With some games, you know what you’re in for from the moment you press start. Games that lay out exactly what they’re about in the first few minutes and don’t really have any surprises for you. Evil West, the new vampire-slaying Western action game from Flying Wild Hog, is one such title.
You’re presented from the start with a third-person melee-focused combat game set in a fantasy version of the Old West. You’ll also see the game’s heavy, clunky combat and story that you’ll either think is incredibly cool or incredibly irritating.
The game’s first two hours were alternatively good fun and a frustrating bore. I was desperately hoping that I just needed to get used to the combat, and that once it clicked, Evil West would really land for me.
Sadly, that never happened. It began as a decent yet unsatisfying game, and by the end, nothing had changed. Evil West might be a flashy spectacle, but it never truly delivers the impact it wants to.
They who fight monsters
You’ll know exactly what kind of tone the writers and designers were going for as soon as you hear the opening dialogue. Evil West has a snappy, act-real-tough, and occasionally cynical edge to its writing and characters. That’s either going to appeal to you immensely or severely hamper your experience. In my case, it was a bit of both.
The actual storyline concerns agents of the Rentier Institute, a secret organization hellbent on ridding America from the threat of the Sanguisuge. These vampiric monsters are plotting to overtake humanity, and the Institute has hunted them down for years. Backed by the government, the Institute operates in the shadows, never letting the rest of the world know what horrors are truly out there.
In Evil West, you play as Jesse Rentier, heir apparent to the Institute and son of its founder, William. Jesse and his partners at the Institute, including senior agent Edgar Gravenor and doctor Emilia Blackwell, uncover that vampires Peter and Felicity D’Abano are claiming war on humanity. The D’Abano forces are heavy, but Jesse and the others are armed to the teeth and dedicated to stopping them in their tracks.
It’s nothing if not a simple story: monsters are here, go kill them, rinse and repeat. But in a way, that’s almost refreshing. Evil West relies on the spectacle of its set pieces rather than trying to dazzle us with a complicated story. That was the right call, and if the characters and dialogue were at least pleasant, I’d be willing to give the narrative a pass.
All loud-mouthed on the Western front
Unfortunately, the storytelling seriously wore on me by the halfway point, and never improved. Almost every characters talks in this confrontational, I’m-better-than-you tone that precludes any likability in my eyes. The banter between many of these people borders on comical most of the time — and not in a “that’s a funny line” kind of way.
If you’re familiar with the tone and witty dialogue of Flying Wild Hog’s Shadow Warrior games, then you know what to expect. It’s a style you’re either going to love or hate, and by the end, I was in the latter category.
I’d be okay with it if it felt like the game wasn’t taking itself too seriously. But that doesn’t appear to be the case. By the end, the game was trying to elicit actual gravitas and weight in its story. That was right after an overwritten, profanity-fueled, and unbelievable bit of dialogue from one of the game’s antagonists. And I just couldn’t buy it.
The good thing is, you can tune yourself out from the story. And thankfully, the in-level banter is either brief or not too offensive. Plus, with the high-pressure combat, you’re focusing on other things anyway.
Fighting the hordes in Evil West
Despite its Old West setting, Evil West isn’t a game about gunslingers and desperados. You’ve got guns and firepower galore, sure, but it’s largely about using your fists against these vampiric creatures. Think Evil Dead meets God of War (2018) by way of Red Dead Redemption.
As Jesse, you’ll travel through 16 linear levels with the aid of your trusty Rentier Institute-branded electrical gauntlets. These are not only perfect for opening up new pathways and charging up switches. They’re also your best friend in combat.
The basic fighting gameplay revolves heavily around your gauntlets and managing hard-hitting combos. Your basic five-hit punches and combo-breaking kick are there, of course, and they can stun and interrupt small to medium enemies with ease. But you’ve also got plenty of special moves as well. Charging at your enemies or pulling them towards you with electricity, uppercutting your opponents up into the air to juggle them, slamming the ground to deal with surrounding foes — the list goes on.
Jesse’s punches are not very fast, but they’re damaging to say the least. The Sanguisuge are tough little creatures, but Jesse’s gauntlet is plenty powerful against them.
But you’ve also got plenty of weapons to help out in combat. From your trusty revolver, rifle, and shotguns to explosives and shocking rods, Jesse’s got a number of different tools to use in between combos. These weapons are all deployed via single button presses, giving you more options for handling the game’s enemies.
On paper, the battle system should be fine. Your punches are slow and heavy, but they deal enough damage to compensate. And yes, you’ve got a lot of weapons to deliver more specialized attacks.
Unfortunately, it’s all brought down by one thing. The combat just isn’t well balanced.
Let’s start with Jesse, who is certainly a powerful fighter, but a clunky one as well. The animations just take far too long to connect in most cases, and it’s too easy for enemies to get free hits off of you or block your combos altogether. And when the majority of your time in the game is spent fighting these creeps, it can get annoying when they start to dogpile you (which happens all too easily).
Now, if enemies only dealt a little bit of damage, then the amount of hits they can deal would be okay. Unfortunately, the Sanguisuge do not mess around. Even on the Normal difficulty, encounters can get downright ridiculous. I rarely do this, but I eventually tuned the game to the Story difficulty just to get through the game. It’s not because the game was so tough that I couldn’t learn it; it’s that I didn’t care enough to try anymore.
And the cherry on top: you can’t customize the controls fully to your liking. There are a handful of preset controller configurations, but you aren’t able to map buttons to your liking. In a day and age where accessibility is rightly being embraced more and more by the gaming industry at large, this restriction makes absolutely no sense. It wouldn’t fix Evil West’s combat problems, but it’d at least make the experience more comfortable.
The plains are soaked in blood
Where I can give Evil West tons of credit is the aesthetics and atmosphere. While the game’s graphics are fairly standard for a 2022 release, the game still manages to carry a sense of charm through how it looks.
It’s sometimes lost in the heat of battle, but the enemies all have a distinct look and feel to them thanks to the varied animations and models. With a number of different enemy classes to remember, it’s important that each one feel different so you know which maneuvers work best. Evil West does this very well, even with a few different skins for each type of Sanguisuge.
I want to bring special attention to the environments, as they’re a highlight for sure. When you think of Westerns, you might immediately think of desert wastes, old-fashioned boomtowns and saloons, and sand and dirt galore. And yes, Evil West has those locations, but it’s shocking just how much visual variety there is from level to level. Snowy mountaintops, dingy swamps, vampiric temples — you’re travelling to a lot of different locations, and the lighting can really make an area look fantastic.
And the great thing is, you have plenty of incentive to explore around these areas. By going down alternate paths, you can find money to buy more character and weapon upgrades. Every so often, you can also find blueprints to unlock special perks or chests to unlock parts of a brand-new skin.
Those rewards didn’t incentivize me too much by the end, but getting to see where each level would bring me was a worthy enough treat. If nothing else, Evil West is visually stunning.
Evil West just doesn’t pack enough punch
Despite having great visuals and environments, Evil West falls flat in too many other areas to truly be worth it. Its gameplay is conceptually sound, and every so often, I found myself having a bit of fun laying the beat down on vampires in the Old West.
But the game just doesn’t have enough going for it to make it worth the 10 to 12-hour runtime. The bloody, visceral action becomes boring quickly thanks to repetitive combat encounters and messy difficulty scaling. It’s a little too brutal by means its sluggish, unrelenting gameplay — not to mention the irritating dialogue.
That’s just my opinion, of course; maybe all of that appeals to you. For me, it just made me ready for the sun to set on this adventure.