Have you ever wanted to mix Evil Dead, Brisco County Jr. and Van Helsing? No? Well maybe I’m just weird, but the people over at Flying Wild Hog did just that with Evil West.
After watching the trailer I thought I’d be shotgun blasting demons a la Doom, but found myself bitch-slapping leach-covered vampires with an electric gauntlet instead. Luckily, I’m into that kind of thing. Werewolves crawling with spiders? No problem. Nightmare-inducing body horror enemies? More please.
The Evil West story has grit and doesn’t fall into the predictable tropes it easily could have, but the developers uneven attention to details along with a lackluster soundtrack mean the game missed a lot of opportunities of it’s genre, which we can only be describe as… Teslapunk.
Let’s get into the review.
The game starts out with the most Wild West thing one can do: Stopping a steam train by blowing up a bridge. Here we meet our character, Jesse Rentiera the son of the most successful vampire hunter in America and heir to the Rentier Institute, dedicated to the research and eradication of vampires. This gives me big Belmont family vibes.
The train wreck puts you on track to uncover a plot by a high-ranking vampire to start a war with humanity to prevent the ultimate triumph of humans over vampires. While you are able to defeat the vampire, his daughter Felicity escapes to become your nemesis for the rest of the game.
Across 16 missions set in a fanciful version of the Wild West, Jesse hunts Felicity to the ultimate shootout that will spell the end of mankind, or forever banish the vampire scourge from the land. Utilizing guns, grenades, flamethrowers and your trusty shock-gauntlet, you’ll make your way through horde after horde of devolving, blood-sucking—look, you’ll just need to hear the rest of the review to understand.
Your goal is simple: Stop the war. Then things boil over.
16 missions of pure vampire stomping with a solid underlying story is a good way to start a franchise—Castlevania broke the mold on that. It took me about 12 hours to defeat the game at normal setting, and I’m proud to say that at a few points I was asked by the game itself to crank up the difficulty—I guess I just make it look easy.
Evil West’s third-person over-the-shoulder viewpoint works well for this kind of combat, which involves setting up combos for maximum damage and looking for the precise moment to launch an attack or counter move. Novice video game players will definitely be challenged, while veteran gamers will quickly learn the rhythm of battle.
The gameplay flows from set piece to set piece, and each area must be cleared of enemies before moving onto the next. Once you enter an action area the fighting comes quick and hard, and the difficulty definitely ratchets up over the course of the game.
The gauntlet is your primary weapon, and it can be fitted with upgrades that effect your stats and abilities. If you feel like your setup is wrong you can reset it at various points in a mission or whenever you are in the main town. This is a really great feature, as you can explore more interesting build options that focus on energy while sacrificing your health, more for the advanced player.
The de-evolution of vampires and their bloodsucking brood
Evil West’s storyline involves a breaking down of the once-proud vampire (pardon the pun) bloodline into more animistic forms such as leaches and ticks. It’s a pretty great twist on the classic vampire genre that I’m surprised I haven’t seen before.
Flying Wild Hog also addresses racism in their consideration of human-vampire interactions. The vampire hunters use the word “ticks” as a slur when referring to their foes, ironically to dehumanize their quarry and make them easier to kill. While it is by no means a primary feature of the game, it provides a bit of depth for the plot and provides some moral complication to what would otherwise be a pretty straightforward monster mash.
It’s pretty clear that the artists put most of their focus on fleshing out the vampires, and with great success. The way the enemies are designed and how they attack are uniquely challenging and make good use of the Wild West vampire sub-genre.
The other side of the coin is that non-vampire character models are simple and drawn from a single sprite. This is most apparent in the oil field workers, who look like they could be kissing cousins.
Location, Location, Location.
Evil West loves this, and it shows in the style and atmosphere evoked in the period settings. Each level is designed to give you a different feel, from ghosts towns to spooky swamps, dark caves, lumber yards, Oil fields, rail depots—reaching a climax on the stage of a grand ol’ opera house. It’s really quite lovely to take in, once you’re done exploding vampires with a bolt of lightning from your fingers.
While many modern games have embraced the open world concept, I was happy to find that Evil West uses cut scenes to transport you directly from one level to the next—no hoofing it across a massive map. And missions are linear with no side quests. While I enjoy that stuff to a point, it was kind of relaxing to just skip from battle to battle following a straight path through the story.
Needs some work
Evil West is out in it’s final form, and for the $60 I paid it was disappointing to encounter a pretty huge bug that sprang up at several points in the game. It happens when I kill the first wave of enemies too quickly—the next wave never came and I was stuck in an empty action zone. I had to restart the whole level and lost all progress after that point. It happened a few times.
For this price point the unevenness of the art design was also a glaring problem. Along with the inbred oil workers, the game’s cosmetic mods for your character and guns are featureless and unrewarding. Off the top of my head I can think of a dozen fun and desirable skins that could be used here, including:
- Over-the-top stovepipe hat
- Abraham Lincoln
- The sheriff from Blazing Saddles
- Rainbow unicorn suit like the one found in Doom Eternal’s
- Maybe a futuristic power suit found in Dead Space
- The Man in the Yellow Hat from Curious George
Do better, Flying Wild Hog.
Another gripe I have is the music.
This is another aspect of the genre that could have been greatly inspired but came out flat and disappeared into the background. The game is so nicely staged that a few crescendos and well-placed chords could have helped build tension and set the scene, but Evil West definitely dropped the ball.
If you are looking for a fun Vampire killing escape, Evil West has it. A good mix of Dark Souls/God of War combat style with the lore of Castlevania, sprinkled in with.