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Evil West tech review: a smooth, blurry 60fps or a clean but stuttering 30fps - it's your choice

A brace of compromised graphics modes for an otherwise excellent shooter.

Evil West is a remarkably direct take on third-person action, a linear and propulsive combat game with no open-world diversions, no loot, no crafting, and no side quests. The combat system at its core is fast-paced, responsive, and fair, and the B-movie style plot is well-told through a series of high-quality cinematics.

Unfortunately though, the game has garnered controversy prior to release thanks to a pretty unexciting set of resolution options as reported by the game's publisher - a 4K30 quality mode is par for the course, but 1080p60 performance modes for PS5 and Series X have concerned many. Meanwhile, Xbox Series S gets a basic 1080p30 mode. The question is, if we look past the raw pixel counts, is there an attractive game underneath - and is performance really as straightforward as a simple 30fps/60fps split?

Before we tackle those issues, it's worth mentioning that Evil West does some things well in terms of assets, lighting, environmental design and rendering quality, with beautiful environments that stretch from sandy deserts to snowed-in summits and damp catacombs. This is very much an Unreal Engine 4 game - expect a heavy reliance on baked lighting within fairly static environments - but I love the way the visuals often come together.

Evil West's visuals impress given its AA roots, but a few smart changes could make it truly shine.

What truly impresses here is the sheer variety on display. Each level takes place in a brand-new area with unique assets and a fresh visual language, which means that every thirty minutes to an hour or so you're transported to a unique location with novel sights and plenty of interesting artwork. Some of the vistas here look excellent and a lot of effort has clearly gone into making the game feel fresh, without really making any compromises on the quality of each area.

That extends to the game's cinematics too. There's a surprising amount of high-quality pre-rendered cutscenes, largely based on in-game assets but with improved lighting and animation. It's a very action-packed game so I was surprised to see this much time and attention put into delivering a compelling narrative experience.

Evil West offers an impressive variety of beautiful locales, enlivening the campaign.

Combat is obviously the highlight and the results don't disappoint. The game blends melee fighting with fast shooting and a nice variety of special abilities and cooldowns. All the animation work feels really polished and responsive with seamless transitions. Every hit launches plenty of stylized blood and guts into the air, which feels really satisfying and provides useful visual feedback. This is all backed up by extensive per-object and camera motion blur, which some may find excessive, but I quite liked. In motion, the action looks fantastic, particularly when lots of enemies and particles are onscreen.

Really, Evil West's production values are just impressive in general. Coming from Flying Wild Hog's prior titles, which were mostly budget-priced, more limited game experiences, this feels categorically different and much improved. Evil West stands shoulder-to-shoulder with other full-price releases of recent times, with a skilled use of Unreal Engine and a lot of artist-hours invested into this game.

So what doesn't work? This is clearly a cross-gen project and a keen eye will spot all kinds of concessions to 2013-era hardware. Asset quality, for instance, looks good for the most part but there is slightly chunky geometry and low-resolution textures in places. This is par for the course for most games, but no particular effort seems to have been invested into making these areas well-suited for a ninth-generation console.

The player character, enemies and NPCs can exhibit an unusual specular sheen that looks a bit out-of-place.

All the expected eighth-gen visual signatures are here, most notably a reliance on screen-space effects like SSAO, SSR and screen-space shadows. In stills, the effect looks great some issues with disocclusion are visible in motion, particularly with shadows from larger pieces of geometry. Lighting does look very good in general, with convincing bounce and dramatic light placement, but there are some issues.

For example, baked global illumination solutions tend to struggle with dynamic objects and here, the player character sometimes exhibits a bright specular sheen on his backside in indirectly lit areas. This occurs on enemies and NPCs in the game too, though it's usually most noticeable on the player during typical gameplay. It helps that the game does take a semi-stylised approach to character rendering so a bit of odd-looking specular doesn't feel as out-of-place as it might in a more realistic title, but it still doesn't look great.

