Devil May Cry, Bulletstorm, and God of War walk into a bar. They all sit, have a drink, and chat about revenge (or something). Suddenly, a gravel-voiced cowboy with pissed off eyes and a six-shooter in his hand kicks the saloon doors in. “This is my turf, lads,” he says, sounding like he’s been on 12 packs of cigs a day since he was five years old. “We don’t need Norsemen, space edgelords, or the son of a demon king in the Old West.”
And he’s right, you know? If any of these games went to the Western setting, they’d flounder and fail. Their tone just wouldn’t work: Devil May Cry’s trio of main characters most recently took up residence in definitely-not-London, and that modern setting meshed well with the series penchant descent into hell. Bulletstorm needed its uber-capitalist planet colony to contrast the anarchic chaos of its core cast. God of War… well, it’s a couple of millennia too early over at Sony Santa Monica, isn’t it?
So there’s a gap in the over-the-top action market in the frontier lands of the American West. And – fresh off the back of the excellent Shadow Warrior 3 and the artful Trek to Yomi – the folks at Flying Wild Hog are focusing on what they know best: fast, hard, bloody action. And it kicks ass (literally, and metaphorically).
The premise of Evil West is encouragingly simple: a dark menace consumes the American frontier. You play as the last of a corps, a top-secret, vampire-hunting institute, and – per the developers – “the final line between humanity and a deep-rooted terror that now emerges from the shadows”. The game sells you as a Wild West Superhero, and the saviour of the fledgling United States from a supernatural vampire threat. It’s very knowing, and it leans into how ludicrous it all is with wanton aplomb.
Whether you’re dodge rolling away from a vampire-mutant that’s coming at you with its wailing limbs, popping headshots on vagrants in proper Tarantino-style shoot-outs, or slamming your magic-powered fists into enemies and finishing them in a way that’d make even Doom blush, Evil West just feels good in the hands. It gives you threats, but it makes you feel like a cigar-smoking, pistol-whipping badass that makes Clint Eastwood look like a pussycat.
It’s perhaps in the boss fight (against a winged bloodletter that very clearly wants you dead) that the flowstate of Evil West best presents itself. You dodge roll out of the way of its blasts, deadeye yourself some headshots on its weak spots, knock it to the ground. Get in close, use your overpowered melee, and the process repeats. But this time, there are some hired goons that are called into the fray – so you do it all again, whilst getting potshots in on the adds. This’ll make ‘em glow (like in DOOM) and allow you to do a finisher. Rip and tear, and recover health. Then back to the boss.
It’s like doing a two-step in a mosh-pit; time it, feel the rhythm, play the game with style, and feel like a god. Shoot, roll, kick, roll, shoot, punch, heal. The music beats in, the sound effects punctuate it all violently and unmistakably, and the screen fills with blood. It’s Devil May Cry, but with much more of an emphasis on the ranged weapons – they’re not there to knit combos together, but rather to keep the fights connected, to move the phases on. Respect all your tools, and the game feels like lightning in your hands (which is fitting, really, given that’s what powers up your magical gauntlet).
I told Flying Wild Hog’s Tomasz Gop that the game felt quite a lot like Bulletstorm after my preview session wrapped up: there’s something about the interplay of guns, melee, and abilities that seems spiritually aligned with People Can Fly’s pulp debut. “Well,” laughs Gop, “there’s even an energy whip that you get in the next level, so…” An energy whip! Booting an enemy into a crate of dynamite, sending them flying, then yanking them back into your eagerly waiting gauntlet to be ripped apart for health? Oh, mercy. I can’t handle it!
Evil West is probably my game of show for Gamescom 2022: the sort of game you can tell from 30 minutes of playtime that you’ll be playing for hours. Days. The bastard offspring of the all-time action game greats, but teaching itself how to strike out from the pack and do something different, all at the same time? Sign me up. Evil West launches for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S on November 22, 2022 – and the date can’t come soon enough.
Oh, and it helps you can turn off all spiders in the game, too.