Need for speed
What is it? A character action game set in the vampire-infested wild west.
Expect to pay $50/£43
Developer Flying wild boar
Publisher Focus entertainment
Judged by RTX 2070, i7-10750H, 16GB RAM
multiplayer? 2 player co-op
Clutch Official site (opens in new tab)
Jesse Rentier is a no-nonsense action man; a stubble piece of beef that sees every situation in black and white. He’s the type to constantly remind you that he’s not cut out for pencil-pushing desk work, as if you couldn’t tell from the look of him that he’d struggle to even hold a pencil without breaking it in half. In other words, he is neither sophisticated nor resourceful, but he is solid, focused and capable of great violence. A description that also applies to Evil West.
In a vicarious late 19th century America, Jesse is top field agent at the family-owned Rentier Institute, an organization created to fight a vampire plague that has been nibbling cowboys since the founding fathers. Given the sun-fearing nature of his enemies, noontime gunfights are off the table here, so Jesse goes on expeditions to hunt down and smash the bloodsuckers, along with their pet werewolves and other abominations they’ve created. There’s more to the story than that, of course, explained in cutscenes between the game’s sixteen missions, but your main concern is always to take down the undead.
Indeed, Evil West takes a “get on with it” approach throughout. The main path that connects the game’s battle arenas is marked with a glowing silver chain to keep you oriented as you indulge in very light exploration, diving into semi-hidden side passages to snag small treasures. A few levels take on an adventurous touch with more open, branching and looping sections, and sometimes you’ll need to find a lever before moving on, or push a minecart, or loosen a landscape with your gun, but very little that qualifies as a puzzle . In some ways that’s a blessing, as Evil West is less bloated than, say, God of War, but it also feels rather short on aspiration.
This conservatism also taints Flying Wild Hog’s vision of the west, which is strangely colorless save for some striking landscapes, not to mention old-fashioned. For example, the saloon bar that serves as the cover for the institution’s base is filled with stock image (white) cowboys and courtesans, while “Indians” only casually refer to their mystical legends. Coupled with Jesse’s aversion to intellectual expertise, jokes like “Welcome to America” when he sends an enemy, and a government official representing state corruption, there’s a somewhat politically regressive tinge to the proceedings. Nor does the dialogue add nuance, as characters growl at each other in sentences full of spine-chilling expletives. The aim is to evoke the atmosphere of ’80s macho action movies, but it’s a clumsy homage.
Attack and battery
Fortunately, Evil West is much more comfortable on the battlefield. The monsters are monstrous and Jesse has a wealth of tricks up his sleeve, or at least a metal gauntlet that adds extra power to his punches. Regular blows can knock even some of the biggest beasts out of line, while a charged uppercut launches smaller ones into the air, where you can follow up with a ‘cannonball’ hit that sends the victim flying into his mates or a conveniently placed stack of TNT crates. At the same time, however, Jesse is also a true gunfighter, and the game does a great job between gunfights and brawls, often within the same encounter. Some enemies have weaknesses that are only revealed when they launch an attack, and if you’re quick you can punish them before they make their move.
But punching and shooting will only get you so far, and during his excursions, Jesse builds up an arsenal that can equip an entire team of Marines. An electrical charge attached to the gauntlet allows you to electrocute an enemy with a magnetic pull that draws them towards you or vice versa, allowing you to snatch a member of the undead from a pack and deliver a beating before the rest arrives, or use ranged enemies as grab points to zip away from danger. Soon you’ll have a shotgun, the first of a series of weapons and devices that work on a cooldown timer and help with crowd control. In the end, you have so many options that it’s hard to remember them all as you constantly dodge and parry.
The complexity should become second nature, though, as Evil West pushes you to give it your all to survive. The vampires and their mates, some of which are imposing in size, charge at you and pelt you from all sides, so you’ll need to keep moving, stun them with electric current and keep an itchy trigger finger. Then, as more powerful creatures appear and the scale of the battle escalates, you surrender to a fight of one-upmanship, conjuring up the big guns in an accelerated arms race until one side runs out of juice. You can’t help but smile when you’re running low on health at the end of a rumble, but know that you’ve kept your supercharged last resort in reserve to electrocute that last stubborn vamp to bits.
Sometimes it’s surprising how much Evil West throws at you, and because of the numbers there are frustrations. In general, you tend to get a sense of when off-screen enemies are charging in from behind, but there are times when you’re blinded by an unreasonable confluence of attacks, or when you can’t get a clear shot at an weak spot because there is too much traffic in the way. While the performance is far from sloppy, explosions and particle effects can sporadically sabotage the framerate, while rare glitches can leave Jesse stuck in the floor beyond recovery, or a monster left floating in the air.
Small niggles aside, though, Evil West’s combat remains a robust, gory delight, almost brilliant at times, for much of the game. It’s not until the last third that it starts to fade, as the vampires run out of new creatures to throw at you, instead repeating combinations of familiar ugly faces ad nauseam. With the final showdown approaching, you may wish you could get to it even faster. At least Jesse will have learned a thing or two by then. Perhaps if there’s a sequel, he’ll combine his skill at vampire hunting with a desire for a richer, more advanced world.