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In this month where we can be grateful about anything, I am grateful for the existence of Focus Home Interactive. In a gaming landscape filled with either live service or very long open world games, Focus Home Interactive has found a great niche in reviving the mid-tier/AA title. Thanks to them, we are getting back the weird ideas outside of indies. And weird is definitely the best way to describe “Evil West.”
Developed by “Shadow Warrior” developer Flying Wild Hog, “Evil West” is a true homage to the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era of games where someone could take the genre of a popular game and mash together a smorgasbord of ideas to give it its own unique flavor. In this case, “Evil West” is a homage to third-person shooters in the style of old school “Gears of War,” while throwing some “Van Helsing” and “Wild Wild West” into a blender to create one of 2022’s most bloody good times.
In “Evil West,” you play as Jesse Rentier, one of the last agents of a vampire-hunting society called the Rentier Institute who’s tasked with finding and exterminating Peter D’Abano, the leader of a breed of vampire called the Sanguisuge. There is more to the story than just hunting down D’Abano, including the happenings with D’Abano’s daughter, Felicity, and Rentier’s relationship with his father, William. Overall, it is a pretty schlocky, straightforward tale which provides you with an excuse to visit quite the variety of “Old West” locales to do what the game does best: bloody vampire murder.
Even though on the surface “Evil West” looks like a third person shooter in the vein of “Gears of War,” the most surprising thing is how it’s actually more of a third person brawler in the vein of the recent “God of War” re imaginings where you mix and match your fists (or in this case, a Tesla-induced electric Gauntlet) with a mix of weapons, including your revolver, a bolt action rifle, automatic crossbow, and other weapons you get as you play through the campaign. Furthering the feeling that this is not a pure, third person shooter is that some weapons, like your revolver and your shotgun, can’t even be aimed with the left trigger as they have their own assigned buttons. If you played iD Software’s “Doom” and “Doom Eternal” and remember how many items had a dedicated button to them, you’ll have a better idea of the kind of gameplay loop “Evil West” has going for it.
Simply put, unless you are playing in the easiest difficulty, there is no way you’ll survive many of the encounters from “Evil West” without using everything at your disposal. While ammo is infinite, your weapons have very few bullets at a time, and you’ll have to wait a few seconds for the “meter cooldowns” to fill up in order to start shooting again. Seeing as many enemies are basically health sponges in the later game, just expecting to get by with headshots is not going to work. To survive in this game, you drop your arms and pull up your hands.
Some of the most satisfying moments with the combat is mixing and matching your Gauntlet melee attacks (especially the “Tesla-electricity” induced ones). You can dodge at lightning speed, teleport directly to enemies to stun-lock them with a flurry of fist, bring them near you with a movement straight out of Scorpion from “Mortal Kombat,” and then finish the job with a well placed shotgun to the face. Or melt them with a flamethrower. Or stick them with a grenade, which, after a certain upgrade, can create a literal electricity tornado. It’s just straight insanity.
While the combat is absolutely stellar, there is definitely going to be some mixed feelings about the way the game ruthlessly amps up the difficulty past the halfway point. From the start up until Chapter 8, the game provides a nice balance as it teaches you its mechanics and the flow of combat. But from Chapter 9 onward, enemies you would remember as mini-bosses start being thrown at you during normal arena skirmishes, which are going to test your vampire hunting skills to the extreme, even on its normal difficulty. The last two chapters are so insane with how it throws the theoretical enemy kitchen sink at you, I probably died a dozen times until I got the perfect flow just right regarding which items to best utilize and going from there.
Fortunately, you can face the challenges together with a friend at any point. You can play the entirety of the campaign in co-op once you’re done with a tutorial area. If you thought the spectacle of carnage by yourself was a thing of beauty, wait until you coordinate the mayhem with your buddy and see double tornado grenades on the field at once or chain together your electrified revolvers. Just be aware that “Evil West” seems to employ some sort of level scaling at any difficulty during cooperative play. Testing one of the later sections in Chapter 14, I found my damage output was significantly reduced using one of my flurry punch/shotgun combos to some of the mini-bosses, where by myself I did significantly more damage. So if you thought co-op could make the game a bit more of a cakewalk, it seems Flying Wild Hog tuned it just enough to remain challenging, even with the added benefit of having your buddy revive you.
