Evil WestPS5/PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PC ¦ shooter
At one point in history you couldn’t swing a gun belt without hitting a western film. No one made them quite like John Ford, with his epic vistas of the old west, often featuring a protagonist – such as John Wayne – taking on the odds to save the day.
It’s certainly made of the stuff that would make a good video game, which developers Rockstar clearly understood when they created their Red Dead series that began with 2004’s Red Dead Revolver, then perfected with 2018’s Red Dead Redemption 2.
But just as cinema has played with the theme, with films like the steampunk western Wild Wild West, and the sci-fi western Cowboys and Aliens, gaming has the ability to do the same thing too, as this title certainly does, with its western world featuring that other filmic stalwart, the undead.
There was a time when the biggest foe in the Wild West was man himself, where the colour of your skin determined whether you lived or died. But now there is a new foe in town, born from the supernatural, with a hunger for one thing – humans.
Tasked with taking down this new enemy is Jess Rentier, an agent of his family business, the Rentier Institute, a secret organisation created for the sole purpose of destroying this new threat to mankind. But can one man really save the world?
As twists go, this is certainly an entertaining one, albeit one on the simplistic side. It’s essentially a game with lots of cut scenes that help develop the intriguing story, leaving you to just shoot, kill, dodge and run.
Much of it is fairly on the rails stuff, as you are constantly corralled into a certain playing area, where there is no escape until you have defeated all the enemies within it. And of course, there is a boss to beat too.
It’s a shame there wasn’t more balance between the story and gameplay, with the cut scenes doing all the heavy lifting, and your character just shooting and hitting anything in his path. To that extent, it has more in common with the likes of Doom etc, with the only difference being the western setting.
That said, there’s plenty of fun to be had, when you finally get to grips with the fiddly controls. For instance, you have to use dodge – a lot – which would be no bad thing if it wasn’t for the terrible control system; instead of just pressing a button, you have to hold it down for the desired effect, every single time. This because extremely annoying when you are in one of the combat areas, and it’s kicking off somewhat, with enemies coming at you from all sides. So while you’re throwing punches, and letting lead fly from your rifle, you then have to remember that just tapping a button isn’t going to do the job. So as far as muscle memory is concerned, it’s a bloody nightmare.
But it’s not the only control issue. We played it on the PS5, with all its haptic feedback goodness etc. Which wouldn’t necessarily be a problem if you didn't have to go back and forth continuously from should triggers to face buttons, like a perverted rhythm game. The result for us was a genuine tiredness in the hands, as if they had gone through some twisted Joe Wicks workout for gamers. If ever our hands felt like they needed a little lie down of their own after playing a game, it was with this one.
This may be slightly different on other systems, and we presume we could probably turn off all the haptic doodahs in the settings, but like most lazy gamers, we couldn’t be arsed.
It’s clear to see what the developers where aiming for, trying to incorporate standard issue weaponry and jazzing it up with some souped up tech, like a gauntlet with lightning, but with so many of the triggers and buttons in constant use, there is a tendency to feel as if your just squeezing the controller from every angle ‘til something good comes from it.
Visually the game is interesting, with a nice variety of areas to play through, although there were cases where there was little contrast between the enemy we were fighting, and the background, as in HQ on fire, where everything was ablaze, and the dominant red was almost like camouflage for certain enemies, which feels like an unfair advantage.
And then you have the playing area for combat itself; although it feels like it should be roomy enough, there were a number of times where we found that the environment itself was getting in the way, getting stuck in a corner we rolled into, only to be battered by a boss. It’s probably down to our poor reflexes more than anything else, but certainly not helped by what felt like gaming rigor mortis setting in from gripping so hard throughout.
Overall however, the game has its moments, and although not terribly taxing, there is something satisfying in pulling off combos and getting the work done.
There is a sense that a better gaming experience is lurking deeper within it though. That the big idea certainly warrants a game of this ilk, but perhaps its execution isn’t as polished as it could have been.
Evil West then is a blast, in short sessions, and although there’s nothing wrong with mindless fun, it would be far more enjoyable if a little more thought went into it, and also if you didn’t feel like you needed physio after playing it. That’s the kind of evil we can do without, thank you very much.