After properly tenderizing one vampiric thrall with his massive gauntlet, Jesse Rentier turns his foe into a splatter of gore. The rest of the bloodsucker pack charges in to avenge their fallen companion but end up suffering the same fate.
With his weapon fully charged, Evil West’s protagonist harnesses the power of electricity, serving a series of devastating blows as he blitzes between them all, before introducing the towering bat-like creature that moments ago looked like a serious threat to the business end of his sawed-off shotgun.
In Evil West, you put on the cowboy hat of Jesse Rentier, a vampire hunter working for an institute meant to keep the Old West as free as possible of supernatural visitors with a taste for human blood and a desire to overthrow the established order.
It doesn’t take long to notice that plenty of old-school energy courses through Flying Wild Hog’s latest third-person shooter. Most of its levels are clearly broken up into small sections marked by obviously highlighted chain posts which signal transitions between exploration/platforming portions and combat arenas.
Jesse's six-shooter is a trustworthy companion regardless of the size of his enemies
If you spot enemies within the latter, trying to snipe them from outside is impossible, most of the time. They’re surrounded by a shield that renders them invulnerable until you hop on over to properly trigger the encounter, giving them a fighting chance.
A few chapters are slightly more open, giving you a somewhat bigger degree of freedom to navigate what ultimately remains a series of tightly interlinked paths. It is a bit funny to hear Jesse remark that he could use a map to navigate those “mazes,” which aren’t expansive at all, yet it’s also true that these levels can also feel somewhat messy.
That largely comes down to them having few landmarks which aid navigation, making me feel relieved when returning to sections that asked me to simply head forward and maybe worry about the occasional detour on a side path that might hide a collectible chest, gold pickup, or lore item.
Jesse paints a trail of blood across trainyards, forests, caves, cemeteries, and other period-appropriate locations. But, although some of them have neat visual touches – especially when supernatural elements seep into places like banks and caves – stiff NPCs that don’t move their mouths when they talk, rather ugly distant environments, and rare instances of looping sound effects betray a lack of polish when it comes to the small details.
We don't take kindly to fancy special attacks 'round these parts
Platforming also stays on the light side, involving interacting with clearly marked objects, shooting chains so they fall down for you to climb them, and sliding down ropes. At its most complex, you need to charge your gauntlet with electricity at stations on the map, then sprint to one or more levers which need to be pulled in order to progress. It’s not particularly engaging stuff but does allow for a breather between fights.
Combat lies at the heart of Evil West and, when it clicks, it delivers a good dose of cathartic violence. Launching an enemy in the air with an uppercut, then following it up with a second punch that sends them crashing into environmental hazards or other monsters feels empowering.
Using your electrified gauntlet to pull enemies towards you or teleport to them prior to unleashing a flurry of punches into their chests also makes you feel like a badass. At its best, the move can be used to replenish health in a desperate situation, although it can trivialize encounters, as the other enemies involved tend to watch form the sidelines.
Punches and kicks aren’t everything, however, since you can weave several weapon attacks to compose your symphony of destruction. Whether you switch to your shotgun for a quick blast to the face, put some distance between you and your foe then fill them with bullets from your rifle, or stun everything around you with your Crippling Rod, each tool in your arsenal acts as brick that helps create a convincing power trip.
Keeping our supernatural guests warm, as any good host would
Jesse’s arsenal grows as the story progresses and certain weapons have well-defined roles in and outside of combat. The rifle is your best tool for targeting enemy weak spots, successful shots outright stopping powerful attacks and granting health.
The crossbow’s high rate of fire works wonders against agile foes like the werewolf-like Nagal, while the shotgun excels at removing the shields of hulking opponents or just dishing out a good chunk of damage.
If you’re dealing with a crowd and run out of space to dodge out of harm’s way, whipping out the flamethrower is a good approach to equitably deliver damage to anyone in front of you; the minigun has a similar application but hits much harder.
These weapons sound and feel great to begin with, but Jesse can also upgrade them using Bucks and Perks. Both are doled out when leveling up – experience being rewarded for each successful delivery of violence to the local vampire population –, but you’ll also find (more) Bucks and (fewer) Perks Points while breaking open crates and exploring side paths.
