A cursory Google search would lead you to believe that El Paso, Elsewhere is a spiritual successor to the oft-overshadowed Max Payne franchise, and those comparisons are not without good reason. Our hero this time, a vampire hunter extraordinaire, is just as gruff-sounding and sardonic as the broken man he’s based on, and you’ll spend most of your time slo-mo diving and popping pills, which, in many ways, feel almost too similar to Remedy Entertainment’s first big hit.
Game Name: El Paso, Elsewhere Platform(s): PC, Xbox Publisher(s): Strange Scaffold
Developer(s): Strange Scaffold
Release Date: September 26, 2023
That being said, it doesn’t take long to see that El Paso, Elsewhere has other goals in mind, namely, a focus on narrative with the core gameplay riding shotgun – kind of the opposite of Max Payne, really. The result is well worth the eight or so hours it’ll take you to reach its conclusion, even if it doesn’t always nail the landing.
El Paso, Elsewhere follows the appropriately named James Savage, a paranormal investigator who’s hunting down Draculae, an all-powerful vampire bent on world destruction. The only problem? Well, aside from the fact that she’s, you know, a vampire, she also happens to be his ex-girlfriend. When it rains, it pours, I guess.
Sure, developer Strange Scaffold might have promoted El Paso, Elsewhere by highlighting the slow-mo-gun-heavy gameplay, but where its latest release truly shines is in its narrative. While things kick off in a roadside motel, you’ll soon be descending deep into the void of time and space, which means that levels can take the form of whatever the devs want to show you.
The world — or rather, how James and his crazy ex-girlfriend got to where they are today — is slowly drip-fed over the course of the game’s campaign. There’s clearly a lot more going on between the two, and their relationship ends up fitting nicely into the game’s lore behind vampires. This is all backed up by stellar voice acting; James and Draculae haven’t put their relationship behind them, and that sort of tension is palpable when the two meet up again.
Of course, if you’re more interested in blasting baddies away as time slows down to a crawl, there’s plenty of that as well. The moment-to-moment gameplay centers around entering a new level, taking out as many monsters as you can while rescuing a few hostages along the way, and capping off with a return trip to the elevator you rode in on, letting you go “down” even further into the void. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This might sound a bit rote, but that’s easy to dismiss because the gunplay is oh-so-satisfying. Enemies can be a bit spongy, sure, but laying waste to a horde of monsters while diving and rolling out of the way makes for a great time. Pickups are not in short supply, and I rarely found myself running low on stakes (James’ melee weapon of choice, which can dispatch monsters with one hit), ammo, or painkillers (I told you the Max Payne homages are strong).
It works well, even if some of the finer details might miss the mark. As much as I appreciate the ability to slow-mo dive at will, it’s not always the most elegant, especially on the mouse and keyboard — I guess we haven’t found the right solution to allow players to dive in a specific direction, no doubt hampered by the lack of analog sticks and reliance on WASD. Thankfully, you don’t need a ton of precision when diving, largely because most enemies aren’t going to be firing back at you. Save for a few variants that can fire off projectiles; a majority of the monsters you’ll face off against have to attack you up close. Where Max Payne’s slow-mo dives proved essential to dodging incoming fire, with El Paso, Elsewhere, it’s mostly used to put some distance between you and whatever’s about to try and rip your face off.
While the game’s diverse levels are a treat to play through, they aren’t necessarily blocked out like most levels are in other games. Sure, you’re usually surrounded by four walls and a floor, but your surroundings feel more like a jumbled collection of rooms and hallways rather than a carefully laid out building. Ceilings are nowhere to be found, and that sort of open-air feel is used to help you navigate to the pillars of light that pinpoint where hostages are being kept. It works well enough, though the reliance on navigating towards a beacon might be why levels can often feel labyrinthian in their design. As a result, backtracking can be a bit of a chore in some stages.
Still, these minor design quibbles are small changes compared to everything else that El Paso, Elsewhere has to offer. From its incredible sound and voice acting to its engrossing story and environments, Strange Scaffold’s latest offering certainly doesn’t disappoint and stands out from the pack by a mile. Considering the studio’s previous games include Space Warlord Organ Trading Simulator and An Airport For Aliens Currently Run By Dogs, maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised.
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El Paso, Elsewhere wears its influences on its sleeves, and while it doesn’t reach the same highs set by Max Payne all those years ago, it more than makes up for it in its story and presentation.