Whenever I would pick up an old-school title, I get to see a lot of the dated game design sensibilities made use of during that time. For how looting and gathering resources for Monster Hunter was much more tedious and many focuses on preparation against the environments that you are sent into, or how platformer action games like Megaman X4 still operated on having extra lives to get through a stage, and another example would be waiting for a gauge to fill up before a character gets to take a turn, the last of which I saw from Final Fantasy 12. Now, not to say that they were bad design ideas, but game developers have innovated from these models to give us faster, smoother, and more seamless experiences with the games we play today. In essence, leaving out the skeevy monetization schemes that have come along with the new titles, it’s a bit hard to go back to the older ones. However, Focus Entertainment had other ideas.
Picking up Evil West, it didn’t take long for me to start enjoying the game, soon as I got through the motion sickness, at least. And the real surprise was it wasn’t trying anything new, in fact, it was doing a lot of old-school game design. And this is the part that I found surprising. I thought I’d be complaining about the title not incorporating newer and better design concepts to it. But maybe it didn’t need to. After taking one straight playthrough of the game, I walk away with a satisfied smile, because at the end of the day, I had a good time. And wasn’t that the point of games in the first place?
Evil West opens itself up to you with a disastrous train crash that your character, Jesse Rentier must go and investigate. While the train crash itself is already a horrible occurrence, are there possibly greater horrors waiting within? Strap on your gauntlets and load your bullets, it’s going to be a punchy ride.
PRODUCTION (4 / 5)
Getting the technical stuff out of the way first, I played this title on the PS5, and it performed reliably well. The framerate was constant but floated at around 30 fps which I know will hurt some players out there, it also had motion blur which I have difficulty understanding as to why it exists in games even today. However it still was visually appealing maybe the really loud orange and red colors during the first stage were a problem, but that’s more of a ‘me’ issue. Loading times are great, it only needs some setup when it starts the game, and after that, it only loads for a few seconds when jumping to other levels. Never crashed, walked through walls, or fell through the floor, generally a well-polished game.
Evil West’s aesthetic takes on what I would call a “Comic Book Movie.” Where the characters look realistic and grounded to the point that I might consider them to be movie actors, butt he way they dress up tends to look fit a certain role to a T. Some characters have their look quite exaggerated like Jesse Rentier and Edgar who might as well have an armory strapped to their backs. It actually makes me wonder how Jesse himself is able to move about without forming a crater with every step considering how many weapons he’s carrying. The way he moves about is actually pretty good, jokes aside. His main weapon, the gauntlet, feels like there’s some real weight because of how he punches and how the ticks he’s beating down respond to each of them. The finishers are also short, sweet, and glorious and do not overstay their welcome. Landing one doesn’t make you feel like you can put your controller down and do something else while it’s happening. Enemies in general also move and attack in a telling way so that you know what to do when they’re ready to take a swing at you, provided that you can see them.
One of the bigger gripes I have with Evil West is the field of view. It’s quite restricted and considering every encounter is contained I’m quite baffled as to why they decided to go with a heavily limited field of vision, especially since it has plans of descending upon your small armies of monsters in its latter half.
The settings you get to fight in do have variation, but hardly do more than that. There will be places that are generally, orange, green, yellow, or spiders. Spiders are now a color because the developers have chosen to paint levels with them from time to time. Going for a unique look for almost every new stage did show, even though some of them didn’t make a lot of sense, but hey, at least you’re not going to be left wondering if orange is the only color your monitor can produce.
What produced a lot of character, on the other hand, were the voice lines thrown in by the talents behind each character. The script, the writing, and the delivery conveyed that it was going for a classic story about the good guys taking on the bad guys, with a bit of a hard-boiled attitude for nearly every character in the game. Given that each of the characters pretty much fulfilled their roles as the tropes that they made themselves out to be, it might have done them a little better to be able to poke fun at themselves or each other a bit, but it looked like they didn’t want to make the stakes feel contrived. It tried to thread the line of being taken seriously while playing old-school roles unironically, I feel like there was a bit more space for creativity here, but at least they got the job done.
As for the music, to be honest, the only one I remember, and actually liked, was the main menu theme. I think it gave the correct feel of the characters, the setting, and most of all, the character you play, Jesse. But apart from that, I don’t remember much about the music. What I do remember though, are the many audio cues the game lets you hear to inform you of what’s going on around you. Perhaps this was their way of helping you fight with your limited field of vision, and it worked, the sound design also made using guns feel better, hits sound more convincing, and just generally made beating up vampires that much more satisfying.
MECHANICS (4 / 5)
The combat, which is what you’ll be doing for most of the game, is something between God Hand and Devil May Cry. Where while you do carry an arsenal of guns so massive you’d make the black market blush, your main guns are your biceps and your knuckles. You strike, side-step, and shoot through your enemies as you would in games that are sort of like Devil May Cry. In fact, they even have a similar concept for making launchers. Another thing that I wish they had in common would be a lock-on, though that might conflict with the shooting, I certainly hoped that there would be a better way of tracking an enemy on the field when you’re forced to run around, especially since how much of the area you see at any given time is quite limited.
Speaking of moves, there are several ways of punching and kicking through your enemies, each one with an intended purpose. Generally, you’ll want to figure out which way of kicking ass works for you the best, the game was trying to get me to do a bunch of launcher combos to handle enemies but I generally just wanted to take them all down one at a time. Now also part of that move set are weapons you can draw to shoot, slam, singe, shock, snipe, shred, or blow to smithereens. All of the weapons run on a cooldown, some fast, others slow, some very fast, but all the same, you’re more likely to rely on your fists rather than let these guns get you out of tighter situations.
