The third-person shooting genre was one of the most popular during the PS3/Xbox 360 era, yet it seems to have fallen out of favour recently with developers and publishers turning their attention to newer trends. Even the last Gears of War seems like a distant memory. Enter Evil West, a potential stand-in.
We wouldn’t be surprised if developer Flying Wild Hog – best known for the Shadow Warrior series – pitched this to publisher Focus as something that’ll appeal to Gears fans. It has a similar macho persona, introducing us to the burly cowpoke Jessie. Fearless and determined, Jessie and his cohorts are out to end a reign of vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural nasties – and they aren’t afraid to get their fists bloody. Dropping more than a few ‘f-bombs’ along the way, Jessie could easily rub shoulders with Gears’ Marcus Fenix or Bulletstorm’s Grayson Hunt – with Bulletstorm also being a valid comparison.
Aside from a penchant for supersized back-mounted weapons, the comparisons end with this power fantasy. Evil West lacks a cover system, meaning Jessie spends the bulk of this 8-10 hour shooter running around in the open. This is mostly due to an unexpected focus on melee combat. For the first couple of hours, only a long-range rifle and a rapidly firing revolver are available, meaning Jessie must rely on his fists to rid weaker enemies.
It’s a good job, then, that the combat system is based around defence as well as offence, giving the ability to block, parry, and dash out of harm’s way before delivering a rapid succession of punches, or uppercutting a hapless foe into an explosive barrel.
Controls are slightly finicky at first; aiming down sights fires the rifle, while firing from the hip unloads the revolver. Ammo seemingly doesn’t exist in this world – instead, every weapon has a cooldown, which greatly encourages the use of everything in Jessie’s ever-growing arsenal. Health restore is also on a cooldown, meaning it’s sometimes vital to run around a battle arena’s outskirts while it recharges. A tried and tested strategy.
New weapons are doled out at a rate of around one per stage, with the use of some – such as the flamethrower – required to make progress. Level design so happens to be one of the weaker elements, recalling 2010 game design ethos. When you aren’t fighting off waves of creatures in various large purposely designed arenas, we’re back to flicking switches, shooting targets, powering up generators, and traditional block shoving. Except for a seek-and-destroy mission set in a ramshackle town, the majority of levels are linear.
There are a few collectable perks and weapon skins to look out for though, which helps with replay value, while cash (Bucks, in this instance) are used to improve weapons by adding extra rounds and increased damage, along with slams and ground pounds.
Jessie also carries an electrified gauntlet – his signature weapon, upgraded throughout the story by an inventor residing at the town hall hub. Weapons can be upgraded with electric rounds, and foes can also be stunned before being pummelled to death. While electric bolts cause minimal damage, only chipping away at a boss’s health bar, they do add visual pizzaz. During battle the screen is awash with electric blues, crimson gore, and golden explosions – all accompanied by particle effects and flying body parts. The aforementioned bosses become increasingly large in scale, often requiring a dozen retries before their eventual defeat, although they aren’t anything we haven’t seen before.
The default difficulty is reasonably challenging, while even the easier ‘story’ mode calls for the occasional retry when regular bosses are recycled as common adversaries. Evil mode is also available from the outset, while New Game+ mode adds co-op multiplayer. A few other settings feature – there’s a choice of performance or quality modes for the visuals, requiring a restart to switch between the two – and those with a fear of spiders can also omit their presence.
Evil West has quite a bit going for it. It’s a not-quite-full-price grisly shooter that’s reasonably polished and good looking, with a degree of replay value and some delightfully chaotic combat. The Gears of War and Bulletstorm comparisons ring true though, with some elements still stuck in 2010 – there’s very little in the way of grand set-pieces, the presence of a minecart section requiring rapid reflexes made our eyes roll, and the boss battles and level design are thoroughly stuck in the past.
Indeed, this is more Gears of War Judgment than Gears 5; a tribute act to the real deal. If you’re happy to settle for a hamburger when steak isn’t available, this will suffice. It’s reasonably substantial, just not quite as meaty.
Focus’ Evil West is out now on PC, PS5, PS4, Xbox Series, and Xbox One. Available digitally and physically.