Flying Hog Games, we think it's probably fair to say, has a bit of a marmite aspect to its back catalogue. Between Trek to Yomi, which we actually quite liked, and the multiple instalments of the ridiculously shallow Shadow Warrior series, this is a studio whose work you kinda either gel with or don't. It's brash, it's brutal, it's very often an acquired taste.
Such is the case with Evil West, a game that is resolutely old-fashioned in every regard, serving up a one-note narrative stuffed full of angry strong men with big muscles, daddy issues and a bunch of swear words standing in for actual personalities. It's got graphics that wouldn't look out of place two console generations ago and brutal action that is...well...it's almost actually quite good in places to be honest. Yes, if you can get yourself into the swing of the core combat here, there's enough about it to enjoy in short bursts, to make this western/horror feel just serviceable enough, as long as you can deal with how laboured and bizarrely last-gen everything else feels.
In Evil West you assume the role of Jesse Rentier, the son of William Rentier, head of the Rentier Institute, a bunch of hard-ass cowboys who keep the vampire threat at bay in this alternate timeline Wild West. It's a straightforward campaign, one that shuttles you through a barrage of levels that feel surprisingly old-hat whilst doing very little to engage your brain outside of screaming cuss words.
Evil West is so linear, so uninspired and plodding in its setup, that a totally on-rails cart sequence midway through the campaign feels like a genuine thrill, like a totally "oh my god they're really going for it now!" moment, even though you've seen it and done it all 1000 times before. It's that kind of game, thoroughly archaic and lazy in the places it decides to march you, with a tacked-on skill tree and yawnsome collectibles to boot.
However, as bad as that may sound, and as harsh as it seems we're being, Evil West is undoubtably fun to play in bursts. Its combat is rough and tumble stuff, mixing heavy melee brawling, a bunch of upgradeable electricity-based powers and big brutal guns to rather satisfying effect. It introduces a nice mix of baddies throughout its roughly 18-hour campaign too, with lots of airborne threats, fast-moving vamps and lycanthropes, and constant face-offs against big bosses who're fun to get to grips with. It's just a shame it doesn't take any of this stuff and really run with it.
Early on you've just got the fisticuffs to aid you through enemy encounters, and this is where Jesse Rentier's adventures feel at their most lame. It takes an hour or two until we start to get our hands on some of the weapons, with a satisfyingly punchy shotgun and a quickfire machinegun that can link electrical damage through multiple foes. There are environmental takedowns too - fling an enemy up in the air and you can direct them towards spike cages or exploding cannisters for a quick kill. It feels pretty good, but it's a real shame that all of this stuff gets introduced and then never expanded upon. There's a real lack of creativity in level design and the ways in which you can chain combos together to satisfying effect.
Indeed, considering how many guns, flamethrowers, crossbows and punches you end up accessing, it's amazing just how staid the combat feels in general. There was so much more Flying Wild Hog could have done with what they've got here, but instead they decide to rehash enemies, face you off against the same boss types multiple times and...yeah...it's all a bit middle of the road, we're afraid.
Of course, the one big shot in the arm this game has got is that the entire campaign can be played in co-op, a mode we couldn't test for review, and it's definitely an experience we can see being fun to blast through with a pal. It's just a real shame there aren't more chances taken, more innovation in level design and progression in enemy types. What you're left with is an action game that feels resolutely old-fashioned, but not in a knowingly retro way. It plays out like it lacked the resources and inspiration to lift it up a few gears into something that's truly worth playing in the year of 2022.
Overall, if you're looking for a thoroughly old-school shooter to blow through with a pal, Evil West will get the job done, just about. However, there really isn't much to get excited or surprised about outside of the fact you can play this in co-op. Jesse Rentier and his pals are a forgettable bunch of hard lads, and we're not sure we'll remember much about this one if you ask us how we enjoyed it in a month or two from now.
Evil West is a thoroughly old-fashioned shooter that manages to entertain in short bursts but can't overcome how lacklustre and unoriginal its level design and narrative feels. If you've got a pal to play through this one with in co-op you could probably stick another star on the final score, otherwise we'd steer clear unless you absolutely must indulge in some seriously last-gen cowboy vs. vampire action.