Evil West Hands-on Preview: Fresh Old School

The limited time I had with a slice of Flying Wild Hog’s Evil West felt like I was traveling. A third-person linear action game? With hidden collectibles? With no side questions? Checkpoints that don’t involve fire? Do you unlock areas that double as combat spaces to storm enemies before moving on to do so again? They don’t make them like that anymore, and a game like this makes me wish they did.

Set in an alternate 18th century, where the West is still unruly but also infested with vampires, you play as Jesse Renter, the star agent and heir apparent to the Rentier Institute, an organization of vampire hunters backed by sci-fi technology and government spending. As the tough guy on the floor, you’re the one for when a dirty job needs to be done. In the demo level I played, that job was to recover lost technology in a snow mine.

Exploring the story and characters was very light on this build. Even with a kind of sidekick to joke with, Jesse looks a lot like the tough guy protagonist who’d rather shoot a pistol in his mouth. Meanwhile, the setting is cool on the surface. Electropunk technology inspired by Nikola Tesla is cheerful and exaggerated design in a way that attracts more than just bumps. The starkly unnatural technology is paired with the supernatural brutality of many vampire designs as well.

Electropunk technology inspired by Nikola Tesla is cheerful and exaggerated design in a way that attracts more than just bumps.

When the shooting begins, Jesse is more than ready, both with more regular and traditional firearms, and mechanical tricks that make up the magical power gap between him and his enemies. Ihami’s base came in the form of a fierce gauntlet to him. You can mash to get quick face-hitting combos, or hold down the attack button to fire an airborne enemy. Follow this up with a diving punch, or quickly draw your gun and fill it with holes before you drop. Making these decisions on the fly is a bad thing because each weapon is on a dedicated button or takes place in its own specific scenario. For example, if I wanted to fire the gun, I hit the shoot button. If I want to hit long-range targets with my rifle, I shoot while aiming.

The Rentier Institute provides you with some other tools as well. Your energy shield isn’t the kind to hide behind to absorb attacks for you, but if you time it correctly, any enemy that tries to touch you is sent into high-voltage spells, leaving it open to massive damage. A disabled rod can do the same thing, but to an entire group of enemies at once. Far from being flashy, all of your tools feel tailored to specific situations, and none of them feel like they’ve become irrelevant or redundant when compared to others. I really liked that such a variety of actions did not step on his toes.

There seem to be many ways to upgrade and customize your gadgets around your preferred play style. You can add more functions to your weapons, such as being able to spend bullets shooting weak spots on recovered monsters. Or you can add more character-centric perks that give you new abilities or change and expand perks you already have. At first glance, the standard skill tree stuff, but when you start to see these additional effects, Jesse really starts to become the kind of person he gives to a one-man army.

Finally, the vampires here are not Bella Lugosi Dracula. Some are skinless wild beasts whose bodies roll on autopilot in search of your neck. Some are like beehives of large, glowing, explosive insects that walk toward their death to ensure your death. These are innovative and sometimes very challenging creatures that definitely make me want to learn more about the strange horror lurking in the shadows of this alternate history of America.

Each encounter looks handcrafted to create a specific type of challenge, making it seem more like a deliberate puzzle than a happy accident.

The linearity of the stage I played is balanced out fairly well by the amount of nooks and crannies scattered around to find consumables, money, or other collectibles. I wasn’t particularly impressed by looking at every inch of the stage for this demo, but I can see more OCD players have plenty of boxes to check out the full version. This straightforward design may seem forever out of today’s games, but I really appreciate the focus on making the elements you can interact with feel vibrant and intentional. No, I can’t “see and climb the mountain in the background”, but each encounter seems to be handcrafted to create a certain kind of challenge, making it look more like a deliberate puzzle than a happy accident.

The little demo time I had with Evil West made me thirsty for more vampire hunting in the Old West. In a year that, somehow, found three iconic games set in the dark and haunted Wild West, Flying Wild Hog remains unique not only among its peers, but its genre contemporaries. It’s easy to move your head fast, but it reveals new layers of depth and strategy with each new powerful upgrade, weird gadget, and devious opponent.