Interior spaces can sometimes appear pitch-black even at high noon, potentially a probe coverage issue.

There are some issues with the game's baked lighting as well: larger environments and broad exterior spaces look great for the most part, but smaller details don't convince quite as much at times - perhaps due to the resolution of these effects. Real-time shadowmaps exhibit pretty limited resolution as well with a fair bit of aliasing. Some interiors fare particularly poorly and appear to be missing proper GI - not an especially common issue but one that could be helped with a few tweaks and more extensive probe coverage.

Overall I'm pretty pleased with Evil West's graphics, but image quality and performance are a bit more fraught. According to Focus Entertainment, there are 4K30 and 1080p60 modes on Series X and PS5, with Series S limited to just 1080p30. That doesn't seem great for a cross-gen title, as something like 1440p60 or above would be typical for most similar efforts on PS5 and Series X, often paired with a bit of upsampling to resolve a more detailed image than the base resolution would imply. The 4K30 mode at least seems like roughly par for the course, if a bit unexciting. However, the reality is more complicated. The Series X and PS5 versions in their quality modes look coherent and stable but a little on the soft side and pixel counts show a 1728p resolution on both PS5 and Series X instead of 2160p, which explains this discrepancy. The performance modes do clock in at 1080p as promised, as does Series S.

PS5 and Series X are nearly identical, save for slightly sharper shadows on PS5, but the presentation is softer than in many contemporary titles.

For a cross-gen game without boundary-pushing visual features, this is a little disappointing. The experience can look a little murky at 1080p and the quality modes on PS5 and Series X don't deliver the sort of image clarity we're used to seeing from 30fps games on the premium current-gen consoles. Perhaps Evil West is uniquely taxing for some reason, but even if so, some upsampling or dynamic res would likely deliver a more detailed result on a 4K display panel.

Outside of resolution, the consoles look very similar across all hardware and visual modes, with only slight differences to shadowmap filtering - on PS5, the shadows appear sharper with more defined edge detail. This does have the unfortunate side-effect of making the relatively low shadow resolution more obvious, so I tend to prefer the look of shadows on the Xbox platforms.

Unfortunately, there are some performance issues. I couldn't spot any load-related dips across any of the current-gen console platforms or modes - but the 30fps modes do suffer from intrusive frame-pacing problems. Essentially, you get batches of oscillating 16ms and 50ms frames on a frequent basis, giving the game the appearance of small stutters and inconsistent motion. I think the game is otherwise well configured for a smooth 30fps experience, with plenty of motion blur and responsive animation but the broken frame-rate cap really needs to be fixed. It's especially urgent for Series S, which lacks a 60fps mode to use instead. If you have the option, I think the Performance modes on Series X and PS5 are definitely the way to go for now, though all modes on current-generation consoles could use some work.

PS5, Series X and Series S unfortunately suffer from improper frame pacing in their 30fps modes.

Evil West is an excellent action game. The combat system is fast and flexible, blending together melee and ranged weaponry with a host of special abilities without feeling overwhelming, hit responses are satisfying, and enemies hit hard but have clear and properly telegraphed attack patterns that are fun to learn and maneuver around. I really enjoyed my time with the game and I think Flying Wild Hog has achieved something special here. It helps, of course, that the game generally looks very good, with excellent environments and a ton of visual variety. This is a thoroughly cross-gen effort of course and there are some lingering pain points with lighting, but on the whole I am pretty satisfied with the visual makeup of this game.

Unfortunately, image quality isn't great, with a softer-than-usual presentation on current-gen consoles that doesn't resolve much fine detail. It's not a dealbreaker, but it does fall below expectations for a cross-gen game. The game's performance is harder to excuse, with unnecessary judder courtesy of an improperly frame-paced output when targeting 30fps. If you can overlook those problems, this is a very enjoyable title - but with a little bit of extra attention and a few patches, Evil West could really shine.

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Oliver Mackenzie

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