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April 2024

Evil West

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Release Date: Nov. 22, 2022


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PC Review - 'Evil West'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 21, 2022 @ 11:00 a.m. PST

Evil West is an action game playable solo or in co-op and set within a dark fantasy, weird wild west universe.

Buy Evil West

Sometimes, games don't need lofty, complex ideas. Sure, sometimes there's room for a game about a world where death has stopped, everyone carries around babies, and there are tar monsters for some reason. Sometimes, you just want a game that can be summed up in a few simple words.

Evil West is very much the latter. It began from a simple concept: cowboys versus vampires. Rather than expand further, it stuck to that idea through thick and thin. The result is an enjoyable game that is pure schlock, and it knows it.

Evil West is perhaps the most Hollywood Blockbuster game I've ever played. It looks, feels and sounds almost exactly like something I'd fully have expected to see in the years following Wild Wild West if Will Smith's robot spider adventure had a been more successful. It follows all of the comfortable cliches. You play as cowboy/vampire hunter Jesse Rentiner, a member of a long line of vampire hunters who have protected America from the baddies since the country was founded. Jesse's less of a company man and more of a rootin', tootin', shootin' type, which is quite good for him when a vampire attack leaves his organization decimated. Left with only a handful of survivors and a prototype gauntlet that can break through vampire defenses, Jesse must mount a counterattack and take down the damn tick that ruined his house.

It's possible to criticize Evil West's plot, but that feels rather pointless. It's largely an excuse for a small group of generally likable stereotypes to be gruff and eventually learn to respect one another while blowing up a lot of things. You can probably pick out every plot beat before it happens, guess every arc from the moment you meet the character, and call out every line of cheesy dialogue as soon as someone speaks. That's fine because that is exactly what it's trying to be. It isn't really a game to play for the plot, so much as the plot exists as a reason for cowboys to fight vampires.

The combat system in Evil West is unusual. You could look at screenshots or gameplay videos and mistake it for a third-person shooter. However, that couldn't be further from the truth. Yeah, you have guns, but the game plays like a strange mash-up of God of War and Arkham Asylum more than any third-person shooter on the market.

Your default method of attack is a gauntlet, a powerful electric-powered glove that gives you the ability to cave in vampire skulls when you're not shocking them to death. You can perform basic combos by tapping the shoulder button, or hold the button to launch enemies into the air and combo them further. As in Arkham, you'll also gain the ability to perform timed button taps to improve your damage. You can also parry with an electric shield and use your Big Boot to interrupt some enemy attacks. It's more of a beat-'em-up than a Devil May Cry, but that isn't a bad thing.

Your gauntlet can also electrify foes. For weaker enemies, you can do this with the tap of a button, either by dashing toward them or pulling them to you. For stronger enemies, you have to wear down their fatigue gauge first. When an enemy is electrified, they are stunned, and melee attacking them will enter into a special attack that consists of a rapid flurry of powerful punches. It's almost identical to the Beatdown ability from Arkham City, and it's one of the best ways to attack.

Everything else you get in the game functions as a cooldown-based special skill. Your shotgun isn't something you aim and fire. You tap the button, and it blasts a powerful AoE burst in front of you. Your revolver automatically targets and fires if you hit the right trigger. You have a magic cross that stuns enemies around you and heals.

You do, technically, have some weapons that you can aim, but you're never going to play the game like a shooter. Each one has a small amount of ammo that it regenerates over time, and it's largely used for brief moments. Your rifle can hit enemies from a distance but is best used in specific situations. Your flamethrower, chain gun and explosives are all meant to be tossed down and used like skills on cooldowns, rather than having their ammo rationed. Everything in the game has a low enough cooldown that you should cycle through everything regularly instead of saving things for emergencies. Some skills require energy to use, but there are so many ways to quickly replenish energy that it isn't a huge limitation.

The trick to combat in Evil West though is that pretty much all of your tools serve as counters to enemy attacks. Shotgun breaks shields, and the rifle (or crossbow) can "interrupt" enemy attacks by targeting them when a yellow circle flashes. (With a controller, this includes a generous auto-aim that instantly snaps to the target.) Your boot stops glowing enemy strong attacks, your parry shield weakens fast attacks, the chaingun can make you temporarily invulnerable, and so on.

A good fight in Evil West involves you constantly switching between various attacks to maximize damage. It's going for an Arkham thing, where almost every button has a distinct purpose, but it isn't quite as smooth and polished as that. It took me a while to get the game's rhythm down. Trying to play it as a standard shooter or even a beat-'em-up will leave you feeling frustrated. On the other hand, when you utterly dominate a werewolf by blocking every attack, kick it in the face to interrupt its big finisher, and then give it an electrified beatdown? That feels amazing.

It's fortunate that the combat system is strong because the rest of Evil West isn't very impressive. You're mostly wandering through corridors to fight arenas, and you occasionally branch off to find chests to upgrade skills and abilities. There's not a ton of exploration aside from one or two areas, and you'll spend most of your time moving forward. It isn't bad, but you have to be aware that you're in for what amounts to a beat-'em-up more than an action-adventure.

If I had one real complaint about the design, Evil West isn't great about signposting what is progress and what is optional, but it also bars off returning to areas very readily. More than once, I'd go down a path thinking it might lead to loot, only to get suddenly "locked in" to an arena and forced to abandon whatever the previous path may have led to — including valuable perks. It can be frustrating and take some fun out of exploring the few non-linear areas when a misstep can leave you lootless.

It's also largely a one-and-done experience. You can take on the game a second time in New Game+ with harder enemy layouts, or you can go through the campaign co-op with a friend, but neither feel strictly necessary. By the end of the game, I was starting to feel a bit worn out. The combat didn't overstay its welcome, but I feel like it would have on another playthrough. The game is roughly 8-10 hours for a single playthrough; that may sound a bit short, but it feels just about right for the "summer blockbuster" tone of the game, and the budget price helps.

Evil West looks quite nice. The environments are varied and fun, and while you'll spend a lot of time in burning buildings, the game does a good job of keeping things looking good. The enemies are well-animated and have some gruesome touches; despite them being horrific abominations, it's pretty easy to tell apart different types. The voice acting is perfectly fine, leaning hard into the hammy cowboy-versus-vampires tone of the game. It won't win any awards, but it knows exactly what it's going for.

Evil West is a fun and well-made beat-'em-up that doesn't exceed its reach. The focus is on the combat, and thankfully, that largely pays off. Even coming from God of War: Ragnarok, I managed to have a lot of fun with Evil West nonetheless. There isn't a ton to see beyond the combat, and you'll probably be done in a single playthrough, but that single playthrough will be a darn fun time.

Score: 7.5/10

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