We didn't get much out of Evil West. If this has been on your wishlist for some time now, let it sit there for a bit longer -Christmas is around the corner. Force a sibling or parent you don't like to buy it for you. Make them spend money on it. Or wait for it to reach PS Plus or Xbox Gamepass. Heck, it'll probably go free on the Epic Games Store eventually. But if you absolutely need this one today, you'll be grateful there's a 'skip cutscene' button.
Before you get all excited, no, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement were not involved with Evil West. As much as we’d have liked them to be, they aren’t. Get over it. Hopes and dreams dashed, we can actually tell you about Evil West. The game made by Flying Wild Hog – a developer you’ll only know if Hard Reset or Shadow Warrior sound familiar.
Evil West slipped under our radar a bit. With God of War: Ragnarök (which we reviewed) predating Evil West by around two weeks, you can understand. After checking out the trailer for Evil West, we had to give it a shot. What else are you going to do when you see a God of War-like title with a Wild West setting? Throw in some vampires, and you’ve got the perfect setting for a game.
But a game’s setting isn’t the only thing that matters, especially for a game like Evil West which so heavily relies on its (pretty decent) combat system and (unfortunately) brief and mediocre story.
Great setting, poor execution
The setup is pretty simple. You’re given control over Jesse Rentier of the Rentier Institute. The Institute is run by Jesse’s father and undertakes the ridding of all vampires and other monsters around the world. Sounds cool, right?
For the most part, it is. But that’s just the setting at work. Once you’ve got control of Jesse, sitting through cutscenes becomes a slog. Characters feel empty, apart from the occasional well-written line your sidekick gets to say. Jesse is never verbally ‘cool’, just when he’s punching vampires so hard that they explode. That’s more of a gameplay feature anyways – not something we can commend the story on.
The game kicks off in a dry, arid area that might as well have ‘Wild West’ painted on it. You’re tasked with finding a specific vampire — or “tick” — while fighting other fully-fledged vampires along the way. Eventually, you find Peter D’ Abano, a highborn vampire who has his sights set on taking down the human race. We obviously couldn’t let that happen. Not that we had a choice. But that’s just the beginning. Soon after, the real story sets into motion, though we’d let you find the rest out for yourself.
Overall, however, we feel that even with a great setting and concept, Evil West never manages to execute it well enough to keep us interested in the cutscenes for more than ten seconds at a time. Characters that often feel important just aren’t. Each cutscene feels like you’re missing information and Evil West won’t tell you without a fight first. The dialogue is – for the most part – just awful.
The zany world Flying Wild Hog has built has its merits, though. You’ll encounter weird, Doom-like monsters that run, fly, and generally terrify you. The strange, weird level sets are fun to take a stroll through before you realise you’re off to fight yet another horde of vampires.
Walk. Run. Collect. Fight. Fight (more). Cut(scene). Rinse. Repeat.
Probably the biggest problem with Evil West is its level design. This isn’t an open-world game. This is linear-level design at its worst. Yes, the setting is great, but it’s marred by a truly unremarkable and repetitive process. Walk, run, pick up collectibles, and press X to cross a bridge. Fight a few waves of monsters. Have a cutscene. Fall asleep. Wake up. Remember that you have to keep playing this game because it’s your job. Okay, that last bit only applies to us but you get the point. After a cutscene happens, you do it all again. Barring the very few levels that switch things up – like the one where you get to shoot vampires while in a moving minecart — it’s all the same. That train level was fun too – enjoy it for the five minutes the game gives you with it.
In total, there are sixteen story missions to accomplish, with four levels of difficulty to choose from. After that, Evil West doesn’t leave you with much to actually do. Unless you feel like putting yourself through that story all over again with harder and longer fight scenes.
There’s a half-decent perk and weapon upgrading system baked in. At first, as you run around the extremely linear worlds, you might wonder why you’re going out of your way to collect the ‘bucks’ scattered around the levels. They do have a purpose; you just need to reach Level Three before you can use them. You can purchase weapon upgrades and spend Level points on upgrading your character’s abilities. Once you learn about this, the combat improves, giving your wackier ways of killing your vampire foes.
