Evil WestNovember 22nd, 2022
PlatformPlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PC
DeveloperFlying Wild Hog
Flying Wild Hog is a developer that I have a very hard time siloing into one genre that they're known for. From Shadow Warrior to Trek to Yomi, there's a diverse range of action titles that each bring something new to the table. With Evil West's take on the Weird West, this hours-long journey across the American Frontier is wrought with vampire hunting and a stylish combat system that fits right at home with Shinji Mikami and his work with Capcom Production Studio 4.
The time and setting of Evil West are both ripe for a deep dive into mythology and the supernatural. Based around the end of the 19th century when America was still recovering from wars and skirmishes (both in the literal sense and that of the ongoing fight between humans and vampires) and technology was progressing beyond the steam engine at a rapid rate. Much of the iconic imagery of Evil West is centered around the aesthetics of your typical Western town and saloon, often with a worn down and broken exterior hiding something supernatural beneath the surface. Even the main base of operations for Jesse Rentier and his team after his home burns down is hidden within the basement of a saloon, locked away behind a giant barrel-turned-vault door. Take the Weird West of the Deadlands role-playing system, replace Ghost Rock with electricity, and you'll have a similar invention to the worldbuilding of Evil West.
As the majority of what embodies Evil West's cadre of occultic foes exists of vampires, werewolves, and grotesque abominations of all shapes and sizes, it only makes sense to give a regular human an edge when it comes to survival. That's where the Rentier Institute comes in, taking the form of a more successful Mad Scientist of Doomtown fame. From the electrically-charged gauntlet emblazoned with the family business across the knuckle duster to a wide variety of guns and tools, everything that Jesse Rentier picks up in his quest to hunt vampires builds right into his survival kit and becomes integral to the combat.
Evil West's combat is the single greatest part of the frontier journey and might even be the sole reason that I would recommend this title. With a forced over-the-shoulder viewpoint, Flying Wild Hog is clearly trying to draw inspiration from Shinji Mikami's fight against the Four Devas. Starting the adventure off with only a pistol and his own right hand, Jesse Rentier's arsenal of demon-slaying tools quickly expands far beyond your typical Western-themed shotgun and long rifle to electrically charged crucifixes, grappling hooks, flamethrowers and more. Each and every tool that Jesse picks up is strapped to his back like some oversized travel souvenir and, more importantly, becomes an integral part of his fighting style.
Perhaps the easiest way to pitch Evil West to someone that's already game-savvy is 'Doom Eternal with more punching'. There's a delicate dance of death that the player has to approach Evil West with that requires so many tools in the arsenal to work together in tandem. Early on, the flow to Evil West hints at being simplified down to 'use guns for long range and your fists when up close' but even a chapter in, the combat switches up the formula to become a dynamic masterpiece. Despite a limited skill tree that takes far too long to unlock new nodes and abilities, the tools that Jesse wields all feed back into one another and can allow the player to attack relentlessly without stopping.
Evil West's melee system is centered around using the four shoulder buttons to punch and guard, and while it takes some getting used to the control system that Flying Wild Hog has come up with, it does make sense as the player gains access to more tools. From blocking and a contextual hook to pull/dash into enemies on L1 to a light/heavy punch depending on how long the player holds R1 to a different selection of guns, whether the player taps R2 to fan the hammer and unload an entire revolver load of bullets into an enemy for a midair juggle to the combination of L2 and R2 to aim and then fire his rifle, there's a lot of abilities to constantly swap and string together in combos that your fingers might cramp up even a couple of chapters into Evil West.
Much of Jesse's arsenal is built off of cooldowns. Each brings a tool that can change how Jesse approaches a certain enemy. Pesky oversized flying bugs might be a pain to try and snipe with your rifle as they zip around the arena, but a single yank of Jesse's electrified grappling hook will reel them in and finish them off with an automatic punch. For those giant enemy attacks that glow orange and indicate that they're unblockable, that's nothing a solid kick forward can't solve to knock the enemy off balance (and the shotgun with its additional perks to deal double damage against attacking enemies can be even more effective). Across Evil West, there's nothing that I would say is a useless addition to the arsenal, as even making a choice between rifle and crossbow for your medium-ranged attack brings a dynamic choice to the flow of combat. Perhaps the only thing missing from Evil West is a scoring system to show how stylish your fighting style becomes.
The supernaturally-affected Western frontier towns all feed into that setting of modern-day mythology and unspoken horrors that corrupt and overtake the landscape if not held at bay. There's a wide variety of locales to explore, sometimes even if they just feel like Jesse's being sent off to some random corner of America to track down a specific person or crucial document before returning back to the base of operations and venturing off to a completely unrelated town or sawmill. Many of these locales are built around a single, often blinding color pallet. The first time players guide Jesse Rentier by the hand is through a canyon stained with the dusk sunset with a permanent shade of orange that muddies the views, Similarly, expect overrun swamps and jungle areas to be excessively green to the point where it can be hard to make out the landscape at times.
Much of the path through each level in Evil West is a linear bit of exploration with some light puzzle-solving or platform pushing to reach the next objective. Any time there's the possibility of a branching path, take it. These almost always lead towards gold to invest in gear upgrades, cosmetic enhancements, unique skill unlocks, and very occasionally an overcharge health pickup that gives Jesse a shield lasting his entire health bar, which typically means there's a boss fight coming up soon. Glowing chains and posts often indicate a one-way forward to reach the next destination, but players can go back and replay previous levels just by jumping into the Lore menu, so nothing left behind is truly lost or missable.
If it weren't for Flying Wild Hog's fantastic combat in Evil West, I could have chalked this up to being a mediocre tale of vampire hunting at the mercy of the US Government through various flavors of the American Frontier. However, that sentiment is gracefully saved with a solid right hook and a shotgun in the left hand. Even if vampires, werewolves, and Teslapunk weaponry aren't your thing, give this ungodly hand a fair shake and see what's so special about the Rentiers after all.
Reviewed on PS5 (code provided by the publisher).
With a flow of combat that rivals that of the Doom Slayer, Evil West hits its mark when taking on vampires, werewolves, and everything in between, despite finding the rest of the experience a bit lacking.
- Melee and ranged weave together in dynamic combat
- Each and every tool acquired is a new combat ability
- Co-op is available for those that don't want to hunt alone
- Interrupt unblockable attacks with a boot to the stomach
- Cooldowns, not ammo counts
- Linear-level design (with chapter select)
- Overly generous auto-aim can lock onto the wrong enemy at the wrong time
- Tight camera means seeing enemies outside periphery can be a challenge
- Takes far too long to unlock new skills and perks
- Too many AAA protagonist monologues
- Level design difficulty to follow with distracting color palettes
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