You don’t see as many straight up action games these days with live service games and massive open-world RPGs sucking up more and more of major developers’ time, but Flying Wild Hog has largely stuck to this sort of thing for quite a while now. Seeing this sort of high quality straight-forward linear action game in the AAA space cam feel like a sight for sore eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I will always enjoy getting totally engrossed for 50+ hours in marquee spectacles like Horizon Forbidden West and God of War Ragnarok, but when something like Evil West comes along, I am just as excited to get my hands on it as I am for anything else.
Thankfully Evil West largely lives up to the excessive hype I’ve assigned to it in my head. The characters are entertaining, the setting feels fresh, and the action is sufficiently chunky and vicious. While a little bit of monotony can come and go from a lot of the enemies blurring together a bit too much, and the somewhat redundant battle arenas not making too much effort to distinguish themselves from each other, I still found myself drawn in by the steadily expanding combat options, wicked upgrades, and pulpy story about cowboys, vampires, and a preposterously devastating gauntlet that gives God of War 3’s Nemean Cestus a run for its money.
"While a little bit of monotony can come and go from a lot of the enemies blurring together a bit too much, and the somewhat redundant battle arenas not making too much effort to distinguish themselves from each other, I still found myself drawn in by the steadily expanding combat options, wicked upgrades, and pulpy story about cowboys, vampires, and a preposterously devastating gauntlet that gives God of War 3’s Nemean Cestus a run for its money."
I have long since realized and grieved for the fact that we will probably never get a Dark Watch sequel. That game mixed a dark western atmosphere with gothic horror mythology and dropped it into what was, at the time, one of the best first-person shooters available, and I know we’ll probably never even get a remaster let alone a sequel. Evil West however comes much closer to that than I ever thought we’d get. On paper, it’s almost identical to Dark Watch with a special league of extraordinary gentlemen in the wild west defending the world from classic vampires and other monsters. That’s basically the exact same setting.
Still, Evil West goes in its own direction with it. This is a third person action game that plays a lot more like the new God of War games than it does anything else. Complete with the off-set close-up camera, chains to climb with pure upper body strength, treasure chests to rip open in an unnecessarily violent way, and little arrows telling you when you’re about to take damage from something off-screen. But outside of that I wouldn’t really compare it to anything else. It mixes a lot of different things into the combat pot, like several firearms that are used with different buttons as opposed to scrolling through an inventory wheel, and are also dependent on cool downs as opposed to managing ammo, all of which actually feels surprisingly natural once you get used to it.
Also, an electricity leash ability kinda like Bulletstorm’s that can separate enemies from the herd and bring them to you, or take you to straight to them for a quick pummeling, and the combat also rewards patience at times by giving you short windows to shoot enemies at certain key moments and in certain spots to deal extra damage and get more health and energy drops from them. Knocking enemies into spiked barrels, piles of TNT, and also each other is also a nice bonus when the opportunity arises, and with some of the large groups you’ll be taking on at once you will want to get familiar with making good use of these environmental hazards. Jesse has a nice tanky feeling to him that you don’t find often in such action heavy games, and it can lead to some really satisfying battles once you get acclimated to it.
"Jesse has a nice tanky feeling to him that you don’t find often in such action heavy games, and it can lead to some really satisfying battles once you get acclimated to it."
Going supercharged will have you zooming all around the arena dealing out electrical death at lightning speed for a few moments, but other than that the combat is quite deliberate and steady, which really sets it apart in the genre. My only real gripe is that the aim assist is so aggressive that it can make it hard to shoot TNT boxes if an enemy is nearby. You can turn that off, but then hitting enemies within those short little bonus windows gets a lot harder, so you just have to pick your poison. Some fairly basic skill trees for your different abilities and guns adds a little depth to things, and allows you to expand your move set quite a bit, but it’s nothing too fancy. For the most part, what you see is what you get in Evil West’s combat, and if you are like me, you’re probably just fine with that as long as it’s fun, which, it is.
Whether you prefer to create distance and blast enemies from afar, dip in and out of crowds with big AOE attacks, or just pound them all one by one into bloody stumps, whatever your playstyle is will almost always be a viable option – aside from the occasional obligatory sections where only certain types of enemies are present or boss fights – but even during these moments it’s usually pretty flexible and never feels too rigidly focused on doing things in only one way. Some might not like this, as the game so rarely encouraging one tactic over another might lead to you falling into a bit of a predictable rhythm of doing the same for the vast majority of the game, and normally I would agree with that being a potential criticism, but in this case, with the Evil West‘s combat being as devilishly fun as it is, the good sense of pacing between the combat sections, and the game not overstaying its welcome with a tight 15ish hour campaign, the repetition just never seemed to set in too deeply or for too long to ever truly feel like it was dragging down the experience in any notable way.
