the second time was during a boss fight, so the resulting scene saved me from being stranded there forever.
In many ways, Evil West feels like a relic of the past. It’s the kind of game you could imagine playing in, say, 2010 or even earlier. This simplicity might have been somewhat refreshing when so many modern games are overly bloated by comparison, but it feels like a game without aspirations. The combat is robust, revels in gore, and consistently delights with its heavy, satisfying action. It does stumble into tedium towards the end though, both as a result of enemy oversaturation and being forced to lead the charge, but it’s the one aspect that makes Evil West worth playing. The rest of the game is formulaic and overwhelmingly boring, actively decreasing its high points as you wander from one combat arena to another. I haven’t always enjoyed my time with Evil West, but I hope a sequel is on the way, if only to see if Flying Wild Hog can expand and improve on its promise.