If Red Dead Redemption, God of War, and Devil May Cry had a baby, it might look a little something like Evil West. Hell, throw in Gears of War for good measure. But could this be a case of too many influences in the kitchen? Or does developer Flying Wild Hog know how to balance this recipe into a smorgasbord of delectable over-the-top action you’d be proud to bring home to Pa?
Cowboys vs. vampires
Evil West stars Jesse Rentier (pronounced Ren-tea-ay), son to William Rentier of the Rentier Institute. This institute has been tasked by the United States government to protect the fledgling country from all manner of supernatural beasts including vampires, werewolves (or something like them), and others.
The game takes some obvious liberties with history, but it does weave an entertaining alternate reality in which cholera outbreaks were in actuality a bit of necromancy gone horribly wrong, for example. A war between vampires and humans has just begun because one sect of vampires fears that the technological progress humans are making will cause them to surpass the eternal blood drinkers. The story’s not too deep, but sometimes you just want to play a game to forget your troubles and enjoy the simple act of killing hordes of the underworld.
Evil West uses the old reliable Unreal Engine 4, which hums along swimmingly on the PS5. There’s no slowdown to speak of, and the game boots with a graphics option set to prioritize image quality over performance. Unlike more recent games, however, you cannot switch between these modes without rebooting the game, which is odd to see and means you really have to think about which mode you want to play the game in because autosaves aren’t too plentiful.
Levels usually load in quicker than you can read the interstitial text, and adaptive triggers are used for some of Jesse’s weapons. Graphically, some of Evil West’s landscapes are beautiful, and while character models are serviceable, they aren’t usually much more than that. Animations are generally smooth, though they are sometimes awkward in cutscenes. Characters are fully voiced, though outside of cutscenes their mouths do not match what they are saying, if they move at all.
Cheesing your way to victory
The solo campaign can be completed in around 10-15 hours, depending mostly on difficulty level. Note that playing in co-op does scale the difficulty up a bit, though those playing on the Easy/Story difficulty level shouldn’t find many chokepoints where things become too tough. In fact, once some of Jesse’s main abilities are unlocked, it becomes very easy to cheese moves and simply shock your way to victory. There are trophies for playing in certain ways in an effort to highlight the options available to the player, but you’ll probably find your favorite way to destroy hordes of enemies in a short time.
Also, some cinematics have very awkward cutting, which makes you think you accidentally skipped something, but upon replaying a few sections it was determined that, no, this was actually how that scene was written. It’s definitely odd.
Evil West is a bit of a mixed genre. While Jesse has a slew of guns at his disposal, he also has a powerful melee weapon and even a flamethrower later on. So, this can be described as a third-person shooter beat-em-up action game, though you are mostly free to play it however you like.
Truthfully, after unlocking the ability to reel enemies in, instantly stunning them with electricity, and then following that up with a series of punches (with pinball-like sound effects, to boot), it becomes so tempting to simply stick with this winning strategy, but then you would miss out on juggling enemies in the air or knocking them into each other like bowling pins. There are a lot of options for dispatching enemies, and since most of them don’t put up too much of a fight on the lower difficulties it really is up to you to decide which method is the most fun.
Evil West draws obvious inspiration from many older games. Some of this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For example, there are invisible walls throughout the adventure, rather than having the environment be an impassable obstacle to guide the player in a certain direction. At many points, an obvious battle is about to take place, as you can see enemies within a corralled-off area. Yet, shooting anyone ahead of entering the area is strictly prohibited. Even if you can find a good angle, if you’ve yet to trigger a fight, the enemies are protected by a barrier that renders your bullets useless. This points to level design problems, but since most enemies are susceptible to all of Jesse’s attacks it’s not a huge concern.
Co-op is fun… when it works
One other issue we hit during our time with Evil West involved co-op. It took a couple of tries to connect to a session, even though it was done through an invite system. Player two can load their character’s latest build from the single-player campaign, however, progress is only saved for whoever is the host and plays as player one.
Both players take control of their own copy of Jesse, and of course, cutscenes are not modified to account for two players. There is no drop-in/drop-out co-op like we’ve seen in other recent games, either. So, if you’re having connection issues or otherwise need to leave, the only wait to join your friend again is to have them quit back to the main menu and re-invite you.
We also hit a glitch where player two was stuck at a Perk selection screen with no perk points to buy the required upgrade, and also no way to back out of the menu. Once player one reached another cinematic things were okay, with the exception of that first new cutscene playing with no audio. Little things like this are hardly a dealbreaker, but they are annoying in the moment.
Evil West is a fun, frenetic, blood-soaked, testosterone-fueled action game with a lot to like. There’s some old-school charm to it, but at the same time some old-school frustrations. When co-op works, it’s fun, though it is by no means required to enjoy the game on its own merits. When you’re through the holiday’s festivities, and you want something to play that’s a bit mindless while also being entertaining, then Evil West should be on your list of games to play.