On top of that, you can gain money (known as bucks) and experience, as you progress through the game, levelling up, gets you a perk that improves Jesse and his gauntlet, while the money is made use of in upgrading every other weapon you have. There are upgrades that are as boring as just some extra shots in your clip, but there are also interesting ones like a stick of dynamite turning into a tornado after it explodes. Generally, I’d say that some of the upgrades really made me look forward to gaining them to see how crazy the gameplay gets from there. One of them lets me gain a gauntlet charge if I’m killing a shocked enemy, which more or less turned every low-tier mob into walking battery charges for me. It was still challenging in certain sections despite having access to nearly infinite energy, which goes to show how well they tried to balance every upgrade and weapon against whatever Evil West had in store for you to challenge.
If I had a bit of a gripe with this progression system, it would be that there is a lack of reward for doing well or stylishly. It might have been nice if there was a way to earn bonus experience points or bucks, like doing takedowns without getting hit, or finishing an encounter within a time limit. Or earning bonus bucks for clearing a stage without dying, or anything like that.
Still, Evil West presents a great set of mechanics, despite almost all of it being dated. I was able to enjoy the fighting mechanics after I had a bit of time to settle into it.
CONTENT (3.5 / 5)
The story of this title isn’t really all that complicated. Save for maybe one detour the plot is plain and straightforward. You’re the best agent the country has to deal with vampires and other monsters out to threaten humanity in the west, and a pretty big threat just came along.
What you play through in effect, would be you going through area after area, getting led into a small arena where your task is to fight off all the baddies until they run out. Again, it’s not complicated. The linear level structure with minor branching points can lead to some loot, hidden upgrades, or just a detour to solve the current obstacle ahead of you. I almost said puzzle but honestly, there’s not much to figure out, because Evil West is a game about punching the problems away, not flipping switches or pushing carts. And I honestly appreciated that the minor puzzles serve more as breathing room between big fights so as not to make it too monotonous.
In fact, as I had just walloped the 300th zombie or vampire or werewolf or whatever in the game, I was wondering if all I was going to end up doing was going from room to room to fight enemies like in Hades, but not as quickly. And I was thinking that they suddenly threw in a wagon section where I just react to the prompts to not get killed. There were also some parts where it was like you were playing an alternate game mode for a part of a stage, which I enjoyed the variation with. It was clear that they didn’t really have any plans for your usual open-world shenanigans, or they’d give you more ways to travel rather than depending on chain markers all over the place. But even though the change-ups were gimmicks, they at least helped in keeping the gameplay somewhat fresh.
While they have created multiple settings for every stage, it doesn’t really change how you play through each of them. Maybe we can make them count for introducing new types of enemies to us, and there was one stage in particular that made traversal a bit trickier, but that’s about it. In the end, whether you be at a mountain, a mansion, a train yard or a graveyard, you’ll be playing the same way with the same rules. And it unfortunately feels like somewhat of a missed opportunity.
Enemies do enjoy a somewhat healthy variety among themselves, but in the end, you can see that Evil West is starting to run thin on ideas. When asked what’s worse than fighting a mini-boss, they answer “three mini-bosses.” Where one of them is the bees, and goodness do I hate the bees. Please, no more bees, Nicholas Cage was right. I beg you, not the bees. Jokes aside, the difficulty is quite legitimate, there will be points where you might find yourself stuck because a certain fight just seems too much to take on. But later you might just figure out that you simply weren’t taking advantage of whatever super weapons you had on cool down, it definitely has a lot more going on than it lets on, and engaging it with everything it has to offer does make you feel like the badass that Jesse Rentier presents himself to be.
FEATURES (3 / 5)
This title has a multiplayer feature, which I never got the opportunity of exploring. But I actually can’t imagine this game doing well as a multiplayer game when it’s clearly designed as a solo fighting experience. Though taking on the New Game+ does have a tempting ring to it, as you carry over all of your previous progress on upgrades and perks, and seeing all the bells and whistles come together sounds like a wild ride. I only wish that it would also feature a stage selection so you can directly search for upgrades that you may have missed before.
Evil West’s gameplay is upfront and direct as the protagonist presents himself. It’s easy to get into and learn and feels almost like an arcade beat-‘em-up with its visual and audio cues. I appreciate how it has translated itself to the PS5 rather smoothly, where it doesn’t really lack visual detail or flair.
This was a breath of fresh air as the game was only interested in making a game for you. A long time ago we’d clown on game designs that were adventures on rails, that wouldn’t allow us to deviate from the intended experience. However, in the age of open worlds, daily logins, and gacha mechanics, many new titles are more interested in trapping us in their infinite loop of gameplay while only rewarding us with repeat experiences, as if trapping us in an Infinite Tsukiyomi.
Evil West, on the other hand, has a definite experience without trying to mix anything in the middle to trick you into playing or buying more. It’s just interesting in being a good game, it feels like I’ve revisited some PS1 or PS2 titles, and given how polished it has presented itself, I’d have to say I had a good time and isn’t that the true purpose of a game?
If you enjoyed things like Devil May Cry or God Hand, this might be worth giving a try.
Evil West leaves a positive dent in my door, scoring a 3.6 / 5.
Available on PS4, PS5, XBOX 1/X/S, and PC.