I don’t experience nearly as much maniacal cackling when I imagine what the real world would be like if it were overrun by vampires, werewolves, and zombie-like shambling corpses as the one in Evil West does. This old-school action game was some of the most enjoyable monster killings I’ve done in a while, thanks to the electricity weapons that were inspired by Tesla and the gratuitous gore and bloodshed. Unfortunately, the game’s formulaic structure also makes it some of the most repetitive.
The roughly 12-hour linear campaign in Evil West is broken up into 16 distinct missions that follow the same structure. There is a distinct beginning and ending point for each level, and there are collectibles scattered throughout. The levels are interrupted by hordes of enemies that harass you until you get a dialogue break in the next cutscene. Although you are technically free to wander around levels in search of lore items or gold pouches, also known as “bucks,” which can be used to purchase upgrades, the main part of your adventure is going from fight to fight and eventually ending missions with a boss fight. Fortunately, the environments between each combat encounter are truly breathtaking, with picturesque backdrops ranging from the bizarre to the stunning enough to make even the glummest cowboy weep.
Except for a few unique situations, such as a bizarre mine cart section or the few times you walk around the base camp while being spoon-fed exposition, Evil West’s levels rarely change. The story puts you in control of Jesse Rentier, who works for The Rentier Institute, a group that Jesse’s father started to get rid of vampires and other evil creatures. Flying Wild Hogs, the developer, screamed their way out of the “Wild West, but Weird” concept. There are portals to hell, floating pyramids that look like the Illuminati, and demonic little girls whose voices make your skin crawl. There is never a dull moment in this story, which is peppered with entertaining expletives and truly distinct characters like the fiercely opinionated doctor Emilia Blackwell. My only wish for the narrative as a whole is that it is more sophisticated than Jesse simply pursuing some bad people for retribution.
New weapons, abilities, and upgrades that amusingly alter Jesse’s abilities will gradually become available to you as you progress through Evil West. To keep expanding your arsenal, you can, for instance, increase the number of shots your pistol can fire from a single magazine, add electrical damage to your rifle, and even incorporate new abilities like ground pounds and aerial combos. The level designs of Evil West, which are otherwise monotonous, are broken up by the constant expansion of combat. There are very few periods longer than twenty minutes in which you won’t either discover a brand-new tool for gloriously dismembering enemies, unlock a brand-new ability, or enhance an existing weapon with a new effect.
Notwithstanding that consistent development, the battle has a rushing stream that feels perfect moving. You can stun enemies as you zoom across the map, rack up a melee combo, uppercut them into the air, and then jump up to smash them back down into a pool of blood and guts. Or on the other hand, you can accuse your rifle of a powerful light emission that kicks back between foes before releasing your flamethrower to polish them off. Since nearly every piece of gear has its dedicated button and cooldown timer, there is no need to keep track of ammo or bullets, so it is simple to switch between the ridiculous arrays of weapons as needed. You can simply use something else while you wait for things to recharge.
The lack of variety in the enemies was the one aspect of the combat that did eventually become a little tiresome by the end of Evil West. Even the most aggressive hulking monstrosities wielding shields lack oomph after the first few fights, and slow-moving zombies with heavy wind-up swings never present a challenge. Even in the most chaotic battles, it can be hard to tell what’s going on because every enemy bleeds together (pun intended) and looks like the same shades of blood and mud. The fact that the notification arrow letting you know that someone is attacking is relatively subtle and easy to miss when you’re in the middle of things doesn’t help either.)
Evil West likes to copy-paste baddies that were once bosses into later levels as mini-bosses, which is especially noticeable when it comes to larger health sponge enemies. These enemies sometimes attack in groups at subsequent meetings, which is pure chaos and, admittedly, a true violence symphony. However, that horde of large health bars might wear me out after a while because each combat encounter is essentially a circular arena in which you dodge and strafe. Even with all of your creative options at your disposal, every battle feels like the same mushy puddle of goo due to the lack of a jump button and a variety in the layout of combat encounters.
That doesn’t mean that jumping around in that gross goo wasn’t fun; rather, this is just the kind of game you play when you don’t want to think about anything. It’s repetitive, predictable, and unoriginal in many ways, but I didn’t care because I was still having so much fun killing monsters. Even though the genre is completely different, Evil West and Shadow Warrior 3, Flying Wild Hog’s previous chaotic action game, share a lot of the same DNA in this regard. Both games emphasize the most important aspects to obscure numerous other areas that are lacking.
Evil West is a refreshing throwback to the past that executes the most crucial aspects of its traditional vampire-hunting gameplay. Although the combat is fluid and the weapon options are ridiculously entertaining, the lack of variety in the enemies and the overly similar layouts of the levels can become somewhat repetitive after a while. Although this is not the most innovative or complex action game I’ve played, there are times when you just want to have fun smashing in monster skulls.