Evil West is a “rooty tooty point & shooty” third-person shooter from Focus Entertainment that involves gun slinging cowboys and a hefty array of bloodthirsty vampires to be slain on a quest to eradicate them from a currently inhabitable Wild West. Players will rely on their arsenal of ravaging weaponry, and abilities to save the likes of humankind, plus a close friend that can share the journey in a two-player co-op experience.
Play as Jesse Rentier, the son of William Rentier, who is the current director of the Rentier’s Institute, an undercover vampire hunting agency that has been operating since the turn of the 18th Century. Jesse is a gunslinging cowboy that is out hunting vampires that threaten the lands, often alongside Edgar Gravenor, a trusty partner that always has Jesse’s back. There is a storyline to Evil West, however it is all over the shop, not at all meaningful and just felt like a glue to hold each mission together.
Evil West begins with a tutorial level that teaches the basic elements of movement and gunplay, which must be complete before jumping into a cooperative match. It is quickly presented that Evil West remains quite linear for much of the experience, with some small opportunities to explore for the in-game currency, Bucks, and collectibles. Players begin their journey with melee abilities only, which remain a key factor in defeating enemies even late into the game, and shortly thereafter they come across the first gun pickup, the revolver.
Missions play out like most linear shooters these days, that is to progress to a point where several enemies need to be downed to progress any further. There is a nice variation of enemies at play, with some weaker foes that come about in higher numbers, to larger foes with an ungodly health bar with an equally as impressive damage output. The situation can get sticky when Jesse must face a wave of different enemies in one fight, but Evil West has blessed players with an arsenal of attacking options to get the job done. This includes five weapons, from the trusty revolver to a crossbow that can be used from afar, as well as an enormous, electrically charged gauntlet that Jesse wears around his off hand. Missions often end in a tough battle against a far superior foe, which can then show up during later engagements just to keep players on their toes. A number of these present players with a boss battle, a massive on-screen boss with massive health bar that is taken down as you complete each wave, damaging the boss in the process. These bosses vary in type and in the mechanics of battle surrounding them, and it is definitely where co-op play shines brightest.
The control scheme is an interesting one, as it takes the full arsenal of what’s on offer in a reactive nature to take down enemies in battle. The variety of enemies will have the player using long range, short range and melee weapons all within a short period of time. The difference between this and many other games as there is no need for a reload button as guns regenerate ammunition over time. This sees the players trusty reload button (most commonly at ‘X’) turned into a short-range special weapon attack and the player will regularly misfire this. The other quirk to the control scheme is when firing the standard weapons on offer. The pistol is the first and sees no ADS ability and has the player firing with RT, if the player does aim down sights, they then use the rifle when unlocked. You can only hip fire the pistol, and cannot hip fire the rifle. It is a logical approach to make the best use of the buttons on offer, but it can bring some initial confusion if the player is not aware. The player then has their main attack option in melee with RB, which can be held for a heavy attack. Further to that are special attacks and weapons tied to the D-Pad and the Y and X buttons. The B button then offers a healing option that recharges over time.
Throughout a playthrough, players earn experience and Bucks, as well as picking up some Bucks through exploration. Leveling up rewards players an ability point which can be used to upgrade Jesse’s abilities, which can vary from increasing damage output, or by fabricating health or energy drops from fallen foes, alongside being able to increase Jesse’s health and energy levels. It works as a skill tree, unlocking later abilities by first spending points on the earlier stages, so players can create a build that suits their style of gameplay. Bucks can be spent on weapon upgrades which can be expensive, so a little extra exploration for those Bucks can make a whole lot of difference.
As stated previously, this game can and has been played in online co-op mode for this review and will not be to the liking of all. A player’s progression of any sort does not carry between games and the co-op partner becomes more of a clone of the lead player’s character and no progression is gained or carried over when joining someone else’s game. The purpose of the online player 2 really is that of a companion. They help their player one complete levels, act as a distraction and pick them up when they are downed, something that will be useful through higher difficultly completions. It does make exploration a bit more difficult also as there are sections of traversal that cannot be completed unless both players are there, removing the ability for player one to push through the level, and player two undertaking that exploration for the extra Bucks throughout. It also doesn’t fair well for the achievement hunters as no player two progress means no achievements for player two. Even with its downfalls though, co-op is still some fun with a buddy as the difficulty and amount of enemies’ scale to the number of players in the party and there is nothing like ripping a few enemies to shreds together. The lack of player and story progression, and no achievements makes it hard to find a reason to play co-op unless your player 1 is stuck on a mission or difficulty. If only there was some compensation for joining in with a friend, even an achievement for doing it.
While Evil West runs very smoothly, I did fall victim to my fair share of glitches, only one of them being considered as game breaking and I cannot help but think the reason for its smoothness is because of its less than impressive graphics. While playing with XBGD Matt, we were constantly noticing moments that felt like it came from an Xbox 360 era title. Walking through pools of water but no ripple, awkward facial expressions in cutscenes and at one point there was a glass wall that looked not too dissimilar from the blocks seen in Minecraft. The lighting is also awful. The dark areas are far too dark, while the areas lit by flames felt like I was gazing directly into the sun. Enemies do come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and they do look the part, so enemy engagements are still incredibly fun.
Evil West does sound particularly good. I played with headphones and the gunfights were loud and exciting, with explosions sounding brutal and the final splatter as an enemy is blown or torn apart is very immersive to say the least. There is little to no soundtrack, so a lot of the sound is taken up by its gameplay and characters, in which the voice-acting gets a pass. Nothing too special, but it fits the theme well.
On the family friendly side of this, it’s definitely not a game I recommend playing with the kids. The brutality of the killing, and the foul language that you would expect from a Wild West demon hunter is all here and on display, and it is one to wait for the kids to head off to bed before you jump into the slaying. The graphics make it more stylized than any real representation, but the violence factor as heads are blown off and torso’s ripped apart are not recommended for the younger generations.
Brandon Waite & Matt (Xbox Gamer Dad)