Evil West Co-Op Review
Evil West is Flying Wild Hog’s second release of the year, following up from Shadow Warrior 3 in March. A game that even more heavily anticipated was the wild wild, Evil West, and now that its here, we got both Paul James and Dylan Burns together to break down the game in this new co-op review.
Paul: Evil West. It’s the second of Flying Wild Hog’s releases in 2022, the other being Shadow Warrior 3 back in March, and I’ve found that my opinions of the game have morphed quite a lot as the game has progressed. I must say I began feeling pretty flat about it. The early stages feel very much rooted in the PS3/Xbox360 era, it is incredibly linear, there is excessive growling and grumbling, and the level design feels quite uninspired. As the hours passed though, and it’s not a particularly long game for that matter – things start to pivot. Yep, it’s still abrasive overly gruff protagonists, and there are still some little quirks to the level design that are reflective of the old-school design mentality behind the game, but overall, I started to feel far more positive about my experience with Evil West. Where are you at Dylan?
Dylan: Your past-gen comment is spot on. One thing that struck me as I played Evil West was how obviously inspired it is from 2018’s God of War, through the lens of a 2011 Xbox 360 title. The big problem for me is that I had just come off 35 hours of Ragnarok, which placed Evil West in a distinctly difficult position of trying to impress me. And I must say that it has not. The storytelling is so bland that I skipped every story scene after the first couple of chapters and the gameplay is so monotonous that I found myself only pushing through because I knew that I had to review it.
I guess that if you are not a God of War fan, but really like westerns and Flying Wild Hog’s prior releases, you would come to this with more generosity. I can appreciate that they have 1% of Ragnarok’s budget, but when you are releasing your game for the same price as a clearly superior AAA product that offers triple the content and quality, you had best bring something unique to the table.
So what does it bring? Well, every encounter in Evil West takes place in an arena. Inside this arena will be insta-kill spikes or TNT barrels that you can launch and throw spawning enemies into. The usual round of suspects will arrive for a bloody pounding – your slow-moving zombie fodder, explosive arseholes, flying pests, burrowing bastards, and of course your brutes. As you progress, mini-bosses get thrown back into the wash as regular enemies, so it all can get quite hectic. This is the game. There is nothing else but combat, walking, pressing a button, more combat, more walking, pressing a button, and upgrading stuff. For some, this will be enough. It is certainly mindless and, I guess if you are in the right mindset, fun.
Paul: I can’t agree with you on the God Of War comparisons here. While I would agree with you that the storytelling chops on show are pretty lacking, leading to, as you say, pretty skippable cutscenes, the gameplay, especially as the game progressed and your lead protagonist, Jesse Rentier’s arsenal grew became increasingly engaging.
The level structure is, as you say are quite arena based, and it’s obvious that you’ve stumbled into one when you spot the explosive barrels, and metal cages that serve as crowd control fuel, but the skillset that Rentier has expands in cool ways as you progress through the game, allowing you to string together some really exciting combos. The enemy types do a great job of forcing your hand to utilise your electrical powers, combined with your long-range and side-arm weapons, and standard melee abilities in unison, as well as strategically to ensure you don’t quickly become chopped vampire food. I’m really digging it.
The game supports co-operative multiplayer functionality, and having played a selection of the game’s combat sequences both solo and in multiplayer, I recommend the experience. The game scales well, and while there are a few latency quirks, as well as some graphical glitches, the experience of playing co-operatively certainly is additive to the Evil West experience. Have you dabbled?
