I don’t quite know what I was expecting, but I’ve hardly had this much fun squeezing the last drop of blood out of a beast since the very first Gears of War back in 2006. Evil West is the game where the 40-year-old turned 15, and sat on the end of the chair with his hand on the controls as he slowly tried to move towards the door as he shouted for the fifth time “Yes, I’m on my way”, to the impatient wife waiting downstairs with the daughter who shouts “we’re going now”.
Evil West struck like lightning. I didn’t see that coming. Yes, I had seen a picture or two, but not even a video. Thought that this could perhaps be such simple fun that you can take a look at. Classic Eurojank, as we call it in the professional language.
In the first hour, it may have looked a bit like that too. What I thought would be a shooting game where you shoot vampires and such turned out to be something completely different, and I wasn’t quite sure if I liked what I experienced where an almost three meter tall vampire knocked me unconscious with a huge ax .
With blood, blood must be expelled
Evil West is not a shooting game, it is a kind of bizarre action fighting game set in a fictional version of the Wild West at the end of the 19th century. Vampires are rampaging and your job is to knock them out. You do this by knocking them loose in third person while you pick up one or two firearms for the spice’s sake. It’s a bit slow at the start and you can start to wonder if it’s going to be like this all the way, but no, it shouldn’t.
Soon you will learn to plant your fist in the chin of the enemies, lift them in the air, and then hit them like a volleyball against other enemies or stacks of dynamite (boom). New traits and attacks come crashing in at a steady pace. Suddenly you learn to use electricity, and can throw yourself at enemies from far away, or drag them towards you before hammering the life out of the shocked enemies.
You learn abilities that make it possible to draw life and electrical power from dead enemies, in order to pump up the body for an extended parade of power. You upgrade the features to have greater range, do more damage, and before you know it you’re exploding in electrical energy and throwing yourself from enemy to enemy while lightning strikes from the sky and mows down the enemies around you.
Evil West gives you the feeling power. I haven’t felt so strong and powerful and almost invincibly powerful in a long, long time. The weapons and tools you get here to take down the enemy are like a dream for us who like to see enemies explode on the screen. They are many, varied, and can be upgraded all the way through.
Hard and brutal
The downside of being powerful and invincible is that the game quickly becomes too easy, and you start thinking about doing other things, since easy games often lack the drive that makes you keep going. Not so with Evil West. The game pumps enemies at you. Where the first enemies you encountered may well have given you real trouble once, you kick the life out of them like a propeller later in the game as your power grows.
The challenge comes through the huge amount of enemies the game throws at you. Where you once encountered three copies of vampires slashing at you with their claws, you suddenly encounter ten, or twice as many. Enemies that at one point were thrown at you as a brutal boss fight where you had to hammer your way through large shields before you could do real damage later appear as part of the pack as your chin drops towards the floor and you feel it boiling under the bonnet .
Many of the beasts you meet in this game are large, powerful, work quickly, and require you to be on the cutting edge to survive. Especially in situations where many enemies are on you at the same time, the challenge can become precarious. A dozen vampires, some bats shooting at you from all sides, a couple of huge mountains of some beasts sending shockwaves at you, while a huge flying bastard swoops down from the sky and regenerates health if he is left alone long enough.
It’s complete chaos, and I’ve died and died again, but it’s so much fun to play that I’ve never blinked until I’ve tried again. The feeling of overcoming something that is apparently impossible is simply monumental, and you never doubt that you can achieve it, because the control system is an extension of the body, and the possibilities for what you can do are so many that there is always a way out.
As if that wasn’t enough, this game offers some of the sickest boss fights in a long time. There is so much going on, and so many things that can kill you that the joy of winning is so intense that you almost jump up on the table and roar while pounding on your chest.
A story you care about
Between the battles, we are served a story of a caliber we rarely see in games these days. Here, there are hard men in a hard world who have to do life-threatening things so that the rest of us can live another day. We step into the shoes of Jesse Rentier, a vampire hunter from the Rentier Institute, the only place in the world with the technology and skills to fight the vampire plague.
We meet a wonderful bunch of people through fantastically directed film clips that appear between missions. There is harsh language, a lot of profanity, but everything belongs in the brutal world these people live in. I wasn’t completely sold on the character gallery from the beginning, but it quickly grew on me, and the game offers a fascinating character gallery with convincing gameplay that raises the film clips and what happens in them to a level I haven’t seen in quite some time.
Maybe it’s because the developers are Polish and don’t care too much about what happens on the other side of the world, but the language is liberatingly free of politically correct undertones. People say things that seem correct for them in the relevant time period, and several of the dialogues have elicited a solid grin. Some of the interactions between people who come from very different points of view are absolutely superb, a lot because the characters are allowed to speak for themselves without the authors having to make it clear what they want at any time you have to say about the case.
In addition, the western adventure is very well directed with a good pace. Neither the game nor the story wastes time on things that are of no use. By today’s standards, one can safely say that it is a short game, and can be completed in around twelve hours. If you ask me, it’s a perfect length for such a game. You get plenty of time to enjoy yourself, and it’s so much fun that you play until the end, rather than giving up long before you reach the finish line.
From time to time, games appear that strike like lightning from the sky, and for me, Evil West is the big surprise of the year. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time, and the commitment this game was able to arouse in me is a rare commodity. Hunting vampires is just too much fun for me to put it down. The constant escalation with new enemies, new weapons and new fantastic areas to fight in makes the game an experience you expect to get from the very biggest studios, not from a lesser known studio from Poland.
And that doesn’t just apply to the game itself, but to this story, which is more reminiscent of a sharply directed film with enough toxic dialogue to kill a lake. Evil West is something very special, and is, in short, what we hope all games should be: Full package.
Evil West will be available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Microsoft Windows on November 22.