Evil West Review - Stuck in the "Good Old Days"

Evil West reminds me of the “simpler times” — when games could be unapologetically action-packed with linear gameplay, without cramming a giant open world or 100 hours of content. Sounds great, right? Well, if you like your action games from the PS3/Xbox 360 era, Evil West will be right up your alley. However, if you want storytelling with nuance and deeper gameplay mechanics that offer more replayability, look elsewhere.

Developer Flying Wild Hog’s latest has elements of its previous games like Shadow Warrior, but with the flavor of a B-movie camp fest. The gameplay feels heavier, and the writing doesn’t pretend to be deeper than it is, and sometimes that’s all you need from a game to have a fun time. What can ruin that fun time though, is the lack of polish in many areas of the game that mostly stem from weird and dated design decisions.

Evil West Story and Gameplay

Evil West takes place in an alternate history where a sect of vampires (the Sanguisuge) and steampunk-style mech-wielding cowboys exist, locked in battle with each other. You play as Jesse Rentier, a battle-hardened cowboy latest in his long line of monster hunters, who must exact revenge on a particularly nasty group of bloodsuckers for threatening his family mansion, and humanity.

The game is described as “blending gothic horror and spaghetti western” and on the surface achieves it well through its art. Where it fails though, is in adding nuance to this alternate history and as a result, I could never invest myself properly into its world. There are enough collectible exposition data points to paint out the world and its history, and enough sci-fi jargon thrown by characters to show it’s ‘different’, but I never felt that it was a believable world. Of course, you don’t have to get fully invested in its world to have fun head-shotting vampires, so how does the gameplay fare in comparison?

Evil West’s gameplay includes exploring the arena, shooting/punching different vampire types, and then moving on to the next arena until you reach a climactic boss fight at the end of the chapter. Along the way, you can take some small detours to find hidden collectibles, but don’t expect any big side missions or alternate pathways in its level design. And when I say “small” detours, that’s being generous. In combat, Jesse has access to a small but impactful subset of weapons — a revolver, a rifle, a gauntlet imbued with electric abilities, a flamethrower, and his fists. There are some other weapons here as well, but they all feel like derivatives of the ones I listed. All of them, save for your fists, work on a timer-based mechanic so you can’t just spam one OP weapon over and over. Shooting feels quite punchy, with some good sound work to support those heavy shots, and special abilities such as AoE attacks feel powerful enough. Failing any weapons, you can always rely on your fists to punch leechers and highborns into submission. Melee combat honestly feels like they took a few cues from God of War but didn’t balance the enemies to be as responsive to those attacks. You can perform executions to rip enemies apart like Kratos or Doomguy but it never quite comes together as well, partly due to certain visual decisions that I discuss in the section below.

There is an upgrade tree where you can spend either ability points or the in-game currency of “bucks” (real original) to upgrade your weapons and skills. In a game this linear, leveling up doesn’t offer many options. The new upgrades on weapons offer flashy effects and animations that get a little boring after a while

You can still look past all that if you get a kick out of beheading vampires, and the arcadey enemy waves offer plenty of time to revel in that. The extremely restrictive levels don’t offer too much in the way of exploration, so you have to treat the game the same way you treat a Call of Duty campaign — full of set pieces. Only here, in place of bombastic action sequences that constantly change up the formula, Evil West makes you run and hop through long corridors occasionally broken up by combat arenas.

Traversal is quite boring, offering no gameplay mechanics in a way for players to engage with when Jesse is running around good-looking areas. As campy as the game’s tone is, at least the voice acting is pretty good! While the game does take itself a little too seriously, the voice acting, and general scene direction can’t go wrong. Again though, the lack of polish in areas such as lip-syncing for Jesse and NPCs isn’t the prettiest thing in the world. With that said, the presentation is forgivable given the scale of the game. The story serves its purpose, and the characters are colorful enough with fun old-school dialogue that it can be enjoyed with a group of friends. Speaking of that, the game supports co-op which seems to work well, although I didn’t use it for the purposes of this review.

Evil West PC Graphics and Performance Review

Evil West has a particular look it’s going for that you’ll either vibe with or hate. The color grade is eye-searing, making everything blend together. The in-game assets have the all too familiar stock Unreal Engine look to them, reminding me of the FF7 remake. The hero light following Jesse looks like a more distracting version of Aloy’s hero light in Forbidden West on PS5. With that said, the game is trying with some unique ideas that should, when executed well, result in a fairly well-realized world. It’s just that the low-resolution textures don’t do that art direction justice.

Thankfully, Evil West performs extremely well on PC. I played the game on a system with an AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, Nvidia Geforce RTX 2060 Super, and 32GB of RAM. At 1080p, frame rates were soaring sky-high in nearly every instance, in the range of 100fps. I didn’t even need to use the included DLSS and FSR upscaling options for extra performance. Instead, the game offers an in-game render resolution slider, which I set to 120% to get a cleaner image. Even then, I was running the game around a comfortable 80fps range. You can render the game at a higher resolution and then use the in-game frame limiter too! However, this also means that there is little to no room for scalability in visual features, and even at the highest settings, the game’s visuals fail to reach the heights set by its art direction.

Of course, all this is with one caveat — as seen in many recent Unreal Engine PC ports, this game too suffers from minor stuttering the first time you load the game. It’s nothing too egregious as we’ve seen in recent examples, but it’s certainly noticeable, especially when playing with a keyboard and mouse. There are some weird bugs in there that should be fixed up soon, such as the “Fullscreen” and “Windowed Fullscreen” options working the opposite way.

The only time I saw any serious frame drops were in areas with high volumetric effects, such as the fog-laden Chapter 7. Even then, at 1080p gameplay remained smooth, only dropping when I was rendering above it. In many ways, the game reminds me of Don’t Nod’s Vampyr, another AA title made on UE4 **(**also published by Focus Home), with a semi-open world, cool concept utilizing gothic themes, and punchy but not as polished combat. Only there, the game is a touch cheaper on Steam at Rs 1,599 (Rs. 2,499 on PS4) so it’s easier to recommend to skeptical gamers.

Verdict

Evil West is the spaghetti western revival of the 7th generation of console games, but its dated design and lackluster narrative probably won’t satisfy any new players. If the gameplay still looks fun enough to you, I suggest waiting for a discount for this guilty-pleasure romp.

Evil West is now available on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S|X. The base game retails for Rs. 1,999 on PC and Rs. 3,499 on PlayStation and Xbox.

REVIEW COPY PROVIDED BY FOCUS ENTERTAINMENT.

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