Dylan: I have not, as I do not currently have a PS+ subscription, but I am willing to believe that the experience is worthwhile. I find it interesting that you haven’t felt the God of War-isms. I’m fairly certain that the devs have been quoted as saying that the 2018 title was their main inspiration. Whether it’s the chest-opening animation, the ledge walking, or the fact that yet again we have a protagonist who cannot jump and must instead be directed by the player to specific points to either leap over a low obstacle or jump across a gap, as well as the combat arenas connected by exploration (albeit far less so in this game) – all I could think while playing it was that I’d be better served just replaying Santa Monica Studio’s output. But perhaps I should just let this bone go. I may not be the ideal audience for this one. It’s certainly had a decent reception to date. Perhaps, as often happens, I simply need to let it sit for a bit and come back when I’m in the mood for some mindless violence.
One thing I did like was the feel of snapping in with my rifle whenever an enemy is lining up their attack. This is coupled with a chime sound and a yellow circle to let you know that if you take an aimed shot within the window you’ll deal critical damage at their weak spot. Stringing a whole series of such shots together and gaining one-shot kills was quite fun. It actually made me wish that there was no need to reload and that bullets were infinite. However, the fact that you don’t have to worry about ammo outside of reloading is still a good design choice. It gives you the option to strafe and wear down monsters if you don’t feel like entering into melee combat. As you say, Paul, the enemies really do force your hand a lot of the time and you need to be cognisant of your entire move set in order to be able to survive each gauntlet round of aggressors.
If there’s one thing that I did quite like it’s the general look of the game. We’re not talking 4K realism or anything (in fact, I believe there is no option for anything above 1080 on consoles), but there’s a coherent style that offers some atmospheric locations and vistas. You may not be able to do anything beyond walking through or taking them in, yet this side of the game was given considerable effort and I think it paid off.
Paul: Cutscenes in particular are a massive highlight visually, but the moment to moment gameplay looks pretty slic too – probably a handy consequence stemming from your very linear, invisible wall-littered environments that you spoke of earlier. The voice-acting is excessively gravely, fitting with the western schtick, but it consequently doesn’t help make that weak narrative any more engaging either.
Unsurprisingly for a 2022 release, the game features skill trees, and overall I’m pretty happy with how they’ve been implemented. The skills you unlock feel additive to the playing experience, and not like an unnecessary layer of fluff, unlike many other titles. It’s also, without some degree of grinding through chapter selected level repetition, not possible to unlock all of the available skills, which I always appreciate, because it promotes considered thought as opposed to haphazzard skill selections. Did you gravitate towards anything in particular?
Dylan: I saved up for anything that helped damage multiple enemies – so the electrical arcing or increasing the effectiveness of the ground pound by increasing energy drops from defeated monsters. I also went for the passive skills first before worrying about specific skill sets. The way you upgrade is pretty much XP for skills and money for weapons, so if you scour the environments for every chest or hidden cache of money it is possible to unlock weapon perks every couple of game chapters.
You clearly had a better time with this than me. My ambivalence stems, I suspect, from my recent oversaturation with action gaming, plus the fact that I just don’t feel like Evil West does anything particularly well. It is just okay. And if that’s what you are in the mood for – and I totally accept that gaming moods do change (I will often get to the point where I feast on C-grade games and love every moment) – then Evil West will likely connect with you more strongly. For me, it wasn’t quite Western-y enough (I’m not sure what I was expecting, perhaps a few cover-shoot-outs, a standoff in the middle of a dusty street…), and my disappointment with the writing soured the average gameplay. But it sounds like you enjoyed the kinetic gameplay more than me, Paul, so I’m willing to accept that I need to put some space between this one and perhaps return during a quiet release spell.
Paul: I certainly agree with one particular sentiment that you’ve expressed in this review. Evil West doesn’t push the “best in class” conversation in any specific areas, but I loved the throwback feel of it, the gameplay is tight and largely enjoyable despite, the narrative, while wafer thin, also doesn’t linger, but the game does have a great look and feel about it. The world has been wonderfully realised, making it constantly stimulating for the eyeballs in multiple facets, and it’s a pretty solid start to what could become a fantastic new IP for Flying Wild Hog.
Evil West was reviewed on PS5 with review codes kindly provided by 5 Star Games