El Paso, Elsewhere wears its various influences on its very long sleeves as a badge of honour. There’s a very specific comparison that could be easily made to describe the mechanics; however, I don’t want to make it because that feels like a disservice to the pure brilliance of El Paso, Elsewhere… even if that comparison is inevitable.
Releasing in such a busy part of the year for high-profile AAA releases, El Paso, Elsewhere is also a game that’s probably gone completely under everyone’s radar and, if people simply took a gander at its visuals, they might not pick it up – a criminal disservice in my opinion.
So what is it then? It’s an action-packed third-person shooter with a bullet-time dodge mechanic. It’s a love story too, but also plays like a cosmic horror game if a certain other video game protagonist went down a surreal, drug-induced elevator ride into the depths of hell. It’s completely brilliant and one of the best, narrative-driven action shooters I’ve played in years – not a statement I make lightly.
James Savage had a good thing going. He’d found love. It didn’t matter that he was a vampire hunter. Or that she was a vampire. It just worked. Until it all went wrong. Now she’s trying to get back something she lost and reality is taking the hit. So James has to head deep into the bowels of a seedy three-story motel – which has suddenly added on a couple dozen floors – to kill the only thing that made him feel special.
El Paso, Elsewhere is riddled with 90’s cool. The kind decked out in long, black trench coats and wielding dual pistols. The glorification of anti-heroes who are the last line of defense between you and what lurks in the dark beyond.
It’s also one of the most messed up break-ups in history because your ex wants to destroy the world and you’ve gotta put her down for it – all while dredging up some of that wholesome emotional baggage. Like I said, it’s a love story, and it’s going to end bloody.
James chronicles his downward spiral into cordite and blood with a wondrous internal monologue, putting the neo into noir as he brings us up to speed. All while measuring his own failings and involvement in the pending end of the world.
El Paso, Elsewhere’s writing is absurdly fantastic, taking up the cause from plenty of Noir movies and comics to tell its story in a distinctive, grizzled voice. Plenty of cut scenes between levels add gravitas to the situation, while James spins his own observations during gameplay, sometimes rapping along to the music while blowing holes in everything that moves.
The world-building is handled through James’ narration, coupled with delightfully wonderful radio ads, dramas, and podcasts scattered across the hellscape. Whether James is trading words with a cosmic entity toying with him, or choking up every time he comes face to face with his ex, the writing is far and away El Paso, Elsewhere’s most powerful weapon.
The writing is backed up by some phenomenal voice work from everyone involved. It’s full of nuance during emotional moments and is easily the best vocal performance I’ve heard this year. Not to be outdone by the cast is the game’s soundtrack, a collection of hip-hop and rock, a thing of beauty that I could play on repeat even without the stellar action needed to sell it.
And that action is wondrously fun and responsive, even if its mechanics aren’t complicated. You’ve got a bullet time ability which you can activate manually at any time, automatically whenever you dive in any direction, a dodge roll, a melee hit, and guns – lots of guns. Well ok, maybe not that many guns but certainly a lot of bullets. The arsenal is rather traditional and small but each weapon works a treat and combat feels meaty with each gun packing a suitable kick.
Level objectives are kept simple while successive levels grow in size and maze-like complexity. Your main objective in most levels is to rescue hostages and then make it to the exit; sometimes it’s just about killing everything to unlock the exit; and, occasionally, you’ll have to face off against a boss.
Enemy A.I. is incredibly simplistic, but that doesn’t make them any less dangerous. Once they know you’re around, they pretty much rush you, leading to some intense moments of dive rolling and precision aiming, while making sure you keep your surroundings in mind at all times. Headshots, it seems, are your best friend, and if they get too close, a good old stake to the body will do them in.
You can dive through windows, over ledges, through doorways, and backward – all in glorious slow motion while making sure every bullet counts. The game’s difficulty is proportional to the number of enemies being chucked at you, coupled with tight level design that favours narrow corridors, small rooms, and the occasional arena.
Bullet time will save your butt plenty of times, but it also needs to be recharged through killing. There’s some slight nuance to pay attention to, such as how much more of the bar depletes if you reload while using the ability.
All this stylish carnage is enhanced by a visual identity rooted in low poly, PS1 style design, both for the character models and environment. It suits the game to a tee. There’s a wonderful surrealism to the visuals and level design that only gets weirder the further down the elevator hole you go. Environments mash up into nightmarish designs as meat lockers, hotel rooms, and void space coexist, bathed garish, neon-suffused lighting. Some may want to pass on this simply because of how looks, but El Paso, Elsewhere’s style is surreally elegant.
El Paso, Elsewhere gives its own flavour to trusted game mechanics, turning a simple and stylish shooter into a delightfully weird, brilliantly written, and impeccably voiced piece of gaming heaven. This is something incredibly special you don’t want to miss out.
El Paso, Elsewhere was reviewed on Xbox Series S|X using a code provided to gameblur by the publisher. It is also available on PC and Xbox One.
El Paso, Elsewhere (Xbox Series) ReviewEl Paso, Elsewhere (Xbox Series) Review
- Brilliant writing
- Amazing voice acting
- Excellent gunplay
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Low-poly visuals may put some off