God I love a good werewolf. Werewolves, I suggest, are a chance for game designers to be unreasonable. Werewolves do not politely wait to attack. They don’t stalk or huddle together like zombies, hitting you blindly with the wrist rather than the hand. They don’t have railguns that need to be fueled. Instead, the werewolves come out of nowhere and they’re suddenly quite close. They don’t recognize your personal space. Werewolves are a flurry of terrifying claws, they are berzerk energy bars and long health bars. Werewolves are fools and we love them for it.
There’s a werewolf equivalent in Evil West, and I think they get to the heart of what’s great about this euphoric, silly, straight-up explosion of a video game. Simple really. When you first encounter werewolves, they are absolutely terrifying. They are overwhelming. Each is a boss fight unto itself. Wow! What was that? I hope I won’t see any more, sorry! But you do, you see more, partner. They come in packs. They rub shoulders with other enemies. They rub shoulders with bosses.
And yet, at the end of the game, you dismiss them. Hunt them. Blow their heads off and splash their bodies. It’s Evil West: it’s got this great Double-A treat, the ridiculous power curve. By the end of the game, you’re pretty much a god. And the gods really do give game designers a chance to be unreasonable.
Let’s get rid of the plot. Bad West. This is the plot. It’s the old west, but there’s monsters and horrors and vampires and all that jazz out there in the wild. You’re part of a team that takes these beasts and shows them who’s who. It gets a bit more complicated, but not too complicated. This is a game where a zeppelin laden with hideous, drooling nightmares crashes into the narrative equivalent of the White House. The plot is the fuel here, the propulsion that drives you to greater slaughter.
It’s a third-person brawler, inspired by the recent God of War, but really comes from somewhere around 2011. You’re huge on screen and you hit monsters in combos, and you can hit them for you give some space. And then you can electrically hit them, pull them towards you, or pull them towards you with an electric gadget that lets you lie down to that crazy offbeat beat from the Arkham games, their skeletons buzzing inside while you work because of everything the volt. You can throw them in the air and ball them into spikes, into each other. You can pound the ground and evaporate them pretty much on the spot – all this once you’re of course immersed in the countryside and pleasantly energized.
It’s not just about hitting. That really could be Evil West’s tagline. The West is bad, it’s true, but you don’t just hit it. You have a six-shooter and a rifle for distant enemies. No ammo to collect, it all works on cooldowns. And anything can be rigged with electricity. Same for special weapons like flamethrowers and a crossbow and other stuff that I won’t mess up. No ammo, just time it with cooldowns. Meanwhile, watch your health and power supply.
Enemies repeat easily but it doesn’t matter as they are mostly glorious. Every enemy type of 2011 is here waiting to embrace you. The guys who run towards you and explode. Guys who dig in and out of the ground. The shield guys you need to flank. The guys who soar in the sky and crash down to earth every once in a while. All of these take a punch or blast, and all have weak moments where the glowing dots let out an arc of light and chime, encouraging you to shoot them for massive damage or a health drop. Simple and predictable enemies, gradually added throughout the campaign – this is one of those games where mini-bosses quickly retreat into the general enemy camp – and present themselves to you in new combinations, in new new arenas, perfect for you to try out your latest gadget. Sometimes it’s almost Robotron.
What else? It’s surprisingly beautiful, to begin with, offering a rush of several types of Western settings: blue-sky canyons, nasty haunted swamps, mines, mountains, icy ridges, the works. Slaughtering is interrupted by traversal or jigsaw moments, usually involving electricity or a bit of cart-moving. It’s nothing fancy, just a perfect cleanser to get you ready for the next fight. Whisper it: there’s a hub, and it’s lovely. And all the while you’re collecting lore items and money for upgrades – good upgrades, always a challenge to choose between – and perks when you level up that take you from someone who is afraid of werewolves to someone who barely notices them.
It is, in other words, a truly beautifully made video game. He knows what it is – the kind of game with launchers, the kind of game where the protagonist has lines like “I never thought I’d blow up my own house!” And it offers its simple pleasures with beauty and variety. There’s two-player online co-op, which I haven’t been able to test, and I suspect consoles can stutter a bit, though I had no issues on PC. But otherwise Evil West is wonderfully brutal and charming and luminously old-fashioned. It’s Bulletstorm. It’s a pain reliever. It’s the werewolves in the wazoo. And I had a great time.