There’s a basic combat mechanic in Evil West that, if you’re anything like me, will completely sell you on this action shooter. Basically, you can time a precise rifle shot like a quick-fire Batarang toss in Batman: Arkham Asylum, and if you hit the right spot then an enemy’s arms will simply explode right out of their sockets, spraying forth rivers of crimson like something out of Kill Bill. Both arms completely squelch out of existence – no flesh, no bones, just two long sacks of gore ready to burst given the slightest bit of contact – and with blood pressure like that you’ve got to assume these goons consume nothing but salt, cholesterol, and smoke.
It’s a simple mechanic that feels unbelievably satisfying to pull off, but it’s just one tool of many, and they all feel just as good. There’s a simple three-punch combo that leaves weak enemies open to a brutal finisher à la Doom, or a charged uppercut that suspends a foe mid-air where you can either join them for more punching, stay on the ground and fan your revolver at them, or charge a second punch and send them cannonballing into some environmental object like a stack of dynamite.
As you explore the world you’ll find piles of cash that you can use to purchase upgrades and weapons that make combat even more dynamic: chain lightning effects, Sparta kicks, energy leashes, ground slams, flamethrowers, and dashes… There’s a lot going on here, and the mix of ranged and melee feels like a breath of fresh air – depending on your style, this can be a melee game with ranged abilities or a shooter with brawler combos.
In most cases this could feel clunky or overwhelming, but Evil West’s abilities and rhythms click into place like clockwork. Remember how intuitive Batman: Arkham Asylum’s Freeflow Combat system was back in 2009? Well, add repeater rifles, vampires, and steampunk tech and you’ll end up with something like Evil West.
And it’s not just the fighting that feels premium here. From the environment and monster designs, right through to the cinematics, Evil West feels like a huge step up for both developer Flying Wild Hog and publisher Focus Entertainment.
Regular cinematics inject personality into the cast of vampire hunters and keep some narrative plates spinning between the bloody bouts. You play as gruff, no-nonsense Jesse Rentier, a vampire hunter who’s hot on the case of a particularly nasty supernatural incursion in a weird West reimagining of the American Frontier. Jesse himself is pretty tedious, but his stoic partner Edgar offers a little more snarl and sass whenever he makes an appearance. The performances and animations do feel a tiny bit stiff, but the production is on par with a lot of triple-A games.
The hands-on session begins in an abandoned mining town, with masked baddies popping up from behind barrels or strutting through swinging saloon doors. It’s classic Western fare, but after just a few minutes you find yourself deep underground, stepping through chthonic tunnels en route to some kind of vampire stronghold.
As you venture deeper into the subterranean cavern you’ll come across huge inverted pyramids and stone courtyards with streams of blood running through them. Here you face beastly mozzies that bumble around firing projectiles, zombie-like abominations with leeches for heads, and bat-faced brutes with halberds. It’s a totally different world from the clichéd frontier settlement you battle through topside, and if the rest of Evil West’s missions are as detailed and varied as this one then we’re in for a real treat when it releases on November 22.