There are few tiny drawbacks to the co-op mode. By basically cloning your main character, the second player has less agency than the main player when it comes to interacting with some of the environments. Actions like leaping to a certain area or interacting with certain items will be blocked from the second player unless both are within each other’s vicinity. If you are also playing the game by yourself and join someone as their co-op partner, just know the game doesn’t save progress at all on the second player. If you were hoping to continue playing after a theoretical co-op session, you are out of luck. Make sure you and a buddy will commit to an entire co-op run in case the second player hasn’t made enough progress in the game.
Wearing its old school game design chops on its sleeve, “Evil West” absolutely hearkens back to the era of linear third-person shooter level design, with cool looking environments serving as set dressing to take you from one combat arena to the next. In between combat arenas, you will have a chance to do some mild exploration to find some hidden collectibles and chests. These can provide you currency to upgrade your different weapons, along with finding different weapon and character skins. As a response to most AAA games that are a little more wide open in nature, the linear approach of “Evil West” works relatively well.
If you are a completionist, there are a few wrinkles to the approach. The game will sometimes have poor signposting and provide you with two similar looking paths at a time, and it will not tell you the path that you are on is the main one until it’s too late with no chance to go back. With the game divided between 16 chapters, it is easy to double back to a chapter to look for things and paths you missed the first time (and the chapter select screen describing your missing collectibles is a nice touch). It would have been nice, however, if the game had allowed more chances to explore back areas to do everything in one run instead of having to do a whole level again if you accidentally missed a path.
From a graphical standpoint, “Evil West” stuns with its cartoony realism. The way the game gives each environment its separate color hue to keep that slightly creepy, vampiric vibe makes the different environments stand out. While the game is never outright scary, the “goth” vibe is certainly striking, and the different creature designs give the game both a familiar and unique identity of its own. And it mostly keeps up, with very few graphical hitches that break up the immersion.
A few weeks before release, “Evil West” received some slight controversy when they revealed the different graphical settings that the game would ship in. While the game offers its 4k30 mode on Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5, many were disappointed the performance mode is capped at 1080p60 (with a platform like the Series S not getting a performance mode at all). While it can be disappointing to know the resolution is at a big deficit compare to the 4K mode, at least for my eyes, the performance mode still kept the game’s stylish visuals intact where it still looked great even with the lesser resolution. And the 4K30 mode certainly looked just a bit sharper, but not enough for me to forgo the better performance.
“Evil West” is on the shorter side of what’s expected from big budget games these days, clocking in around 12-16 hours after a normal playthrough. In an age where that has sometimes led to unnecessary bloat, even in highly regarded games, the length of “Evil West” is perfect for its kind of game. I never thought any one chapter dragged on more than it should, and the ways the game spiced things up visually kept my interest through the entirety of its 16 chapters. With a New Game+ included straight away that’s also fully playable co-op, there are certainly reasons to double back to it, especially the excitement of cranking up the difficulty while keeping all of your upgrades from the jump (and also the chance to continue the path towards fully upgrading your character, which isn’t possible to do on one first playthrough).
We absolutely need more games like “Evil West.” The mid-tier/AA space with good to great quality has been missing for so long, I’m just glad Focus Home Interactive has become a nice place where we can get these kinds of unpretentious experiences. We used to get these kinds of games so often, and I’m glad the pendulum has swung back to slowly give us these kinds of experiences again. If something like the movie industry can balance its prestige pieces with its high energy summer blockbusters, there is no reason the gaming industry can’t do the same with its game of the year contenders and something as quirky and outrageously fun like “Evil West.” It may not be my absolute favorite game of 2022, but it certainly is one of the most fun from this year.