Original Review: November 2nd, 2023, post updated with Giveaway (at foot of article) November 21st, 2023.
El Paso, Elsewhere takes you to the 50th floor of a three storey motel.
Remember The Matrix? If you’re of a certain age that I won’t disclose, you almost certainly do. It popularised the idea of bullet time, slow-motion so leisurely that you can see individual bullets in the air breaking the sound barrier. Video games obviously leapt on this as it looked so cool, and for a while you couldn’t move for games featuring a slow-motion feature, the most well known of course being Max Payne, the third person shooter with shoot-dodging action and a solid story. El Paso, Elsewhere makes use of a lot of what made that 2001 classic great, but strips out the noir story for a more grindhouse tale of vampires and monsters. And it’s pretty damn fun.
You play as James Savage, a grizzled man with nothing to lose as he heads for a motel in the middle of the middle of nowhere. There, he intends to kill his former partner, a vampire named Draculae, who intends to use a ritual to destroy the world. When James arrives, the elevator takes him far beyond where the motel should be. This void is where James will face vampires, werewolves, witches, and even angels as he is confronted by memories from his and Draculae’s past. All the while he will be tormented by some other, seemingly more threatening presence.
The whole tone is very dark and gritty, echoing some of those comic book panels from Max Payne, but really it comes across as rather cheesy at times. Excessively edgy and with an abundance of metaphors in every scene, it starts off well enough, but it quickly starts to feel almost tongue in cheek as the story becomes more and more bleak. In a way, this is somewhat thematic, as this game uses a visual style that would have been en vogue over twenty years ago, and edgy, nihilistic themes were present in a lot of media. Whilst it might feel a little silly now, it fits the theme that El Paso, Elsewhere seems to be going for.
After a very brief tutorial that covers pretty much everything you need for the whole game, you’re thrown into a motel filled with vampires with just your dual pistols, ability to manipulate time and an ankle-length trench coat. Your task in most levels is to rescue all the innocents — although late on I discovered that you can actually kill them, which leads to a different ending — and then head for the exit. You’ll whip around the levels at a pretty decent pace, rescuing people, crashing through doorways, and diving through the air in slow-motion as you unload bullets into vampires, witches, and werewolves, amongst others. It feels great in action, and the slow-motion feels perfectly pitched for you to clear out rooms in what would appear like the blink of an eye.
Enemies look different but mostly operate in the same way, that is they rapidly run at you and cause damage on contact. There are variants, such as werewolves lunging to close the distance, or knights standing stock still until you get close before giving chase. The alternative are the ranged foes who are more irritating. Biblically accurate angels fire explosive shots from the air causing big damage, and witches who fire devastating blasts before teleporting away. The latter are pretty frustrating as it’s often difficult to find them until you’re under fire. I started hitting slow motion as soon as I heard witches to get rid of them as soon as possible.
El Paso, Elsewhere does have a love for blindsiding you with enemies as well. It’s pretty common to open a door or round a corner only to have a wolf lunge at your back or a witch teleport behind you. You get used to the tricks quickly enough, but I did find it slowed down the really enjoyable pace every time I had to slow down to check every corner.
Luckily, the weapons are fun to use and can dispatch most opponents in just a few shots. The pistols are solid enough options, and your shotgun will destroy those annoying knights in a single blast with a little luck. I found myself leaning towards the strikebreaker, thanks to its quick rate of fire and often abundance of ammunition. There’s an uzi, a ludicrously powerful rifle, and a really fun grenade launcher alongside molotov cocktails too. There wasn’t always enough ammo for every weapon, but I never found myself with no ranged option. You do have stakes, which are an instant kill for anything but the biggest enemies, but you can only carry a few of those. There wasn’t a weapon that I would avoid as they’re all fun to use, but the molotovs leaving flames on the ground would limit my movement options, so I rarely used them.
Now, this is a good-sized game for me, clocking in at around six or so hours depending if you want to look for the audio pieces that fill in the story. It’s impressive then that the developers managed to get fifty levels into this time, and even more impressive that they remained entertaining throughout. Whilst you start out in the twisted halls of the void’s interpretation of a motel, you end up in graveyards, castles, and old manors as the void pulls from more of James and Draculae’s memories. The brief nature of each stage helps here too, with you being able to get through one in five to ten minutes, leaving you ready for another. That classic “just one more level” feeling cropped up more than a couple of times during my playthrough.
I realise that the low-poly, low-texture look is all the rage right now, but El Paso, Elsewhere does such a good job of making its world look bright and interesting rather than the drab greys and browns that punctuated the original era of this look. This is mostly down to the void’s psychedelic colours flying around everywhere, but there’s some fabulous use of lighting too that really punctuates the action, especially in dark areas. The battle towards a pyramid with a glorious sunset in the distance near the game’s end was a beautiful sight that simply wouldn’t have been possible back in the day.
The sound design is equally excellent. Weapons sound explosive and screeches and growls give a suitable indication of any enemies that are left in the room you’re in. Then there’s voice acting, which is tremendously well done. Yes the script is a little cheesy, but everyone is so committed to their roles that it’s hard to fault. The music was tremendous as well, with pieces suited to the environment you were exploring, followed by big hip-hop tracks as you battle your way through a nightclub or seemingly never ending corridor of enemies. I particularly liked how James’ speech was mixed into a lot of these tracks.
El Paso, Elsewhere is an excellent indie game that will really scratch any retro itch that old Max Payne players may have for the glory days of fast-paced third person shooters. The rapid pace of every element of the experience keeps you hooked in and ready for more every time you finish a stage. The reasonable pitched difficulty and well-placed checkpoints means there’s little room for frustration to creep in too. A triumph for vampire hunters everywhere.
Else Paso, Elsewhere is available now on PC and Xbox.