An interesting thing is happening in the world of gaming. We are seeing developers make games that harken back to our childhood and past experiences. There has been a massive resurgence of Metroidvanias, pixel art, old-school RPGs, and even point-and-click adventures. This trend is starting to bleed into the later generations of consoles like the PS2 and Xbox or the PS3 and Xbox 360. The kids that grew up on those games are now making games to embody their past loves and relive the glory days.
Enter Evil West.
Evil West is one such game; at its heart, it is a love letter to an era of action games from the 7th console generation, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Almost everything in Evil West resembles many classics from this bygone era. In a day when it seemed like developers were mostly focused on making a fun game and not worrying about a deep and moving narrative to drag you through it. Evil West does just that; it provides you with just enough plot to motivate the player to get to doing what they love doing, punching, shooting, and blowing the crap out of some monsters.
“If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” – John Wayne
If you want to take a break from long-drawn-out narrative games and just punch the shit out of some Vampires, this is the game.
The story of Evil West follows Jesse Rentier, an agent of the secret government agency, the Rentier Institute (his daddy is the founder), on his mission to stop vampires from taking over the US government and enslaving all of humanity in the late 1800s. Jesse, along with a cast of characters, pursues a newly turned vampire named Felicity who wants to change the status quo of Sanguisuge (which means leach or, in this case, Vampires) living by turning the President of the United States! Yes, it’s that cliche, but I love it!
Several fun cutscenes keep the story moving while providing a break in the action from level to level. The characters have just enough depth to make them unique and interesting without being dull or obnoxious. Many conversations have a solid flow to fill you in on what’s happening, add humor to the story, or make you feel certain ways about the characters. Some missions you will go on with your dad’s old civil war buddy, Edgar, or lab nerd and goofball, Vergil, who adds some great comedy relief. You would expect a game like this to be brimming with the over-the-top, gruff, macho men’s bravado who insult and talk shit to one another, but thankfully, it’s not. This helps the real assholes stand out that much more, like Assistant Secretary of War James Harrow, who is always trying to control everything.
Ultimately, the story has various strong points and makes good use of vampire lore plus other supernatural elements to add some spice to the enemy types, including some pretty gnarly boss fights that came close to the likes of some of Gears of War‘s best. The banter during missions is entertaining enough and will keep you going from one fight to the next. Jesse, the player character, seems to be at war with himself sometimes as he often appears clever but then will knock characters for using “big words.” His general wit and tone are enjoyable, and what I imagine a cowboy fighting vampires would sound like, and I never tired of him. All in all a suitable vessel for all of my monster-bashing fun.
“Don’t pick a fight, but if you find yourself in one, I suggest you make damn sure you win.” – John Wayne
Much of the gameplay feels familiar and reminiscent of games of the era. There will be times when your progress is blocked by a glamour (vampire magic) that, when broken, shatters like the door seals in the original Devil May Cry games. Jesse acquires a robust arsenal of weapons that he carries at all times. It makes me imagine what Doom Guy would look like if you could see him from a 3rd person view.
Utilizing a super-powered gauntlet allows you to punch and bash, a six-shooter for quick and dirty blasting, a rifle for precision shots, a flamethrower for burning, a shotgun for…Ok, I think you get the picture. You can end enemies with some amazing coup de grace finishers that are just downright satisfying. If you enjoyed any action games from the PS3/Xbox 360 generation, you will feel at home with Evil West. It reminds me of the days of going to a rental store and trying a game just because the cover art looked cool.
OK, so now for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. You know I had to.
The good: Evil West has an incredible variety of levels with an excellent mix of locales from your typical dusty southwest town to snow-covered mountain levels loaded with Tesla coils. This was one of the most impressive aspects and best-looking parts of the game. Not all the levels popped, but there were multiple times when I stopped and took in the sights between battles. Although it takes a lot of cues from older games, there are also some good modernizations, including character XP for leveling and unlocking new skills and abilities that you buy using the in-game ‘bucks.’ I couldn’t unlock all of them in one playthrough, encouraging a new game plus upon completing the campaign, which also has a loose but functional coop mode so that you can blast vamps with a friend! Nice!
The bad: it’s pretty evident that this game isn’t the best looking, and some of the character models and environments look like they are from a PS3 game. This is very obvious in some of the game’s cutscenes which I enjoyed for their schlock, but man, some were rough. The combat is pretty fun, and I never found myself bored. However, it seems relegated to these small arenas that you could see coming from a mile away, often after a point of no-return mantle or wall squeeze, which leads me to one of my biggest frustrations. Every level had branching paths, some led to secret areas, some to the next part of the level. It was never obvious which was which, and often hard to tell until it was too late. I get that they are trying to get me to play the level again, but this made the completionist in me a little crazy. At least there is a quick and easy level select option that allows you to replay any completed level whenever you like.
The Ugly: In my roughly 8 hours through the campaign, I experienced a fair amount of jank but not enough to ruin the experience. I also had a recurring glitch that would happen when I would use one of Jesse’s abilities that usually would launch you at an enemy, but on occasion, throw me in the air above the field and fall back down. Lastly, there is a fuck ton of spiders in this game! So if you have any sensitivity to spiders, beware. Fortunately, there is an arachnophobia mode that removes the spiders entirely.
“Everybody gets dead. It was his turn.” – John Wayne as Hondo Lane in Hondo (1953)
Better Late than Never!
Evil West is a love letter to classic action games from the past. It does a really good job of being one too. If this game had come out back then, I think it would be fondly remembered as one of the best. But considering it came out now, it hasn’t aged so gracefully and doesn’t stand up to modern expectations. I personally loved what they did with Evil West and hope to see more like it cause you can not deny this game has style.
Evil West gets a 7/10
Will you be blasting your way through the blood-sucking hoards? Been waiting for games to feel like they used to? Leave a comment and let us know.