I don’t play many games like Evil West these days. I’m not by nature an action/shooter guy, and I am almost never caught playing a brawler. But though I’m not the sort of person that picks up the latest Devil May Cry game, I can appreciate games in the genre for what they are on the rare occasions I play them.
There’s a piece of me that enjoys hopping in the ol’ time machine and zapping back to the Xbox 360 days (when I enjoyed such things a little more) to stomp some heads, which is precisely what Evil West feels like. Unfortunately, that means that you have to accept a lot of dated level design and stilted dialogue to go with your head stomping, but with games of this nature, you take the bad with the good.
In Evil West, you play as Jessie Rentier, heir-apparent to the Rentier Institute. The Institute was founded by Jessie’s father, and seems entirely devoted to exploding the vampires - and other undesirables that plague this vaguely steampunky version of the Old West - into giant piles of Smucker’s Strawberry Jam. The Institute has doctors, scientists, and researchers, all devoted to discovering new and exciting ways to pulverize monsters. But Jessie is a field agent, which means that he stomps around the Old West muttering to himself and punching baddies until their skeletons fly out of their skin.
Jessie looks cool in his fancy buckled outfits, but unfortunately, there isn’t much substance to the character beyond his flair for the ol’ ultraviolence. As a conversationalist, Jessie is an utter bore, with the rare wisecracks that he bothers to speak falling flat on the floor like a sack of mud. This is the sort of character who, when he finds a pile of coins, flatly says the word “Money.” But with a Southern accent, y’all.
Its strange, because Evil West does an awful lot of world building though exposition and lore drops - and it creates a pretty interesting setting - just to plop a boring character and a predictable story into said world. It is near painful to listen to Jessie and his buddies deliver their lines, as most of the dialogue in the abundant cut scenes is eye-rollingly run-of-the-mill. I couldn’t help but think that Evil West could deliver the same story in a much more entertaining fashion, just by punching up the dialogue a little bit and giving Jessie more interesting things to say.
Like the story, the level design seems to run on autopilot. Evil West is the most linear game I’ve played in ages, leading the player from battle to battle with a glowing white chain, which appears at all times, clearly showing you where to go next. You quickly learn to identify when you are going to have a battle, because the arenas are wide open, flat areas dotted with a few TNT stacks and spikey-things that you can slam enemies into.
Follow the chain, enter an arena, beat up bad guys, repeat. There are a few secrets dotting the landscape, but most of those are fairly underwhelming, usually just skins or a new perk that you still have to pay to unlock (Why? Whyyyy? Just give me the perk!). Like the story and dialogue, this level design is a bit frustrating, because these linear levels are dropped into pretty cool gothic settings, from old West towns to snowy mountaintop mining camps. It looks and feels just how you want it to - in fact, the entire game is graphically quite beautiful - but you quickly learn that the set dressing doesn’t much change the experience. Build up the gorgeous scenery as much as you like, a straight line is a straight line.
But – and this is a big “but” – there is one area in which Evil West excels; the combat in Evil West is finger-licking good. Jessie starts with a six-shooter and the ability to punch dudes to death with is fancy-shmancy gauntlet, but he quickly unlocks an array of weapons that can be used to ‘splode baddies in a most righteous fashion.
In fact, Jessie gets so much stuff that you would think that it would become overwhelming, but Evil West handles combat in a no-nonsense manner, giving every gadget and gizmo its own dedicated button. Press the R2 button to fire off a shot from the pistol. Hold it down to fan the shots. Aim down the sights with L2, and Jessie automatically switches to his rifle. R1 punches dudes, and adding the left stick to that allows him to send them flying into the air or across the arena into environmental hazards. It’s all very intuitive and fun.
The best weapon in the game is the electric gauntlet. Once unlocked, it gives Jessie the ability to stun opponents with a burst of static that appears with timed blocks, so he can more easily pummel them to death. Before long, he gains the ability to either pluck dudes from the pack and drag them to him, or whiz across the arena to them, which can be a great way to pull Jessie out of danger when the going gets tough.
You pick up a few more weapons as you go, and everything can be upgraded with the game’s somewhat confusing system of upgrades and perks. All of Jessie’s moves are intuitive and fun, though they do become so numerous that I would forget that some of them existed for hours while I focused on others. But still, when the action heats up, it is a total blast to dash around the arena, shooting and punching and electrocuting and sending dudes flying off of cliffs.
Evil West mostly relies on numbers to create difficulty, leading to some minor frustrations when you are fighting a boss and the game decides to plunk six run-of-the-mill baddies into the field to mess with your dodges and attack you from behind. The bosses themselves are fun for a time, before the game gives up and stops giving you new guys to fight, instead recycling the same guys in endless combinations. There are some eyebrow-raising moments when you fight a boss and barely escape, only to have three more of the same boss show up in the very next battle as adds. More than once, I gave the game a “What the hell is this nonsense?” in my best Jessie drawl.
The good news is that there is a solid core of gameplay here to draw upon for the inevitable Evil West 2. I would love to see more time and thought put into the level design and writing, as the stellar combat gives this franchise the potential to be one of those sleeper series that keeps cranking out profitable hits every couple of years.
I would frankly prefer that ol’ Jessie were tossed into the Bad Character Chipper-Shredder, allowing the franchise to start over with a more interesting protagonist. While the story is serviceable, this world would easily lend itself to some over-the-top writing that goes beyond the machine gun blast of f-bombs and stoicism that substitutes for dialogue in this first game.
But there is no doubt that when the arenas fill with baddies and you are shooting, dodging, and punching, the video game adrenaline engages and all of the level design and writing issues fall away. But filling in some of those blanks in the next iteration of the franchise could move Evil West beyond something that is fun in the moment to create a game that is truly memorable.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Howdy. My name is Eric Hauter, and I am a dad with a ton of kids. During my non-existent spare time, I like to play a wide variety of games, including JRPGs, strategy and action games (with the occasional trip into the black hole of MMOs). I am intrigued by the prospect of cloud gaming, and am often found poking around the cloud various platforms looking for fun and interesting stories. I was an early adopter of PSVR (I had one delivered on release day), and I’ve enjoyed trying out the variety of games that have released since day one. I've since added an Oculus Quest 2 to my headset collection. I’m intrigued by the possibilities presented by VR multi-player, and I try almost every multi-player game that gets released.
My first system was a Commodore 64, and I’ve owned countless systems since then. I was a manager at a toy store for the release of PS1, PS2, N64 and Dreamcast, so my nostalgia that era of gaming runs pretty deep. Currently, I play on Xbox Series X, PS5, PS4, PSVR, Quest 2, Switch, Luna, GeForce Now, (RIP Stadia) and a super sweet gaming PC built by John Yan. While I lean towards Sony products, I don’t have any brand loyalty, and am perfectly willing to play game on other systems.
When I’m not playing games or wrangling my gaggle of children, I enjoy watching horror movies and doing all the other geeky activities one might expect. I also co-host Spielberg Chronologically, where we review every Spielberg film in order, which you can find wherever you get your podcasts.
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