Evil West Preview
Ok, kids, grab your scorecard, because this is confusing. In the past year, we’ve seen the release of Weird West, an action strategy game about killing cowboys and monsters in the Old West. Released even more recently is Hard West 2, the sequel to Hard West, a — surprise!– action strategy game about killing cowboys and monsters in the Old West. The new kid about to ride into town is Evil West. What’s it about? Yup. Killing vampires in the Old West. It sounds derivative. The differences, however, are significant.
Shocking Shooting and Gameplay
Where Hard West and Weird West were turn-based, isometric strategy games, Evil West is a third-person action title through and through. There’s no pausing the gunfight to consider your next move. The action is frenetic and filled with highly mobile, vampiric monsters relentlessly attacking. Called Sanguisuge, they attack in groups, they’re tough to take down, and they have lots of ways of ruining your day. There are heavily armored enemies, fireball-throwing vampires, and lots of vampire foot soldiers happy to turn you into a pile of party confetti. The bosses aren’t joking around.
Of course, you have an arsenal of weapons. This being an alternative history of the West — there were no vampire hordes that I remember reading about — there are some fanciful guns to play with. These vampires don’t care about garlic. Stakes through the heart won’t cut it. Instead, you have an electrically charged gauntlet weapon that zaps the monsters with every strike. You have powerful, slow-loading shotguns and fast but weak six-shooters. If the preview is any indication, our hero is packing some serious firepower.
Earn enough gold or XP and you can mosey up to the tech tree, where you can upgrade weapons, skills, and passive abilities. It’s action RPG 101, but in Evil West it looks like upgrades are both manageable and impactful.
A Wild Ride
I got to play a mission set several levels into the game, in an old west mining camp filled with machinery, hidden tunnels, rollercoaster-like mine carts, and lots of bloodsuckers. The gameplay definitely had a loop of explore, solve an environmental puzzle or two, fight monsters, and progress. The game is very linear, but there are side paths and secret areas, usually hiding treasure. These aren’t hard to find. In fact, they’re indicated by glowing markers that essentially say “go here!” Players used to go anywhere, do anything games will either appreciate or balk at the old-school level design.
Solutions to environmental puzzles are a little less obvious. In one instance, I had to power up three circuit breakers. It was easy enough to follow the wires to the boxes. Then I had to shoot down a chain to climb up and reach one box, then pull a switch which opened a walkway to another. The level was mostly set dressing with one way to move through it. After the inevitable monster mash-up, I rode a speeding minecart to the next level, exploding crates of TNT along the way. These kinds of action sequences demand some pretty fast reflexes.
The vampire-hunting battles reminded me a bit of classic Serious Sam, with highly mobile vampires attacking from many directions and levels. Strategically placed crates of TNT helped clear small groups. I had a powerful electrical charge (on a cool-down timer, naturally) that stunned the monsters so I could get in some extra damage. Monsters glowed when they were open to a vicious melee strike.
Tales of the Old, Evil West
The one section I played only hinted at the larger narrative. You play as Jessie Rentier, the son of William Rentier, founder of the Rentier Institute. The Institute trains superhero-like vampire hunters. It seems the Sanguisuge have been unleashed in large numbers and it’s up to you and your cohorts to manage the vampire plague. In the mission I played, there was a nerdy NPC who helped guide me through the level. Voice acting was effective. Jessie had the gruff growl of an archetypal Western hero.
I appreciated Evil West both for what it was — a classic-style action game, with levels lovingly built and not procedurally generated — and for what it wasn’t. It isn’t a roguelike, or a Soulslike. There’s enough of those right now.
With Trek to Yomi and the Shadow Warrior reboot, developer Flying Wild Hog is on a tear as of late. If the small slice of the game I played is any indication of the final product, Evil West is a shooter to look forward to. It has fast action, an appropriately dusty atmosphere, and an engaging, ironic take on history. The West has been Hard, Weird and now, maybe best of all, it’s about to get Evil. There’s a new, vampire-slaying sheriff in town.