El Paso, Elsewhere Review: Like Max Payne, but Spooky

by David Sanchez October 13, 2023 @ 10:33 am

El Paso, Elsewhere - James Savage

Reviewed on Xbox Series S

The original Max Payne surprised players due to its combination of action-packed shooting gameplay, stylish slow-motion mechanics, and surprising story-driven design. It was unlike anything else in 2001, marrying cinematic style with rock solid gameplay. Now, El Paso, Elsewhere has attempted to do the same thing. While the game definitely pays homage to Remedy and Rockstar’s classic, it also forges a different path, delivering a unique story and world that are all its own.

It’s easy to say things like, “They don’t make them like they used to” when talking about video games. The truth is they don’t. Sometimes that’s a good thing, because gameplay formats that worked before may not hold up to today’s standards. Other times, though, certain types of games just stop existing despite still being solid — and that’s the case with something like Max Payne. Sure, some aspects of the 2001 game may feel dated now, but overall, it actually still works quite well — after revisiting it last year, I can certainly vouch for the quality of Max Payne.

A Brooding Hero Takes on Vampires and Werewolves

El Paso, Elsewhere Bullet Time

The star of the show here is a man named James Savage, whose vampire ex-girlfriend Draculae is bent on unleashing all manner of hellspawn on the world. The game plays with a lot of internal monologue from Savage, and while some of it can border on silly at times, the writing is pretty solid and the narrative is dark. What you get is a story that feels like it’s playing around with slight parody (toward the Max Payne series) while also taking itself seriously enough so that you can take it seriously, too.

El Paso, Elsewhere isn’t quite horror-comedy — or action-horror-comedy — but it does have elements of each of those. If you’ve watched Mandy starring Nicolas Cage, I’d liken it more to something like that, narratively speaking. It takes liberties and allows itself to go a little bonkers, while still being grounded enough that it lets you care about the main character’s struggle.

The supernatural direction of El Paso, Elsewhere helps it to really stand out. It would’ve been easy for a game like this to just be a Max Payne tribute, but by leaning into horror and surreal imagery, developer Strange Scaffold has created a world that’s fun to blast your way through, especially if you’re a fan of horror and the macabre. You’ve got vampires, werewolves, and bizarre creatures all trying to hunt you down, all the while a nightmarish, vortex-like skyline surrounds you in each level to make things feel more chaotic and unnerving.

Take up Arms and Wooden Stakes Against the Forces of Evil

El Paso, Elsewhere Gameplay

You’ve got plenty of options at your disposal while taking down supernatural evil in El Paso, Elsewhere. You start off with basic pistols, but it isn’t long before you’re armed with shotguns and rapid-fire rifles. You’ve also got wooden stakes at your disposal for when those pesky vampires and werewolves get a bit too close.

Aside from James Savage’s similarities to Max Payne, where El Paso, Elsewhere really shows its admiration of Sam Lake’s beloved classic is in its slow-motion mechanics. You can shoot-dodge and trigger Bullet Time with the press of a button to create a slo-mo effect that gives you a distinct advantage when you’re outnumbered or when you want to line up a perfectly placed headshot.

As previously mentioned, I played through Max Payne last year, and I was surprised by how solid the whole thing still felt. Sure, there were moments of clunkiness here and there, but for the most part, the aiming, shooting, and Bullet Time were all pretty great. El Paso, Elsewhere is very similar, though it does iron out some of those issues to create a third-person shooting experience that’s smoother than Mr. Payne’s more-than-20-year-old rampage through Noir York City.

I was surprised by how bulky El Paso, Elsewhere is, content-wise. I was expecting a shorter run, but it’ll likely take you about seven or eight hours to clear the game’s fifty chapters. The game isn’t a cake walk, either, as you’ll find a nice challenge to keep you busy here. On top of that, there are hidden secrets in some levels, as well as optional hostages you can save.

Now That’s an Internal Monologue!

El Paso, Elsewhere Shoot-Dodging Gameplay

James Savage is a fast-talking hero, and he has that tortured soul thing down to a science. Some of the things he says can come off as somewhat goofy at times, but it fits the game’s overall tone. Aside from the solid voice acting, there’s also some decent music in the game. You’ll hear darker horror-esque themes play, but there are also catchy hip-hop tunes.

Visually, the game emulates the look of PlayStation 2-era games. It’s a stylistic choice that works well, and there’s a lot of emphasis on aesthetics, too. What you get is a dark, eerie game that’s as heavy with polygons as it is with surreal imagery.

If you loved the original Max Payne and Max Payne 2, you’ll dig what El Paso, Elsewhere does with its shooting gameplay. Even if you’ve never played those titles, though, there’s a lot of fun to be had here thanks to a solid gameplay direction filled with tight shooting and rad slow-motion gameplay, as well as a dark story that walks a fine line between being self-aware and bold. El Paso, Elsewhere is a blast, and you’ll be glad to ride shotgun with James Savage in this bloody rampage across a morbid, supernatural underworld.

Score: 9 out of 10

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