A brief moment of respite
It’s well worth investing in them, as they unlock new moves, improve your Energy recharge rate – allowing you to use more special attacks –, or change how weapons behave. If you’re not quite happy with your picks, you can respec in between or during most levels.
Evil West treats weapons more like abilities you cycle through, so you won’t have to worry about your ammo pouch emptying; instead, you essentially manage cooldowns. Your rifle, crossbow, and revolver are mainstays alongside the gauntlet, with the rest of the weaponry taking longer to recharge, requiring you to sometimes change your tactics in battle.
Expending your stun, explosive, and shotgun blast to deal a large amount of damage to a big foe early on means you may have to focus on dodging and chipping away at the health of another that might join later in the fight.
The final tier of upgrades enables you to turn your rifle into a railgun, have your shotgun spawn damaging electrical anomalies around enemies, or your thrown explosives create a tornado. It’s all stuff that has a noticeable impact on how capable Jesse is and made me always look forward to leveling up.
Electricity lets you get up close and personal with most enemies in the game
Unfortunately, Evil West doesn’t always nail the pacing and balancing of its battles. While some are a little too easy, others lean towards the other extreme, throwing either too many enemies your way or a rather frustrating mix of bigger opponents that are frustrating to manage.
One in particular – The Hive Crone, a flying enemy that makes itself and its peers invulnerable – was a particular pain to deal with when paired with foes like the shield-wielding chargers, or the burrowing vampiric moles who surprise-attack you from beneath the ground.
Being challenged and having to use all of Jesse’s tools to come out alive feels exhilarating. But when you expend all stuns and cooldowns, only to die because enemies shred you from behind while you focus on the one foe you really want dead, it puts a stop to your power trip’s momentum rather brusquely.
There were several times I was tempted to lower the difficulty from Normal to Story and just be done with some fights. Although I persevered, I didn’t feel much satisfaction when I finally got past them, and this ebb and flow in the quality of battles is especially disappointing when you overcome those that challenge you without being frustrating.
Once cool, upgraded minigun
The final boss fight was, sadly, my breaking point. Its balancing feels way off, resulting in a significant difficulty spike just before the credits roll. Not only does it have an absolutely massive health bar, but the windows between its attacks are very short, making it hard to land hits.
The large amounts of damage it deals make it slot poorly into the broader picture of the game and, even when lowering the difficulty to Story, I still spent most of the fight with my health bar almost empty.
Story-wise, Evil West is off to an explosive start. Jesse and his temporary partner Edgar’s early interactions almost shape chemistry similar to what you’d expect from a protagonist duo in an action movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. However, as the story progresses, it loses track of this and becomes a tonal mess.
Its cutscenes also look rendered at a lower resolution and are plagued by rather janky animations. They always feel in a rush to get you to the next level and, although each character has a personality sketched out, they’re all unremarkable. Evil West fails to balance the serious elements of its plot with the humorous inserts meant to infuse characters with a dose of badassery, making it hard to be invested in any of their trials and tribulations.
EVIL WEST VERDICT
Evil West’s old-school sensibilities aren’t what drag it down, although its linear levels might not appeal to everyone. Its combat feels glorious when it clicks, but the studio’s latest third-person shooter struggles to find its stride, resulting in a fun but rather unremarkable adventure.
Fights range from exhilarating to boring and outright frustrating, its story is entirely forgettable and lacks memorable characters, while a lack of polish in terms of smaller details like NPC models and cutscenes further make it hard for it to properly stand out.
But if you’re looking for an excuse to brutally execute vampires with an arsenal that looks, sounds, and feels great to use, there’s enough fun to warrant picking up Evil West, as long as you keep its flaws in mind.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Stunning an entire arena with the Crippling Rod, then finishing off the biggest threat with a furious flurry of punches.
Guns sound and feel great to use
Intense combat, when it clicks
A varied-enough roster of enemies
Fight balancing lacks consistency, inviting frustration
Forgettable story and characters
Lack of polish when it comes to small details