Evil West is a ton of blisteringly-paced, old-school fun – though it will just as often remind you of the worst parts of linear action games released during the 6th console generation. There’s a definite charm factor in returning to simpler times – an era in which developers were content to take you on an 8-10 hour, high-intensity, rollercoaster ride of set-pieces and arena battles – utterly devoid of filler content to pad out the experience or facilitate grindy progression mechanics. Of course, I say that as an older and increasingly nostalgic gamer – so others might find the dated elements more detrimental to the overall experience.
An intriguing setting with an awful cast
Despite an opening sequence that immediately establishes the cast as a mix of wise-cracking heroic cliches and moustache-twirling villains, the world is an interesting one that takes a little inspiration from the iconic World of Darkness IP. Evil West is set in a steampunk version of the late 1800s, with humanity on the cusp of harnessing electricity, while America’s westward expansion is threatening the natural order of mythical monsters – think trolls, werewolves, and secretive vampire society. As humanity’s population grows and technology advances, these supernatural creatures are pushed into a desperate alliance as they find themselves shifting from predator to prey. A recently-elevated vampire lord and his sired “daughter” – both shunned by a council of vampire elders unwilling to deviate from traditions – seek open war against humanity and are pursuing experiments to control “the change”, the process by which other creatures become vampires, to build an army.
Opposing them is the Rentier Institute, a government-funded organization fielding technologically-advanced monster-hunting agents that wage a secret war to defend America from creatures most of humanity assume are myths. The protagonist Jesse Rentier, son of the current commander, finds himself and a few surviving companions on the run – desperately fighting back after the vampires strike a devastating first blow. What follows is a decently lengthy adventure that has Jesse saving other agents, upgrading his gear, and discovering the source of a new vampiric mutagen used to create an impressive roster of distinctly gruesome foes. It’s not particularly well-told, but Evil West uses frequent and stylish cinematics that both entertain and highlight the truly godawful dialogue. I’m usually forgiving of voice work in pulpy action games, especially if it adds to the experience, but you need to go in forewarned. Some lines would’ve felt too forced or edgy for the mid to late-2000s, and I’m amazed they weren’t vetoed in 2022. The upside is most lines are so stupid they lose their ability to offend and, honestly, there were moments in Evil West that made Outriders’ script feel highbrow in comparison.
Punch, punch, bang, bang
Speaking of Outriders, it’s the game Evil West immediately had me thinking back to – an older style of video game wrapped in a modern skin. That said, it’s no traditional third-person shooter, despite the weirdly misleading marketing. Instead, it’s a fast, reactive, and increasingly technical action game that has you shift smoothly between melee, firearm, and gadget attacks; make use of environmental kills; dodge or counter screen-filling boss attacks; and pull off finishers and special moves to ensure a steady flow of health and energy orbs. If anything, the gameplay feels closer to that of melee-focussed action games like Devil May Cry, God of War, and Darksiders.
Sure, you stomp about in third-person, looking for all the world like a Gears of War protagonist, and you can use a variety of ranged weapons to hit weak spots and conveniently-misplaced explosives. However, your firearms serve as supporting tools – used to trigger distant switches, burn away obstacles, thin out lesser minions, and interrupt powerful attacks from afar. Even the way they work feels designed to support the fluid melee combat.
Yes, the left trigger will draw and aim with one of several specialized weapons, and you fire it with the right trigger like a traditional third-person shooter – but the basic pistol is a quick pull of the right trigger, while both the shotgun and electrifying crucifix are mapped to face buttons – alongside your evasion and quick-heal functions. There’s no ammunition limit – just reload and cooldown times to consider – so it’s a perfect setup for reflexive actions, allowing you to pull off a snap-shot at a distant enemy when prompted, or stun a charging enemy mid-stride and break out your gauntlet.
I guess, in theory, you could whittle away most enemies with your firearms but if you’re looking to do any real damage, and do it with flair, you need to use your fists and electrified Rentier Institute gauntlet. You can combo together your basic strikes; uppercut and cannonball enemies into hazards or each other; use an electric grapple to dash forward or drag an enemy towards you, leaving it stunned for a flurry of blows. You can power-slam the ground to make room: snap-shoot or smash down enemies you’ve launched into the air; and overcharge your gauntlet to tear around for a few seconds piling on damage. By the finale, you’ll have a ton of tools at your disposal and doling out vampiric beatdowns always looks spectacular.
