STAFF REVIEW of Evil West (Xbox One)

Tuesday, December 27, 2022.
by Peggy Doyle

Evil West Box art Cowboys and Vampires and Sci-Fi... oh my!

I don’t play games like Evil West often, meaning that I’m not an action/shooter gamer in general. I am, however, a sucker (pun unintended) for vampires, cowboys and anything that has an alternative take on history. This year there have been a few games that have taken on supernatural versions of the Wild West, and I’ve even covered one of them earlier this year called Weird West. While both titles have taken on the same genre, they couldn’t be more different in their execution. While Weird West took on zombies and eventually grew on me, Evil West takes on vampires and grabbed my attention from the moment I loaded into the game.

Developed by Polish developers Flying Wild Hog (Trek to Yomi) and published by Focus Entertainment, Evil West is a 3rd person brawler/shooter. Rather than giving us yet another massive open world game (that seems to be the norm now), Flying Wild Hog have given us a linear story that still managed to captivate me and gave me a solid adventure to play through. It was refreshing to have something more pared down and reminded me of the game style I used to love.

In Evil West you play as Jesse Rentier who is both gunslinger and one of the last remaining members of an elite team of vampire hunters from the Rentier Institute. Wielding firearms and sci-fi technology alike, you will fight against the scourge of vampires and other dark creatures plaguing your town.

You are the heir to the Rentier family business, The Rentier Institute (started by your father). The Institute’s entire existence seems to be focused on ridding the world of vampires and other undesirable creatures. Your father gets gravely injured and the vampire conspiracy plot thickens. Even though you’re a bit of a rebel (and not particularly sold on taking over the family’s legacy), you need to step up and take care of the business, family and vampire hunting, and you head off to uncover the truth. Although I found the story interesting enough to keep my attention, the core of Evil West’s experience is the combat. This is something they did really well. Ranged and melee combat combine into a brutal and bloody dance. As mentioned earlier, I am not a huge fan of shooters, but I do enjoy crossbows, electrical shocks, grenades, and Evil West had all of these to play with. The most important weapon you have though is your gauntlet. Combining Sci-Fi, steampunk, and metalworking, this piece of gear allows you to apply some absolutely devastating, and incredibly satisfying melee attacks.

As you progress through the story, you’ll gain experience and can level up your gear and skills. Eventually you’ll be harnessing the powers of fire and electricity to enhance your arsenal. Practice makes perfect, and with each new skill you are able to create new attacks that combine multiple skills. Most games allow you to choose how you deploy your combat, and you can do this to an extent with Evil West, but it really caters to an aggressive, action first approach. Enemies come at you in groups keeping the combat fast and frantic. Equally important is learning your defenses like dodging, blocking and countering attacks. Often there are large groups of enemies and multiple bosses at the same time, so the ability to get out of danger is essential.

Upgrading your skills and learning the weak points and weaknesses of each enemy type if your key to success. You unlock such a variety of skills that often I forgot I had a particular skill until I either accidentally used it in battle or stopped to look at my perks. Like any combat-based game, you’ll find what combination works for you and tend to stick to it. By far my favourite weapon was the electrical gauntlet. Something particularly satisfying about using the electricity to fly across the battlefield to an enemy, shocking him and just pummeling him. As someone who plays a lot of cute indie titles, this is outside my normal coverage in games, but something I didn’t realize I has been missing in gaming lately.

Besides the brutal fighting, each zone allows players to explore and look for chests and treasure. In the crates you may find equipment or money, you can also find blueprints to unlock weapons lying around in buildings, and of course, bags of coins lying around. Coins are used to unlock perks, skills and skins. One thing I wish was more satisfying was the coin collecting. You literally just walk beside it, and it collects. I always like that sort of satisfaction of manually collecting treasure. Feels a bit more personal. There are spots located around the world where you can reset your perks, and this can be helpful if you find the combos you are using aren’t working against a particular type of enemy you are fighting. There is no chapter select in Evil West, however, so once the credits roll you have to start again from scratch or play NG+ if you want to go back and pick up anything you missed along the way.

While, visually, Evil West isn’t the most gorgeous game, especially if standing still, it has a character and charm that seems to work well when in motion. It’s a story about an alternative dimension/timeline. I don’t need it to be the most realistic graphics. It had a sort of comic book graphic style that, again, made me feel like an older style game that I just can’t put my finger on. The vast landscapes and environment are very well done, but the linear and obvious path to follow doesn’t let you explore it too much. You generally go from fighting to following a highlighted chain marking a path to follow, to fighting again. You know when you are about to get into a fight because you enter a large flat open area scattered with some TNT crates and spiky obstacles to impale your enemies. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because it gave you a bit of a warning, but if you like surprise fights, you aren’t getting them here. Oh, and if you are squeamish in games and you don’t like blood, guts and that sort of thing, this likely won’t be a game for you. There is a general ‘ick’ quality everywhere. It all looks squishy at times as the blood and guts are abundant. Since it’s not super realistic in its graphics, it may not bother you as much as a movie per se, but it has an uneasy visceral quality in its design.

There are 16 missions of varying length and interest, over the course of 12-15 hours play time (in my estimate). The story wasn’t the best I’ve played but kept me interested for the duration of my time playing. Narrative and context were primarily delivered through cutscenes and although a good choice, I found going from guns blazing to story cutscenes a bit jarring at times. There were also a few hubs between missions where you can wander and pick up additional lore and information. Ultimately, Evil West was about the combat, and that was enough for me. I encountered very few technical issues and I think only one or maybe two instances where the game froze, and I had to restart.

Fellow Canadian (born here but based in the UK), Derek Hagen brought a charismatic voice performance to the main character of Jesse Rentier. A man of few words in general, uttering simply ’money’ when he finds coins in the world, he has a few wisecracks as well throughout the story.

In general, I’d say the game is fairly accessible for most players. You can adjust some visual settings, and there is a story mode in choosing your difficulty. Combat isn’t very complex and is pretty forgiving. The combat is intuitive and if you don’t want to use every skill and weapon you have, you don’t need to. I won many battles only using a few moves to test out this theory, even though it took me longer and required more defensive measures and healing. I like the ease of the combat but also found it did a bit too much hand holding at times. Sometimes it’s nice to play around and figure what you can and can’t attack with a particular weapon. For example, the game was really clear what you could and couldn’t use fire on. Part of the fun in combat games is to try to figure out weaknesses on your own.

There is something old fashioned about Evil West, in many ways. It’s linear narrative, brutal combat and simple dialogue - all remind me of the Xbox 360 era, and this isn’t a bad thing by any means. Sometimes you don’t need all the best graphics, or an open world with a million tasks and quests, because sometimes you just want to beat bad guys up. Evil West gave me that, and cowboys and vampires too.

*Evil West was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X*

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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