Is it just me, or are we getting back-to-back releases with the words ‘West’ in the title? Blood West, Weird West and now Evil West. Weirdly enough, all three games are toying with the concept of Weird Western, a hybrid genre where horror, sci-fi and fantasy meets traditional western. Darkwatch may have done it 17 years ago, but it’s Evil West, the latest venture from the Polish studio Flying Wild Hog, that grabbed my attention. So, after fabricating a chonky lie to get away from exhausting university research, here’s me:
Evil West is a third person action-adventure game developed by Flying Wildhogs and published by Focus Home Interactive. The game was released for PC, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S on November 22, 2022.
Big Boots to Fill
As mentioned above and as per the not-so-subtle implications of the title, Evil West takes place in a fictional depiction of the ‘ol wild west. But instead of hunting down outlaws with bad teeth, you get to purge the land from vampires, lycans and all sorts of ugly beasties. You play as Jesse Rentier, a cocky badass and the future head of the Rentier Institute, an organization (secretly funded by the US of A…duh) tasked with protecting the west from supernatural beings. TLDR; you get to travel to all sorts of shady locales, shoot (or punch) the hell out of these unholy beasts and save the day.
Sadly, that’s as interesting the story will get. Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of story in Evil West involving a tried and true ‘save the world’ fiasco. Plus, the whole monster hunting stuff looks great on paper. There’s lots of lore and plenty of side characters to move the story along. Alas, it never really takes off. All the characters, including the protagonist and the big bad, comes across as uninteresting. The story beats also fails to excite. To give the game credit, the Weird West setting does give the thing a unique aesthetic. I wish I could say the same for the writing. At least they tried, right?
Combat is Where the Heart is
Now that the filler is out of the way, let’s focus on the selling point of the game: the combat! If you set the boring story aside, then Evil West is a no-nosense action game at its finest. In fact, the closest comparison to Evil West would be the balls-to-the-walls linear action games from the 7th generation of consoles. The game will no doubt resonate well with fans of hardcore hack n slash games from the time. The devs know this, and they really made sure that you’ll be having a great time as long as you’re killing things non-stop.
‘Frantic mayhem’ is a word that can best describe the game’s combat. Jesse can use his lightning-fueled gauntlets as well as a nice selection of kick-ass weaponry to wreak havoc on the countless monstrosities the game throws at him. Throughout the 10-12 hours journey, you, the player, will be able to unlock and upgrade Jesse’s entire arsenal to level the playing field. Jesse can use his gauntlet to beat enemies to a pulp and pull off slick execution moves, or he can shoot the hell out of them with a small but powerful arsenal that ranges from a fast-firing revolver, the ever-useful lever action rifle, a sawed-off that kicks like a mule, the classic flamethrower, a fast-firing crossbow and more. Almost all of these weapons are upgradable, making them even deadlier than they already are.
Of course, the combat wouldn’t be fun if there isn’t a roster of worthy foes. Evil West has that covered, too. Throughout the adventure, Jesse can encounter anything from simple vampires to hulking otherworldly beings that will give the players a run for the money. Although the game has a habit of recycling enemies and bosses, there is enough variety in the enemy design that you won’t get tired of hacking, slashing and shooting at.
But is it enough, though?
For a game that relies solely on combat as a selling point, doesn’t this all sound a tad bit monotonous? Don’t fret, as the game keeps on throwing fresh encounters and challenges at the player just when things are about to get repetitive. The various abilities you can unlock when Jesse levels up, as well as the weapon upgrades, combined with imaginative combos, adds a layer of creative strategy and experimentation to the whole shebang. The game also does a good job of introducing new enemies, weapons and abilities at just the right times throughout the campaign also helps in this regard. It seems like all those years perfecting the Shadow Warrior reboot series really upped the combat design of Flying Wild Hog.
Do note that the combat isn’t perfect by any means. The difficulty spike, for example, is all over the place. Playing the game on harder difficulties can make a lot of encounters trial & error. There are various points where you can find yourself completely surrounded by multiple mini-bosses and annoying enemy types without getting sufficient time to react. It’s even worse if you’re playing using a keyboard and a mouse, as the controls feel really spread apart. It plays fine on a controller, but I suggest turning on aim assist at higher difficulties.
Remember when I said that the game will take you back to the 7th generation of gaming? Well, turns out that’s not a good thing entirely. The level design is just plain boring and a thing of the past. I understand that maintaining the pace of combat is important, but having to go through a straight line from point A to point B in each and every level is just lazy design, if you ask me. There is hardly any exploration or off-beat paths to explore in the game that doesn’t end in an invisible wall or a lazily put up barrier. Even the collectibles and secret upgrades are often placed just 5 meters off the main path.
Then there are the bland, uninspired puzzles that long overstayed their welcome in games. There’s little to no environment interaction that is not bound by contextual button prompts. Even the detailing is very low effort, as evident by background props the player cannot interact with. It’s as if the devs aggressively wanted you to run from one combat arena to the next. Well, you made your point Flying Wild Hog, that’s exactly what I did.
Unreal Engine 4 has been out a long time and is now showing its age, especially in the case of Evil West. At first glance, the game looks pretty nice. The art design is really striking. The colors pop out. The characters and enemies are nicely detailed. The lighting is really wonderful at times. And there’s a large variety in the visual department ranging from arid badlands, noxious swamps, underground caverns, mysterious woods, and a lot more. But, upon closer inspection, one can see the low-res texturework the pretty art design is trying to mask. The environments, especially the foliage and props, are very static and low resolution that stopping and admiring the surroundings is not recommended. I also found the anti-aliasing offerings to be very blurry. Thankfully, the inclusion of AMD’s Fidelity Sharpening helps out a ton.
As for performance, the game ran perfectly well on my Ryzen 5 5600X and RTX 3070 at 1080p. There were hardly any fps drops, bugs or crashes. I’ve heard that the co-cop experience is very buggy and lackluster. But I did not get to try it out because I have no friends.
If you don’t mind the boring story, dated level design and buy in for the explosive combat alone, then Evil West will come across as a cathartic experience. Although the combat experience, too, is riddled with difficulty spikes and some repetition, the sheer chaotic satisfaction the game offers is worth experiencing. Even with all of these drawbacks, I did have a great time shutting off my brain and slaying vampires left and right. That says a lot about the current state of the industry. If you aren’t sure about shelling out 2k INR for such an experience, there will always be a sale down the line.
FINAL RATING: RECOMMENDED