Developer: Flying Wild Hog
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Genre: Third-Person Action
Reviewed On: PlayStation 5
Also Available For: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PC
It’s tough being a fan of westerns, dear reader. It’s not even that it’s a dying genre – it’s a genre that died decades ago, and all the examples made since have been less last gasps and more necromantic conjurations. Perhaps it is appropriate, then, that so many contemporary westerns incorporate supernatural elements, to the point that “Weird West” is its own increasingly well-recognized genre. Either way, the relative scarcity means that actually good examples of the genre are even rarer, and unfortunately Evil West does not fall into this category.
Developed by Flying Wild Hog, best known for their work on the 2013 reboot of the Shadow Warrior series and its subsequent sequels, Evil West puts players in the spur-heeled shoes of a vampire-hunting cowboy punching and gunslinging his way through arenas full of monsters. Despite the racial baggage of Shadow Warrior, even comparatively mitigated as it is in the reboot, I quite enjoyed the 2013 title for the way it merged guns with magical abilities and fast-paced melee combat. As a result, I expected something similar out of Evil West, and was more optimistic about it than my general baseline hopefulness regarding westerns provides, but the combat is not nearly so smooth or satisfying in this most recent title.
The biggest impediment to Evil West’s flow is that it is a third-person brawler in which melee combos are not particularly viable. Enemies are far too hard to stun out of attacking you, too numerous to be able to take advantage of when you *do* start to combo one, and hit so hard even on normal difficulty that being anything less than tremendously cautious is basically suicide. Enemies are also massive damage sponges even on normal difficulty, which draws fights out to truly obnoxious lengths as you gradually whittle the crowds down. The player’s arsenal of tricks and available skills gradually expands as the game progresses, but it takes entirely too long to start getting upgrades that are genuinely useful, and even those don’t tend to be powerful or significant in any meaningful way. The amount by which the protagonist’s power grows over the course of the game is minuscule, in the range of fifteen to twenty percent, and does not at all match the degree to which combat encounters are intensified.
To top it off, there are certain skills in the player’s upgrade tree which just… don’t work? At least not reliably. One unlockable ability, for example, is an area of effect ground pound which can be upgraded such that additional activations of it turn into a combo chain of increasingly powerful slams. However, I was very rarely able to actually get the combo to trigger – successive activations would usually just result in repeating the first move until my energy was depleted. Another ability allows the player to dodge attacks mid-combo without interrupting their place in the attack chain, picking up where they left off afterward. This sounds like it would be immensely helpful, given some of my other gripes about the game’s combat… except that it doesn’t actually do that. Dodging mid-combo and attempting to resume always just put me right back at the start of the melee attack sequence, making it a completely useless perk in an already unfortunate combat system. It certainly doesn’t help that enemy attacks generally require multiple dodges to fully evade or that even blocking won’t interrupt them, such that you need to block multiple times to not take damage from one flurry.
At the very least, the game provides regular opportunities to reset upgrades, so you can’t COMPLETELY screw yourself over by choosing useless and/or broken upgrades, but even so… c’mon. There shouldn’t be upgrades that just don’t work at all.
Despite these issues, Evil West’s gameplay is tolerable – but the other aspects of the game do not make up for it enough to be worth slogging through. The game’s design language is cluttered and unimaginative, with uninspired monster designs that lack the visual clarity needed to easily tell what it is you’re even looking at. Several levels have color palettes and lighting schemes which exacerbate this issue, and while it never gets bad enough that you straight up can’t pick enemies out from the environment, most of the visuals just blur together. The writing, meanwhile, genuinely might be some of the worst I’ve seen in a video game this side of 2010 – full of nonsensical, illogical plot beats and obnoxious dialogue from completely two-dimensional characters. Things never cross the line into being offensively bad, whether by especially abysmal quality or rancid content of what is said and done, it’s just… not good in a way I thought the games industry had more-or-less moved past in recent years. Though a strong story is not a necessity for a game to be good or even entertaining, it is my preference, particularly if the gameplay is flawed.
I worry I come across as overly harsh or even acerbic in this review, dear reader, because I didn’t totally hate my time with Evil West. Despite the game’s numerous flaws, there is enough value here to put it just below average – but, I suppose in the end it doesn’t really matter because one way or another I’m not recommending this one. There are far better titles to spend your time and money on, even if the majority of them are unfortunately not westerns.
Weird West was a struggle to play through thanks to annoying gameplay decisions and a story that would feel more at home in a game from the early 2000s.