There’s an early 2000s interview with director Quentin Tarantino in which a conservative pundit scolds him for the level of gruesome violence in his films. Their impassioned pleas question the need for violence, but are met with mocking disappointment: “Because it is so much funJan. Understood?
I was thinking about this interview when I was playing Evil West, a new game from the masters of shooters from the Polish studio Flying Wild Hog. Evil West is an old-school action game that mixes hand-to-hand combat with firearms; a hybrid you don’t often see in the modern era.
The action takes place in an alternate version of the frontier lands of the American Wild West. The story follows a secret vampire-hunting order that has faced a growing threat for generations as the government hides its discoveries as viral outbreaks.
It’s a stupid game and she knows it, often reveling in her love of human violence against a monster.
This setup really only exists as an excuse to introduce a number of monsters that you can fight using period-appropriate weapons – they could just be zombies or aliens. It also gives more freedom with the world’s technology. If you’re okay with existing vampires, you’ll probably be fine with electric gloves and railgun upgrades for your lever action rifle.
Here the Evil West shows its best and worst sides. When you’ve finished watching the cutscene, you’ll be thrown into restricted levels consisting of distinct encounter areas, quiet areas where you’re left to look for collectibles, and a random puzzle standing between you and getting into either of those two areas.
While the level layouts aren’t always predictable, the way you move through them is predictable. It hurts so much. As with Xbox 360 generation games, the designers expect you to move through these levels in a certain way: if they say you can’t step over that log, you can’t. If they decide that you can easily jump between rocks to get to a dangling chain, your character will play a standard animation that does this. With the exception of one mission, you will never have freedom in how you want to explore the world.
To make matters worse, the game doesn’t make it clear which areas are blocking you and which areas are letting you back in. I usually like to exhaust every possible route in a level before heading to the main objective, but you rarely know which is which in Evil West. The same place that allows you to disguise one way may decide you can’t disguise another. Whether it’s due to a bug or due to the intended behavior of the game, completing missions is frustrating. It’s like the game doesn’t want you to poke around for too long. Despite the secrets he hides.
It’s not necessarily what puts me off that Evil West’s levels are linear, it’s how you’re allowed/not allowed to navigate through them that’s puzzling. Doom 2016 and its sequel take a similar approach to level design; you know when you’re going to fight and when you’re on your own. But these games let you “lose”; they allow you to reach a dead end and end up where you can’t access yet because you don’t have a certain update.
The Evil West is trolling you too much to feel anything. but video game; one that hides an archaic core under modern visuals.
The redeeming quality of Evil West – and the only thing that can make or break it for many players – is combat. It is also the most thoughtful component of the game and adds to the excitement and difficulty of the game.
Everything starts simple; you can punch, juggle, and hurl cannonball-style enemies towards conveniently placed TNT stashes and spikes. You will soon learn how to use your rifle at long range and quickly swing the hammer of your revolver to deal with enemies that get too close.
Later, you will get acquainted with the double-barreled shotgun, which effectively complements your main arsenal. Ammo reloads all the time, so you rarely worry about reloading. The way the buttons are mapped (at least on the controller) is intuitive and helps make the action smooth. The right trigger fires with a revolver by default, or with a lever if you’re aiming down the scope. This takes the load off your brain and puts it on your fingers.
Evil West manages to keep all their toys fresh within a relatively short run time by handing them out one by one. As you play, you will see that some elements of your HUD are blocked, which means that at some point something will fill them. This makes the fight interesting because you know something good will be unlocked later to give you an edge. It also gives you plenty of time to familiarize yourself with what you already have and chart your path through the respective update trees.
Each of the main weapons can be upgraded with money earned by leveling up and scattered around the world in stashes, chests and… on the corpses of some of the hanged men you meet. Instead, character upgrades can be obtained through perks with a limited amount of perk points available.
Across the board, some updates offer clear linear improvements, while others allow you to make more meaningful changes to your repertoire. Considering you have more perk slots than points, Wicked West is doing the right thing by letting you change specs freely – and fairly early in the game.
That said, combat flow is one area that needs to be worked on post-launch. There are different elements in the game that can make things unnecessarily chaotic, especially when you’re facing different types of enemies, each requiring a different approach to take down.
Meat can be hurled at larger opponents, easily stopped with an electric gauntlet, and quickly stunned. This opens them up for Doom-style glory-killing.
However, larger enemies effectively have defense levels that you need to break through. Depending on the enemy, you may need to destroy shields before you can deal any real damage, while others swing their weapons so fast that you need to interrupt them with a kick to keep their damage under control.
Some encounters can be incredibly exciting as you teeter on the brink of death, waiting for your healing ability to recharge. Others are an endurance test more than anything, killing that momentum. Constantly trying to dodge projectiles off-screen while dealing with three shielded opponents cornering you… it’s the complete opposite of the electrical action elsewhere.
After playing through the entire game solo, I felt that some of the fights were balanced with co-op in mind. This is also true for some bosses, but the game mercifully places checkpoints on every boss phase. With the exception of bosses, the frequency of autosave is unusually uneven. The game will tell you how long ago it has been auto-saved, which, while welcome, reveals the issue.
Evil West just doesn’t save as often as you might think, and I often kept playing just to get to the next cutscene or important moment because I didn’t want to repeat the last 12 or so minutes.
It’s these kinds of issues and puzzling design decisions that add unnecessary friction to a game with this style of action.
It took me about 13 hours to see the credits, skipping half a dozen or so collectibles. If you hunt for every sack of bucks or piece of knowledge, I guess it will take you an hour or so to finish. I’ve been appreciating shorter games more and more lately, but I doubt anyone with an interest in the Evil West will take it that way. However, Flying Wild Hog clearly wants you to replay every level.
You can easily restart missions from the menu, and the game clearly shows which collectibles you’ve missed so you can come back for them. My guess is that people fascinated by the game’s combat will opt for a New Game+ playthrough instead, or start a higher difficulty playthrough in a separate save slot.
If you manage to convince a friend to buy it, you can play the game together in co-op, but there’s no matchmaking or cross-play, so your only option is to involve a friend in an expensive purchase. It’s already hard to sell, especially when you find out that only the host is making progress.
However you feel about Evil West, the $50/$60 asking price is way too high for what’s on offer: the nature of the level design, the limited variety of enemies, and the unmemorable story will keep you from having fun even if you’re only there to fight. As interesting as it is, this action just doesn’t make up for Evil West’s shortcomings elsewhere.
Angry West comes out tomorrow, November 22nd.
Tested version: PC. The verification code is provided by the publisher. Also available on PS4, PS5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S.