When I think about what the real world would be like if it were overrun by vampires, werewolves, and zombie-like shambling corpses, that imaginary apocalypse doesn’t evoke nearly as much maniacal cackling from me as the one in Evil West. From the Tesla-inspired electricity weapons to the gratuitous gore and bloodshed, this old-school action game was some of the most fun monster murdering I’ve done in a while – unfortunately, its formulaic structure also make it some of the most repetitive.
Evil West’s roughly 12-hour linear campaign is spread across 16 different missions that all follow the same format. Each level has a clear start and end point with collectibles sprinkled along the way, broken up by throngs of enemies that assail you until you get a dialogue break during the next cutscene. While you’re technically free to explore levels a bit to find lore items or gold pouches, aka “bucks” for purchasing upgrades, the crux of your adventure is walking from one fight to the next and eventually capping missions off with a boss battle. Fortunately, the environments between each combat encounter are truly sights to behold with enough picturesque backdrops that range from the outlandish to the beautiful to make even the grumpiest cowboy shed a tear.
Evil West Steam Screenshots
The formula of Evil West’s levels is rarely mixed up save for a few unique situations, such as a wacky mine cart segment or the handful of times you walk around the base camp while being spoon fed exposition. Its story puts you in control of Jesse Rentier from The Rentier Institute, an organization founded by Jesse’s father to hunt down and eradicate all manner of vampires and other foul beasts. Developer Flying Wild Hogs really latched onto the whole “Wild West, but Weird” idea and ran away with it screaming. You’ve got Illuminati-esque floating pyramids, portals to hell, and demonic little girls with skin-crawling voices. It’s a tale riddled with entertaining expletives and truly distinct characters, such as the fiercely opinionated doctor, Emilia Blackwell, so there’s never a dull moment – I just wish the story as a whole was more sophisticated than Jesse simply chasing down some bad people for revenge.
Over the course of Evil West you’ll gradually unlock new weapons, powers, and upgrades that alter Jesse’s abilities in fun new ways. For example, you can increase the number of shots your pistol gets off in a single magazine, augment your rifle with electrical damage, and even incorporate new abilities like ground pounds and aerial combos to continue evolving your arsenal. The way combat is always expanding helps break up the otherwise monotonous layouts of Evil West’s levels. There is rarely a stretch of time longer than 20 minutes in which you won’t either unlock a new ability, augment an existing weapon with a fresh effect, or find an entirely new gadget for dismembering enemies in glorious ways.
In addition to that constant evolution, combat has a frantic flow that feels great in motion. You can zoom across the map and stun enemies then rack up a melee combo, uppercut them into the air, and jump up to smash them back down into a pool of blood and guts. Or you can charge up your rifle with a high-powered beam of electricity that ricochets between enemies before unleashing your flamethrower to finish them off. It’s a ludicrous selection of weaponry that’s easy to switch between on the fly since nearly every piece of gear has its own dedicated button and cooldown timer – no ammo or bullets to keep track of. You can just wait for stuff to recharge while using something else.
The one part of the combat that did grow a bit dull by the end of Evil West was the lack of enemy variety. Slow-moving zombies with heavy wind up swings never pose a challenge and even the most aggressive hulking monstrosities wielding shields lack oomph after the first few fights. It can even be difficult to tell what’s going on during the most chaotic battles because every enemy bleeds together (pun intended) and they all end up looking like the same tones of blood and mud. (It doesn’t help that the notification arrow to let you know someone is attacking is relatively subtle and easy to miss in the thick of things.)
Enemy reuse is particularly noticeable when it comes to larger health sponge enemies too, as Evil West likes to copy-paste baddies that were once bosses into later levels as mini bosses. Sometimes these enemies even attack in packs on subsequent meetings, which is pure chaos and, admittedly, a true symphony of violence. But since every combat encounter is basically just a circular arena you dodge and strafe around as you fight, that gaggle of large health bars could wear my patience thin after a while. With no jump button or variety in how combat encounters are laid out, every fight ends up feeling like the same mushy puddle of goo even with the creative arsenal at your disposal.
That doesn’t mean hopping around in that goo (gross) wasn’t fun, it just means this is simply the kind of game you boot up when you don’t want to think. It’s repetitive, predictable, and unoriginal in a lot of ways, but I found myself not caring because I was enjoying killing monsters so much anyway. In that regard, Evil West shares a lot of the same DNA as Flying Wild Hog’s previous chaotic action romp, Shadow Warrior 3, even if the genre is entirely different – both games double down on what matters most to obfuscate plenty of other areas that are lacking.