This is Evil West, a refreshing return to the old school of action video games

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The little time I was able to spend with Flying Wild Hog’s Evil West felt almost like I was traveling back in time. A third-person linear action game? With hidden collectibles? No side quests? Checkpoints that don’t involve bonfires? Open areas that serve as combat arenas to pummel enemies before moving on to do it again? They don’t make them like that anymore, and a game like this makes me wish they did..

Set in an alternate 18th century, where the West is still wild, but also full of vampires, you play as Jesse Rentier, star agent and heir to the Rentier Institute, an organization of vampire hunters fueled by sci-fi technology and government spending. You’re the go-to resource for when there’s a need to do some dirty work. In the demo level I played, that job was to recover lost technology in a snowy mine.

The story and the characters are very simple, at least in this trial version. Even with some sort of partner to joke around with, Jesse seems very much like your typical tough guy who’d rather shoot a gun than talk.. Meanwhile, much of the setting is great at first glance. Nikola Tesla-inspired electropunk technology is flashy and overly designed in a way that attracts rather than repels. Unnatural technology is offset by the otherworldly brutality of many of the vampire’s designs.

Nikola Tesla-inspired electropunk technology is flashy and overly designed in a way that attracts rather than repels.

When the shooting starts, Jesse is more than ready., both with more mundane and traditional firearms, and with mechanical tricks that compensate for the difference in magical power between him and his enemies. The foundation of my offense came in the form of his gauntlet. You can smash for quick combo hits to the face, or hold down the attack button to launch an enemy into the air. Follow up with a diving punch, or quickly draw your pistol and fill them with holes before they drop. Making these decisions on the fly is a piece of cake because each weapon is on its own dedicated button or happens in its own specific scenario. For example, if I want to fire the gun, I press the fire button. If I want to hit longer range targets with the rifle, I shoot while aiming.

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The Rentier Institute also provides you with other gadgets. Your energy shield isn’t the kind that hides behind to soak up attacks for you, but if you time it correctly, any enemy that tries to touch you goes into high-voltage convulsions, leaving them exposed to heavy damage. The paralyzing rod can do the same thing, but to a whole series of enemies at once. Apart from being conspicuous, all tools seem to be tailor-made for specific situations, and none seem to be irrelevant or redundant compared to the others. I loved that the variety of actions did not step on itself.

There seems to be a lot of ways upgrade and customize your tools based on your preferred playstyle. You can add more functionality to your weapons, such as the possibility of having spent bullets returned to you by shooting at weak points of monsters. Or you can add more character-focused perks that give you new abilities or alter and extend the ones you already have. It’s a standard skill tree at first glance, but when you start to see these effects stack up, Jesse starts to become the kind of one-man army we’re introduced to.

Finally, the vampires here are not Bela Lugosi’s Draculas. Some are ferocious beasts without skin whose bodies shake on autopilot in search of your neck. Some are almost like hives of large, exploding, glowing insects marching to their deaths to secure yours. They are inventive and sometimes quite challenging creatures that definitely make me want to know more about what strange horrors lurk in the shadows of this alternate history America.

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Each encounter is crafted to create a specific type of challenge, making it feel more like a deliberate puzzle than a happy accident.

The linearity of the scenario I played was compensated for quite well with how many nooks and crannies there were to find consumable items, money or other collectibles. I wasn’t particularly drawn to searching every inch of the stage in this demo, but I can see that the most obsessive players have a lot of boxes to check off in a full version. Such a simple design might seem out of place in today’s classic games, but I really liked the focus on making the interactable elements vibrant and purposeful. No, I can’t “see the mountain in the background and climb it,” but each encounter feels crafted to create a specific type of challenge, making it feel more like a deliberate puzzle than a happy accident.

The little demo time I had with Evil West left me thirsty for more Old West vampire hunts. In a year where there are somehow three notable games set in a dark and haunted Wild West, Evil West remains unique not only among its setting counterparts, but among its contemporaries in the genre. The action is easy to pick up quickly, but reveals new layers of depth and strategy with each powerful new upgrade, strange tool, and fanged enemy.