Far too often we’re found lamenting the fact that plenty of games get released that are demanding of your time. Too demanding in some respects. Great if you’ve the spare capacity to drop 120+ hours into exploring every inch of the latest open world monster, but not everyone is so lucky. We often think about the PS2 era that brought us some absolute bangers of titles that didn’t break the 10 hour mark, and whimsically muse on what they would be like if they were released today. Now we don’t have to imagine because Evil West is here to demonstrate what tight gameplay coupled with over-the-top story telling can deliver in a short-ish runtime. Flying Wild Hog are known for their no-nonsense approach to action gameplay, believing that frantic and gory is usually better, so it’s likely that this game will satiate most people’s blood lust… but does it manage to provide a fulfilling experience whilst focusing on making it fun?
Not to be thought of as having any link to Darkwatch, a 2005 game about vampires and monster hunting in the wild west, Evil West is about vampires and monster hunting in the wild west… it is a different game, honest. You’ll be inhabiting the chunky leather trench coat of Jesse Rentier – the most badass vampire hunter that 1800’s America has to offer. Working for his father’s foundation, they’re tasked with keeping the vampire menace at bay, and maybe even eradicating the scourge once and for all. They like to call their main foe the Sanguisuge, but it’s clear what they are and what they want to achieve. All looks pretty good for the Rentier Institute as they snag a high profile lead on the Sanguisuge leadership and take the praise that Washington showers on them, but obviously to make the tale more interesting, things are going to go to hell in a handbasket, and quickly. Jesse needs to battle the demonic monsters, save the Institute, and fend off US Government bureaucracy if he’s to win against the terrible things that lurk in the night.
Evil West keeps things simple – the action is over-the-shoulder, the levels are linear, the puzzles signposted, and the bad guys take a pounding. Combat is a mix of shooting and punching, and the game steadily adds new weapons and abilities to the arsenal as the story drops them Jesse’s way. It smacks of the action-orientated, point A to point B, third person genre games that littered the gaming charts for years; and there’s nothing wrong with that at all. Keeping the focus on beating up vampires and not getting your blood sucked has allowed a lot of the design time to go into fleshing out the rich environments and detailing of the characters, and it does feel like a blend of the aforementioned Darkwatch, Shadow Warrior and God of War. Not having to worry about navigation or managing any kind of inventory is refreshing, and keeps all eyes on what the game does well… smacking freakish abominations in the face. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t some exploration to be had, but it’s minimal and relatively unobtrusive, unless you’re aiming for all the upgrades.
Most fights tend to happen in a faux arena, where hopping over a chest high wall triggers a horde of enemies to rush your position. Early on in the game it’s a handful thrown in to help you understand each core monster type, and then later on you’ll get multiple types all at once to figure out how to juggle. Whilst you’ll end up thinking that this is a straightforward level structure culminating in a boss battle, some of those bosses end up becoming standard cannon fodder which makes for some quite tense encounters. Evil West is not shy on having the entire mob whale on Jesse all at once, so understanding his tools is paramount. With a blend of guns and a gauntlet which hits hard and has electric powers, things feel a little Devil May Cry as you’re uppercutting a beast into the air then juggling with a revolver. Rarely does any vampiric monstrosity go down easily, and fights can end up being lengthy as you manage your regenerating health packs against dealing the most physical damage when you can. It all comes together to be just the right level of challenge vs. satisfaction, and holds that all the way through.
Helping Jesse deal more damage are upgrades and perks, and this is where things start to feel more like modern day games. Levelling up adds a perk point to spend on one of the many options in the menu, and cash found dotted around is used to buy weapon upgrades. Specific perks are also hidden away in the environment and need seeking out. It’s metered out at a steady rate, maybe not as quickly as you’d like, but as the abilities grow Jesse does get more formidable, so it feels like solid progress all the way through. The choice to remove the need to find health packs or ammo is a good one, with guns replenishing their ammo over time, and secondary skills recharging. Not having to worry about managing the bullets in the particularly long boss fights is freeing, and it all fits in with Evil West’s lore too. Don’t worry about understanding that by the way – it’s ever present in the menus with loads to read through, yet it is far from necessary to know what’s going on. Everything always sticks to the “if it’s got fangs, kill it” approach.
For the latest generation of consoles there’s the choice of framerate and fidelity, and I’d strongly recommend the framerate option. Having the presentation in 4K is nice, yet you feel the benefit of 60 frames per second, even if it does shudder every now and again. Evil West looks nice all the way through with some great art design happening to imbue the world with a grungy, decaying vibe. Likewise, the creatures you face off against are gruesome if not always the stuff of nightmares, and ripping their limbs off with finishing moves akin to DOOM’s glory kills never gets old. There’s oodles of atmosphere generated during the journey, and given this is set in a turn of the century USA, it’s slightly odd that the non-supernatural places are the ones that fall flattest. Fortunately you don’t spend that long in them, they act more as a hub for Jesse’s adventure and a place where the action calms for a short while. Audio is on point too, alongside some quality gruff voice acting that nails the hyper realistic nature of the whole premise.
What Evil West does, it does well, and that’s being an uncomplicated action game that wants you to shoot, punch and dodge through multiple levels of carnage. There’s a functional story at its heart that drives the impressive world design, but it all still comes back to big men in big clothes with big guns. There are a few rough edges here and there – enemy attack noises that persist through whole levels, getting stuck in scenery, a camera that likes to flick away from the action occasionally – though by and large it’s a solid and very playable experience… and one that caters for arachnophobes as well. It’s the type of game that would have gone down well as a weekend rent about 15 years ago, and there’s no reason why those looking for that type of pick up and play escapism shouldn’t get on very well with this.
A PS5 review copy of Evil West was provided by Flying Wild Hog’s PR team, and the game is available now on PlayStation, Xbox and PC for around £45, depending on platform.