Before we move on, you should know that Evil West does have co-op baked in, despite Flying Wild Hog telling us the game is better experienced as a single-player story. There’s definitely fun to be had jumping in with a friend and killing everything in sight. You just won’t find it in Evil West. Games like Dying Light – that’s where you’ll find good co-op. Evil West’s co-op isn’t bad, it’s more… pointless. Friends joining your world only do so to benefit your progression. Once they return to their world, they’ll return to their story progression and possibly you to play the exact same mission all so they can clear it too. Yeah, no thanks.
“Punching? Where are the gu- ooooh a revolver!”
The best part of Evil West is its combat. This is good because it’s all you’ll be doing when not forcing yourself through the cutscenes. You start off with you, your fists, and a Rentier-made gauntlet that makes killing vampires a little easier (and more fun). Monsters vary from easily killable to giant damage-sponge bosses that will murder you if you aren’t paying constant attention.
At first, Evil West’s combat may feel a little clunky. But that wasn’t the game’s fault. We were just bad at killing vampires. But after the first level, which serves as a basic tutorial, fighting gradually starts to feel more natural. It should, given how much ‘inspiration’ it borrows from 2018’s God of War. This is also where the game hands you your first gun – a Rentier Revolver. Combo chains become smoother, finishers become automatic, and switching between gunfire and fists is great. As you continue, the game hands you better and bigger weapons. One of the core weapons you receive pretty early on is the Zapper Gauntlet which incorporates a ton of fun combat capabilities.
Eventually, though, it all becomes a pattern. Roll here, shoot, roll again, punch, heal. It barely ever changes. Sometimes, the game would throw in an enemy that forces you to play a little differently – a welcome deviation from the monotonous chore combat becomes after you have a few levels under your belt. But then it just heads right back to the same vampires you’ve already fought a hundred times over.
Grab a bucket
We were hoping that if Evil West could act like God of War, it would look like it too. That isn’t the case here. Evil West looks… there’s no other word to say it – bad. Sure, it’s not the worst thing we’ve ever seen (YouTube’s version of ‘Wrapped’ is pretty horrific). But actual gameplay looks worse than The Last of Us when it launched on the PS3. Everything seen up close does look okay, at best. You won’t need the bucket for that. Use your eyes for more than a second and you’ll notice ugly, blurry backgrounds with some of the worst-looking water we’ve ever seen in a game. And we played the original Legend of Zelda.
It’s more understandable once you re-read that list of titles Flying Wild Hog has published. It’s evidently not a large developer, so we can’t expect the same level of quality as God of War. But come on. This is a next-gen release. At least try to make it look like a PS4 game. Once you’ve done that, you can blame the game’s poor performance on a certain Xbox console.
Evil West automatically starts itself on what it calls ‘Quality mode’ which sacrifices your stomach in favour of slightly better-looking textures. After our first jittery three steps, we instantly had to pause, throw up, and enable the ‘Performance mode’. Here you’ll hit 60fps, so you won’t want to blow your eyes out afterward.
While we were hunting down the performance settings, we came across a setting that lets you toggle “Arachnophobia mode”. It turns off spiders. This isn’t something we’ve seen before, but we’re sure all the arachnophobes out there appreciate the gesture.
Evil West verdict
Once all has been said and done, Evil West isn’t a great time. The fighting is fun – until it isn’t. If you’re alright with a bunch of mindless, repetitive violence, you might get some mileage out of Evil West. But that’s the only place you’ll do so. The story is mediocre and the visuals would be passable in a PS4 launch title. Even then, we aren’t entirely convinced it’s up to that standard. It didn’t have to be that way. If a sequel were to actually hire writers for a story, coupled with better graphics designers, Flying Wild Hog could really have a hit on its hands. Unfortunately, we don’t see this one getting a part two.