I’ve been excited about developer Flying Wild Hog’s Evil West since its reveal at The Game Awards in 2020. So much about it immediately captured my attention. Despite Red Dead Redemption’s best efforts, I’ve always felt there’s a shortage of wild wests in video games, although some games use a western’s formula to tell a story set elsewhere. Evil West’s premise also feels reminiscent of something you’d see in the PlayStation 2 era: cowboys who protect mere mortals from the secret horrors of the world, such as vampires and other creatures. My mind can’t help but see Darkwatch, a game I played repeatedly as a child, when I see Evil West.
Even more generally, that era was great for third-person action westerns – Gun, Red Dead Revolver, the aforementioned Darkwatch, and Call of Juarez (although Techland released this during the next generation, its 2006 release year is close enough to the PS2 that it feels at home here). All of this is to say that playing Evil West makes me feel like a child again in the best way.
Beyond its setting, which had me waxing nostalgic even before its release, almost every aspect of Evil West presents itself how I remember PS2 games doing when I was ten or so years old in the early 2000s. It begins with a cinematic that sets up Jesse Rentier, the son of the leader of the Rentier Institute, an arm of the government that works specifically against the forces of evil hidden in plain sight. Jesse is a gunslinger with an electricity-imbued weapon on one arm, wolverine claws on the other, and three guns in tow, like his father before and his grandfather, too. He has a working partner – what good cowboy goes it alone in the wild west? – and over-the-top garb that matches his caricature-like physique, and of course, the persona every leading cowboy in basically any western game has, too.
In Evil West the Sanguines, an underground council of vampires, are seemingly being split apart by a young, anger-filled daughter who, like her father, believes it’s time for her kind to stop hiding in the shadows, and it’s up to Jesse to stop her. The story is fine so far. I’d be content if that’s all the story the game gave me. It gets the job done, and it, perhaps accidentally so, harkens back to the Darkwatches of the world. Sometimes a simple reason to kill countless vampires and enemy creatures is all I need. I certainly don’t need every game to feature a story that raises the hairs on my arms or moves me to tears. And in Evil West’s case, I’m okay to follow Jesse to the farthest reaches of this strange frontier to stop evil.
The gameplay speaks directly to my PS2 nostalgia, as well, although I’d be remiss not to mention that this is one of the first games I’ve played that wears its God of War (2018) inspiration fully on its sleeve. Combat plays out nearly the same from the close-up, over-the-shoulder, third-person camera keeping the action in your face, to the finishers that unlock when the enemy is glowing orange, to the over-the-top guts and gore that splatter with each enemy kill. Even traversing this wild west feels like a walk through one of God of War’s nine realms. You use a rope mechanic to reach new places, destroy chests by punching through their top, and stumble upon combat arena after combat arena in between more explorative sections.
In those combat arenas is where the game reminds me most of my PS2 days. Remember how, likely due to hardware limitations, levels were a linear mix of “explore to find a chest or two while you get some additional story” and “time to fight waves of enemies until an indeterminable, seemingly random amount of time has passed?” I do, and while writing it out doesn’t sound so flattering, it’s somewhat refreshing – although that could just be my nostalgia talking. Evil West wants you to focus exclusively on combat when it’s time to kill and when it’s not, it wants you to go find that random chest with gold in it.
Even the presentation of Evil West feels nostalgic, from its 2000s-esque fonts to how it showcases collectible lore bits and more. And the visual style wraps all of this up with a nice bow on top.
I suppose comparing Evil West to the PS2 games of my childhood could be perceived negatively, but I am thoroughly enjoying my time with it thus far. It knows what it is and is reveling in that by putting its bombastic combat up front, its story behind that, and its lovingly tropey characters somewhere in the middle. Evil West is, like countless PS2-era games I still look back on fondly, a game I will mostly forget about shortly after I roll through its credits. But perhaps every now and then, 5, 10, 15 years from now, I’ll think about it and the fun I had for a short few days. Not every game needs to stick with me long after I finish it, and sometimes it’s okay for games to feel like those of yesteryear. It’s not every day a game makes me feel like a kid again, after all.
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Source: Game Informer