While there has been something of a resurgence in ‘AA’ titles over recent years, games like Evil West still don’t come around all that often. Schlocky, violent, and just dumb fun, it’s a linear action game with a heavy focus on an ever-expanding combat system. It’s also got big early 2000s vibes, with characters that have cartoonishly proportioned limbs and creature designs that could have come straight from the mind of Spawn creator Todd McFarlane.
Structurally, Evil West is about as straightforward as it gets. The campaign is divided into chapters, each bookmarked by cutscenes, and levels are a balanced mix of combat encounters, corridors, and the occasional puzzle.
Perhaps surprisingly, the gameplay has a lot in common with 2018’s God of War. From the one-button, signposted platforming to the increasingly complex battle mechanics — and even the way that protagonist Jesse shimmies up big metal chains — Kratos’ Norse adventures have quite clearly been an inspiration. And while Evil West obviously can’t match the polish and scope of a Sony blockbuster, it does manage to capture that same, satisfyingly weighty feel.
The game’s backdrop sets it well apart, though. Once again proving that cowboys and horror go hand in hand, this is an alternate history America in which vampires pose a constant, unseen threat to the general public. Government agencies throughout the US keep these monsters under control through the use of steam and electric-powered weaponry, along with some good old fashioned Christian iconography.
Playable hero Jesse Rentier is a hot-headed field agent, flanked on a crusade of justice by his foul-mouthed mentor, Edgar Gravenor. The plot’s every bit as pulpy as you’d imagine, but it certainly doesn’t take itself too seriously, and for the most part, it’s enjoyably daft. Some of the vampire lore is actually quite interesting as well, and it’s hard not to crack a wry smile whenever Jesse pulls out a woeful one-liner.
What we’re trying to say is that with your expectations firmly in check, you can squeeze a good amount of fun from Evil West across its 12-ish hour runtime. And as mentioned, it’s really the combat that carries the experience. Chunky and stacked with cool ideas, busting bloodsuckers is the main reason to keep playing — especially as Jesse steadily unlocks new weapons, abilities, and upgrades.
There’s a touch of junk here, but it’s not enough to detract from the carnage. You start off with a mechanical gauntlet, punching vampires into submission, but it’s not long until guns are added to the mix. Jesse’s trusty revolver can be fired from the hip for quick bursts of damage, while his rifle is perfect for taking out flying foes, or snipping weak spots. Combining melee and ranged weaponry like this doesn’t always work, but Evil West’s battles boast a particularly pleasing flow.
Enemy variety leaves something to be desired, however. There’s a point, about halfway through the campaign, where fewer and fewer fresh foes are introduced, and you’ll find yourself having to throw down against increasingly familiar opponents — but in greater number. Things do get a bit repetitive — especially when reused bosses start creeping in — but again, the depth of Jesse’s arsenal is just enough to keep you engaged.
You can experience all of this in two-player online co-op, by the way. It’s a strange and somewhat disappointing implementation (only the host’s progress counts), but the option is there if you and a friend just want to blast through the schlocky story together, complete with rebalanced encounters.
And before we jump to the conclusion, it’s worth mentioning the title’s performance. You’ll want to play this one at 60 frames-per-second because of all the combat, but the trade-off is a sometimes muddy 1080p. It’s not a dealbreaker, but the game also makes use of a fairly aggressive motion blur effect — which can’t be lessened or disabled. Combine that with the resolution, and, every now and then, the action can get a lost in a splurge of nondescript colour, like someone placed a wet oil painting on turntable.
Evil West is one of those really enjoyable 7/10s. It’s never going to win any awards and it’s probably not going to stick long in the memory, but give it a few years and someone, somewhere, will swear to you that it’s actually an underappreciated classic. It’s a chunky action game that knows how to have fun, both in and out of combat.