Review By James Hilan
Developer Flying Wild Hog has had a busy year in 2022 with no less than three major releases in Shadow Warrior 3, Trek to Yomi, and now the Vampire-smashing Western romp Evil West. This ambitious little slugger goes where few games have gone before and comes out (mostly) victorious.
For the same reason I'm not a huge fan of Quentin Tarantino or Zak Snyder films (the latter's Dawn of the Dead remake excepted), whilst admiring their technicality, I generally find that this breed of frenetic action games have too much style and not enough substance. This is a personal thing, as Shadow Warrior for example owes a lot to purposefully over-the-top FPS games like Serious Sam (and has been warmly received by that crowd) – Trek to Yomi also gathered a fair bit of praise, but I just didn't feel the drive to finish it. Thus I am very pleased to report that the balance has been struck just about right here in Evil West, which at first reminded me a lot of Remnant: From The Ashes but soon morphs comfortably into its own skin for an addictive and satisfyingly involved gameplay/combat loop.
The perk/upgrade skill trees are stars of the show and certainly keep the action from going stale with a cool variety of attacks, firearm mods and other tricks to be found as you progress. This is a significant achievement really, because in so many similar games you either get too OP too quick, or just end up getting bored in fights after the novelty of each attack has worn off. Here, the perk and upgrade specifics/cooldown times etc are really well considered. For example, one perk gives a certain weapon 2x damage if you fire just before an enemy attacks; picking the right enemy to use it on and timing correctly can turn a losing battle around. This aspect of the game is so important that there are also several perk/upgrade Reset stations throughout the game which you may want to use if you've burned a few perk points or hard earned Bucks on options that don't suit your playstyle.
At the start of the game you're limited to melee combat, which was beginning to approach carpal tunnel territory… Thankfully it isn't too long before you find some guns and unlock parry/shield attacks (the latter being an energy shield with a tether-shot function), promoting full use of the gamepad in later battles without getting too confusing. The layout is pretty good, the movement & attack weighting is great – not as good as Elden Ring but it doesn’t feel lacking in any way, and I can't blame the game for any of my deaths thus far (which have been far less compared to the aforementioned, in case anyone is quaking at the mention of a FromSoft title).
Evil West is a short, sweet, and solid game, with few flaws. The story starts in a slightly awkward fashion before quickly gathering steam, however I would like to have seen them go harder on either the Western and/or Gothic themes in the storyline. The extra lore and regular enemies are a tad generic but this doesn't mar the experience too much. Optimisation and loading times are insane – probably one of the fastest games from startup to playtime that I have seen on the XSS, even beating some Xbox 360 titles. This is no mean feat; although it's not open world the maps here are quite large and detailed, with graphics that are perhaps not cutting edge for 2022 but still look fantastic to me. I've got to give Flying Wild Hog major props for releasing 3 unique titles this year, none of which could really be classed as cash cows, and all trying something new. I feel like their magnum opus is yet to come, as Elden Ring became unto FromSoft… in saying that, I personally had more FUN playing Evil West, but I've got to judge the thing fair and square.
The writing and dialogue isn't groundbreaking but certainly more than merely serviceable, and far better than I expected – usually in these types of manic action-packed shooter-smashers one almost feels obliged to skip the cutscenes, but I actually rate the story overall. Horror fans might be slightly disappointed Evil West doesn't go harder on the scares and "evil" atmosphere, but I kind of like the fact that it doesn't look and sound like you're in the bowels of hell 24/7. Plenty of other games are around to fit that bill at the moment… Western fans however should be well impressed with the attention to detail on all the old West buildings, environments and foliage. I think it's also fair to say that the environment artists have done a great job mixing these two main themes together.
There are some quirky and interesting side characters, like the awkward-yet-wisecracking engineer Vergil Olney. The voice acting for our gunslinging hero Jesse Rentier is great, but some of the other characters were a bit over the top. There is a cool neo Western vibe throughout that feels more akin to The Mandalorian & From Dusk Til Dawn than any classic old school Western.
Despite the title card complete with film grain and production year in Roman numerals, plus Jesse's obvious resemblance to the iconic Man With No Name, this is an adventure grounded more in the new. However the story and mission flow/variety will really appeal to those who still appreciate the magic of action RPGs and 3rd-person shooters from the mid-late 2000s.
Perhaps the developers could have included a bit more smashability on background objects ala Devil May Cry, but the absence of this does help to streamline the affair and keep you rolling along at a steady pace (and if you were collecting extra money all the time it would upset the balance of the Bucks & upgrade systems which are weighted well). Even little decisions like the fact that the loading screens, laden with background information, are not held up at 100% load with a 'Press any button to continue', but instead launch straight into the game at the aforementioned lightning speeds... this game really doesn't want you to lose interest, and I was always excited to jump back on for each day of my review period. There are so many games that just become a slog after a while and Flying Wild Hog has admirably succeeded in dodging this pitfall with Evil West.
There are documents, money caches and special crates (containing bonus perks and weapon/outfit skins) to collect, and that's pretty much it – these are pretty hard to miss so you are more or less constantly topping up your power fantasy endorphin levels as you roll along, a not-altogether-unpleasant change from having to scour some huge open world map for all kinds of completionist trinkets. In saying that I did miss a few of the documents along the way, and honestly wouldn't be adverse to a new playthrough on higher difficulty sometime in the future to grab them all (maybe not for a while but some games age well like that, and lord knows we get few enough Western OR Vampire games, let alone crossovers – the only one I can think of before this is 2005's Darkwatch: Curse Of The West). Regarding difficulty, it was also nice to see the devs note in the options that 'Normal' is the intended experience for the game. Multiplayer is sadly limited to campaign co-op but for those who dig that, it's there. I think there's potential for a cracking multiplayer aspect to the Evil West world if we're lucky enough to get a sequel.
Speedy gamers will knock this one over in about 10-12 hours, casuals maybe more like 15. There isn't much to do off the beaten track so replayability is limited, but I don't see this as a negative at all, as it fits the game perfectly.. it's more than worth the price of admission as-is, and in my view it's better to say goodnight early, than to overstay the welcome. As a random example Peter Jackson's King Kong, one of the greatest games for late era PS2, was only something like 4-6 hours from memory. Some games rightly deserve their mammoth runtimes, but some of us just don't have time to sink 50+ hours into every new game we play, and sadly there are many ways for development teams to milk a runtime these days just for the heck of it. Bravo again to Flying Wild Hog for going the other way. If you find yourself dreading each consignment to the unspeakable Gamer's Backlog, and enjoyed the likes of Remnant/God of War/Resident Evil 4/Oddworld Stranger's Wrath, then Evil West might be a satisfying choice for your next adventure.