Much like the combat, the story and characters are pretty straight forward and don’t have a lot of depth to them, but unlike the combat, the predictable plot doesn’t really have anything particularly flashy about it to make up for that. This is probably the most disappointing part of the game, not because I was expecting a lot from it in this area, but because I just found myself drifting further and further away from being interested in it, unlike the gameplay itself which mostly stayed interesting throughout by just being so fun. Story clearly isn’t the main focus here, and I certainly didn’t hate it or anything, but I was hoping to experience something a little more worth following along with that could contextualize the righteous bloodshed. While Evil West’s narrative does have its bright spots that drew me in for short moments, especially towards the end, for the most part, I struggled to care very much about the main protagonist or any of his admittedly well-designed and acted cohorts.
"Evil West is a rather good-looking game, all things considered. With its tightly linear design and only a handful of characters and enemy types on display, I suppose it’s nothing that will blow people away, but all-in-all it does have a really good sense of its setting with everything from dusty saloons and timber laden mountainsides to otherworldly dungeons and mad scientist laboratories, the variety is certainly there."
Evil West is a rather good-looking game, all things considered. With its tightly linear design and only a handful of characters and enemy types on display, I suppose it’s nothing that will blow people away, but all-in-all it does have a really good sense of its setting with everything from dusty saloons and timber laden mountainsides to otherworldly dungeons and mad scientist laboratories, the variety is certainly there. Lots of the areas also have an aggressive sense of style with extremely oversaturated colors, that are almost too much at times, but still makes the games’ different levels feel extremely vivid and distinct. If you have a nice OLED panel to play this on, you may want to brace yourself for quite the visual onslaught. I like the style overall, but if it were any more intense, I’d be tempted to compensate by lowering my TVs saturation levels. Effects during combat are equally dazzling across the board and add that good sense of magical weirdness to the various impacts of your gauntlet abilities as well as the exaggerated blasts from your assortment of firearms. Compared to all of this, the execution animations almost seem tame, but they’re fun to pull off nonetheless.
On consoles, Evil West has a quality and performance mode, both of which are pretty stubborn in that the quality mode is locked at 30 frames with a native 2160p resolution, and the performance mode is a solid 60, but resolution is locked all the way down at 1080 which is a noticeable drop in sharpness. Xbox Series S has no such option and is locked with the worst of both worlds. As always, I do appreciate the options on the higher-end consoles, but something a little more dynamic would have been nice. Personally, after putting a few hours into both modes on the PS5, I found that I preferred to take the hit in resolution in exchange for the 60 frames, but both modes do a good job of emphasizing their strengths. Among other options is the ability to turn the spiders off if you have arachnophobia, which is something I haven’t seen before but always I’m glad to see more and more games embrace little tweaks like this. The more the merrier.
The linear design of the levels might be a disappointment to some, especially if you’re just now coming off of God of War Ragnoarok or something like that, but there is a good amount of small detours scattered pretty evenly throughout. It’s a bit of a shame that they don’t lead to anything more than just some extra money or lore, though. It would have been nice to stumble into some optional boss fights or even some regular fights, but from what I was able to discover that doesn’t seem to be a thing. Almost, if not all, of the meaningful combat encounters are only on the main path and nowhere else.
"Much like the combat, the story and characters are pretty straight forward and don’t have a lot of depth to them, but unlike the combat, the predictable plot doesn’t really have anything particularly flashy about it to make up for that."
Do I recommend Evil West? Well, at this point, I suspect you already know if this is your type of game or not. If you’re one of those gamers whose primary concern is the sheer amount of content per dollar, then maybe wait for a sale. That math doesn’t really work out in the game’s favor, and there’s not much replay value outside of a half-baked co-op mode that doesn’t let player 2 save their game, and a new game plus. Neither of which fundamentally change the game.
But, if you are more concerned with just enjoying a solid action game that isn’t afraid to do it’s own thing in a few ways, and beats you over the head with the small handful of things it does well while respecting your time and wrapping up right about when it should, then Evil West is a great choice. Being pretty firmly from the latter camp myself, I’d say this is one of the better action games of the year. I wish it did a bit more with its characters and surprised me a little more with its plot and level design, but there’s no denying the uncanny ability of Flying Wild Hog to capitalize on and squeeze every last bit of possible fun out of just a few cool ideas, and that ability is certainly on display here.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.
Fresh setting; Unique and awesome combat; Eye-candy visuals.
Ho-hum story; Short campaign.
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