The latest in a surprisingly long line of supernatural horror games set in the Old West is a homage to Xbox 360 era shooters like Gears Of War.
As peculiar as the mash-up may seem, pitting cowboys against the supernatural is not a new idea for video games. Before we started playing this, we admit we got it confused with the Hard West franchise – until we released we were actually mixing it up with West Of Dead. Or maybe it was Weird West? Add in Darkwatch and Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare and that is a lot of cowboys fighting a lot of monsters.
Darkwatch is arguably the closest point of similarity here, since both involve you hunting down vampires, although Evil West is a third person, rather than first person, shooter. As well as vampires Evil West also features a considerable amount of steampunk technology, which seems a bit of a shame in terms of building any sense of verisimilitude, but it does mean you have plenty of high-tech gadgetry with which to take down your pointy toothed opponents and their various minion.
What results is a surprisingly old-fashioned action game, that’s also channelling God Of War and all manner of other influences, including an art style that’s reminiscent of Darksiders and some debts to the movie Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Given how unlikely the premise seems you’d assume the end result would be a unique experience, but that’s not really the case at all.
The old school, Xbox 360 feeling of the game extends to the severely underwritten storyline, involving vampires trying to take over the US and an ineffective government response that is almost entirely dependent on your player character, Jesse Rentier. He’s your typically laconic video game protagonist, who has little to say about any of the mind-bending things he sees and does, other than to occasionally make an attempt at a lame one-liner.
It’s not that this approach is inherently wrong – we’d often rather have cheesy action than po-faced realism – but Evil West is so gawky and try-hard at times that it can detract from the action, especially given the risible dialogue.
Despite what you might expect, Evil West relies on melee combat more than it does guns, with your special metal glove used to launch enemies into the air and smash them into nearby furniture and destructible items. It’s not deep or complicated but the clunk of metal on undead flesh, and the over-the-top gore that results, is definitely Evil West’s best feature.
The power glove eventually gets a gravity gun like ability to pull enemies towards you, or have you launch towards them, with the electricity that powers it stunning them for a few precious seconds. Since there are always a lot of enemies on screen at once this comes in very handy for crowd control, as the game begins to entertain an almost Devil May Cry style domination of enemies, as you punch and juggle them around like lightweight mannequins.
However, the sheer number on screen at once can make it difficult to pick out any one particular antagonist, especially as you’re meant to be targeting their weak points – something that often seems like pot luck given how busy the action can get.
You’ve also got a variety of guns that can be activated by a single button press, allowing you to switch seamlessly between revolver, shotgun, rifle, and more within the same combo. There’s no ammo involved with any of them though, as they just work on a cooldown timer, which in turn encourages you to mix them up and not just rely on one weapon.
The combat works very well and if you’re waiting to hear of the game’s fatal flaw there isn’t really one, other than it’s about 10 hours long and you’ll have seen everything it has to offer by at least the halfway point. The game does have an impressive number of different enemies, but nothing lasts forever and as they begin to repeat, again and again, it becomes more obvious just how simplistic the whole game is.
In keeping with the old school vibes, each encounter takes part in small arenas, from which you cannot escape until you’ve killed everything in the vicinity. On top of this, the journey between each encounter is usually extremely linear, with little in the way of exploration or puzzle-solving to keep you interested.
Evil West is formulaic but because that formula is no longer fashionable that does keep your interest for a while. By the time you realise the game is going to end up doing nothing that justifies its runtime, though, the novelty has warn off and you’re just left with a repetitive, and not very original, brawler that feels like someone gave up on the design halfway through and figured that would be enough.
It certainly feels that way in terms of the bugs and glitches, which are by far the worst we’ve experienced lately, with actual crash bugs, disappearing hit boxes, and characters getting frozen in space halfway through the floor or in the air. No doubt there’s a patch coming but it’s pretty disgraceful it was launched in this state at all.
For the first few hours Evil West is a pretty good game but by the end of it you’ll have wished it all wrapped up a lot sooner than it does. If it could’ve found a way to evolve the gameplay and exploration, that would’ve been something – or at least conjured up a script that didn’t have you squirming in embarrassment with every line uttered. The good news is that at least there are plenty of other cowboy vs. vampires games you could try and sink your teeth into, as this one lacks bite.
Evil West review summary
In Short: An enjoyable combat system is left to flounder in an otherwise unambitious ode to Xbox 360 era shooters, that quickly gets too repetitive to enjoy.
Pros: The core combat is very solid, with versatile melee combat and clever use of cooldown for the guns. The cheesy tone will please anyone that still wishes it was 2008.
Cons: Beyond the combat there’s almost nothing else to the game, with bland, unengaging exploration and a weak plot with terrible dialogue. Enemy variety becomes a problem by the halfway point.
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