Thankfully, Evil West eases you in and the combat system is deceptively basic at first – with only a few melee strikes, the six-shooter pistol, the ability to dash and roll, and limited enemy variety. However, you’ll constantly gain new gear as the story dictates, experience points towards Jesse’s character level, and find bags or chests of cash. Each new level grants a perk point you can put into upgrades for your fists and gauntlet, while cash is spent on firearm upgrades – all of which are level-gated to keep combat encounters balanced.
These upgrades feel essential – offering a mix of new combat skills, modifications to existing moves, and bullet behaviour – as Evil West follows the classic approach to ramping up the challenge by introducing mini-boss variants that later become common foes. Eventually, you’ll encounter them together accompanied by a ton of lesser minions for even tougher battles. Of course, there are also plenty of named bosses with unique attack patterns, weak spots, and supporting minions to defeat too. There’s not enough XP or cash to upgrade everything on one run – incentivising a new game plus run – but during the campaign, you can respec anytime you return to your base between missions, allowing for experimentation.
The best and worst of “old-school” design
Now while the combat system is unexpectedly technical and satisfying, everything else in Evil West feels a little dated – for better and worse. The most obvious contrast to modern games is the restrictively linear environments, with abundant invisible walls and light puzzles that force you to circumvent obstacles a child could climb over. Levels channel you from combat arena to combat arena, which keeps the pacing brisk but also feels formulaic as it never evolves. Side paths always lead to documents, cash, or – rarely – optional battles that reward a larger chest with a bonus perk or cosmetic item.
It’s not a structure that usually bothers me much but Evil West is also inconsistent about backtracking. If you’re a compulsive collectable hunter, Evil West will test your patience and force you to replay levels as you often automatically transition between areas just by getting close, and there’s no rhyme nor reason why you can hop back over or clamber under some obstacles but not others. It’s also worth noting the online coop, which is a great addition, has a somewhat dated structure. The second player – a clone of Jesse – can drop into a game to assist the host, with the difficulty and enemy mix adapting for two players, but progress is only saved for the host.
Corridors with a view
The visual impact goes hand-in-hand with the level design as, while many locations look great and convey an impressive sense of scale, you’ll be observing them from the narrow path you’re allowed to travel. I’d say Evil West falls somewhere between a mid-tier and big-budget when it comes to the presentation and it’s straddling generations.
Realism is not the intent, so environments and character models feel oversized, angular, and stylised. Most enemies have a distinctive profile – essential for chaotic battles – and attacks generate abundant gore and particle effects. Despite the western setting, you’ll see a good mix of environments beyond the desert towns and canyons of the opening stages – think spider-infested caves, leech-filled forests, snowy research outposts, overrun human settlements, moonlit swamps, and vampiric temples – often after dusk and always bathed in an abundance of gore and literal pools of blood. Gunfire and melee impacts sound fantastically meaty and moments of exploration feature a creepy ambience and a soundtrack that’s atmospheric but never dominating.
On next-gen consoles, you’re getting sharper visuals, 60fps gameplay – albeit not for the Series S – and load screens so fast I could never get through the mission briefing text. My only issues are the aggressive motion blur you can’t disable on console (which made taking screenshots a pain in the arse) and aggressive occlusion culling that leads to flickering surfaces when moving around indoors.
Bloody good fun!
Wrapping up, who is Evil West for? Based on the marketing, I expected a fun but dumb third-person shooter for those who miss the Xbox 360/PS3 era. Instead, I got a surprisingly technical and slick action game, with some smartly incorporated third-person shooting, aall saddled with dated level design and storytelling reliant on frequent cutscenes. So long as you’ve not been converted to make-the-numbers-go-higher busywork in many modern games, Evil West also offers up plenty of content for the price, with multiple difficulty levels, a new game plus mode, and the aforementioned online coop.
If you are a third-person shooter fan, yearning for games like Gears of War or the more recent Outriders, Evil West is still worth a look but it’s no cover-shooter and has a strong focus on mixing attack styles. If, however, you’re a fan of technical, melee-centric, and combo-heavy action games – think Devil May Cry or God of War – then ignore the marketing and put Evil West on your radar.
A review code for Evil West was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Evil West (Xbox Series) ReviewEvil West (Xbox Series) Review
Gameplay8/10 Very Good
Visuals8/10 Very Good
- Intriguing premise and stylish cutscenes
- Unexpectedly technical combat that blends melee, firearms, and gadget attacks
- Extensive upgrade and perk systems
- Gorgeous, gruesome, and gory visuals with a solid soundtrack
- Linear levels that never evolve beyond a succession of combat arenas
- Most of the dialogue is beyond awful
- Subtract a point from the score if you have no nostalgic hook