“What the fuck are you?” says Evil West’s player character as you walk into yet another flame-covered arena, ready to dish out some old West justice to whatever type of supernatural beastie gets in your way.
Evil West has a distinctly retro flavour, mostly because the design feels like it has tumbled from the design bibles of schlocky PlayStation 2 hits like The Suffering or Shadow of Rome, but updated for modern times. This means there’s a nonsensical storyline and some odd design choices mostly in the service of offering up a gore-soaked good time.
You play as Jesse Rentier, a vampire hunter with a huge metal gauntlet strapped to his arm. Rentier works for the Rentier institute, some sort of Pinkerton-esque vampire hunting outfit that is headquartered in an old mansion. As you might guess from the name, the institute is a family affair, and daddy Rentier runs the institute and wants you to sack off the vampire hunting. Sadly, this isn’t on the cards.
“I’m a field agent not a paper pusher!” yells Rentier Jr during an early cutscene. Men like him are in short supply, which is why you’ll need to punch the living hell out of every vampire and monster between here and the credits to save mankind, but more importantly, to save America.
It’s nonsense, is what it is. But as you’re dodge-rolling past enemies, uppercutting enemies into the sky and keeping them airborne with revolver shots as you wait for the telltale golden ring on another enemy that means it’s time to shoot them with your rifle for critical damage, you won’t care. Evil West is video game thrash metal, and you’re constantly throwing down with an entire crowd of enemies not because you have to but because you want to, testing out new upgrades or abilities as the game serves them up to you.
There’s dodge rolling and melee combos mixed in with fanning your revolver at enemies and taking precise shots with a rifle. Some may see the dodge roll and think it’s something of a souls-like, but Evil West is the still-warm corpse of the type of action game that the Souls-like genre killed – a reasonably low-stakes hack and slash with a little weight. Toss in a trophy kill mechanic that has you hoofing a glowing enemy in the nads to regain health, or punching them into a fine mist, and we’re partying like it’s 2004.
A testament to the sheer PlayStation 2-iness of the whole thing are the glowing chains that signify where you’re supposed to go: these can be wrapped around a stake in the ground to tell you something interesting is here, adorned on a wall to tell you this is a wall you should be looking at or in some cases wrapped around tree branches to let you know you can swing there. One memorable moment even had me grappling a chain from a tree branch so the chain would fall down and I could climb up it.
The current-gen tech has let the team do some cool things, too. An early inverted pyramid is one of the coolest sights I’ve seen in video games this year, all bleak concrete and soft red lighting. Yes, Evil West is pulpy. But it doesn’t miss when it comes to making things rad as hell.
And weirdly, coming onto this off the back of God of War Ragnarok, there are a lot of times when Evil West feels more fun. The production values are probably a single-digit percentage of Ragnarok’s and this shows in the slight clunkiness of the whole thing, but at least you’re spending a lot of time brawling, popping enemies like ripe grapes as you wade through them.
Crucially, it isn’t as good as God of War Ragnarok, but if having fun is what we’re all about, you can do a lot worse than Evil West. Especially when you factor in the cooperative play, where you can leather some of the undead minions with a pal. The combat doesn’t feel particularly well-keyed for doing it together: there are weird animation glitches and the endless curse of each cutscene including just the main character and not his awkward, also-there, clone. Still, having someone to chat though while you eviscerate bad guys does make it more fun.
Evil West’s greatest strength is that it knows exactly what it is. What we have here is a solid three-star action game that is enjoyable to play and a little rough around the edges elsewhere. Do I care about the story? No. Are the characters well fleshed out? Also no. Do I get to execute werewolves by putting a shotgun in their mouth and blow their brains out? Yes. And isn’t that what matters?
Dumb, fun and full of western slang, Evil West has snuck out into a crowded release season with a unique selling point: fun, with very little nonsense.
- Fun action
- Buckets of gore
- Some puzzles are tedious
- Bad storyline
- Limited weapon selection