El Paso, Elsewhere Review - You Keep Going (2024)

El Paso, Elsewhere combines simple yet delicately balanced action with an engrossing story about vampires, love, and the end of the world.

By Alessandro Barbosa on

The idea of a vampire fighting against its base nature to uphold modern morals is one that has been explored before, but not exactly through the same lens as in El Paso, Elsewhere. This third-person shooter takes inspiration from some of the best in the genre but eschews expectations with a thrilling love story between a vampire and vampire hunter, exploring the complexities of the pairing as the world is crumbling around them.

You play as James Savage, a pill-addicted monster hunter living in a secluded hotel in El Paso and on a mission to save the world from his ex-girlfriend, Draculae. This version of the famed vampire has enacted a ritual that brings about the end times. More specifically for Savage, it means a rip through the fabric of reality that sends him from the stained carpets of the motel down a warped void filled with visually diverse levels. At first, El Paso, Elsewhere focuses on Savage, delving into his destructive personality and vices, whether it's popping pain pills or relishing the violence he's engaged in. It takes a while, but eventually the true scope of the story comes into view, with new locales and fourth-wall breaking narration exposing this game's novel take on the mythology behind vampires, and how the relationship between Savage and Janet Drake, known later as Draculae, fits into that.

The voice acting for both Savage and Draculae is exceptionally captivating. Their blossoming love is thoughtfully conveyed through audio logs you find throughout your journey, with playful exchanges (like a conversation about how Transformers procreate) doing an excellent job at establishing a relationship you never get to see. Later, when the two characters exchange words directly, the absence of this warmth is noticeable. There's clearly still love between the two, but it's separated by a gap in morality that neither can compromise on. These exchanges are short but sharp, each word a stake one is trying to lay in the other, all the while Savage barely maintains a grip on the enormity of the task waiting for him at the end. It's a compelling dynamic that gets an equally satisfying conclusion, but it is a pity it takes a handful of hours for it to really get going.

The core gameplay focus is on getting into a level, shooting as many monsters as possible, potentially saving some hostages, and getting back out through the void-traversing elevator you arrived in. The action is punchy and exhilarating; successive headshots are a delight thanks to the satisfying audio cue for each successful hit, while the liberal slow-motion meter--which is filled with each kill--lets you pull off some satisfying dives and twists in mid-air, firing off accurate shots with the ease of a seasoned killer. The crunch that a stake makes as you drive it into an enemy accentuates the raw power that the wooden weapon contains, dispatching most enemies instantly if you dare get close enough.

El Paso, Elsewhere embraces a power fantasy but still presents the right amount of challenge. Guns don't reload automatically, for example, which is a small but profound change after years of muscle memory from most other games. This change also limits how much you can do in a stint of slow-motion, since reloading (and changing weapons) can chew through your meter far too quickly. Knowing when you make a daring dive, which direction to use it in, and ensuring you have the right weapon for the group of enemies you want to dispatch are all factors you need to consider repeatedly, with the steady pace of firefights and variety of enemies keeping the loop continually engaging.

This void that you explore gets filled in with locales from the couple's history, as well as memories from throughout their lives, slowly transforming from one to the other in such a delicate fashion that it really helps the theme that Savage is losing his grip on reality. For example, a dark cemetery where Savage shared his first dates with Draculae gets smashed together with a haunting abattoir that recalls a past, traumatic hunt. These combinations are subtle, with one locale slowly giving way to another over the course of a few levels, replicating the confusion that Savage experiences effectively. There's a surprisingly wide range of scenery that is pulled from and used well to keep the otherwise straightforward navigation through each stage fresh and exciting, especially when El Paso, Elsewhere hits a stride in the final third, using level construction and set pieces to really play around delightful with each distinct area type.

From its narrative presentation to its gameplay, El Paso, Elsewhere takes inspiration from numerous other narrative-based shooters, stretching back decades up to some more recent releases. The manner in which James Savage narrates the tale, coupled with the somber tone and heavy use of slow-motion diving, will instantly remind you of games such as Max Payne and Stranglehold, while the bold, screen-consuming titles for each stage will have you recalling the distinct usage of the same technique in Remedy's Control.

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El Paso, Elsewhere isn't shy about emulating its inspirations, but it isn't wholly defined by them either. It uses these individual elements to bolster its own strong ideas, which give life to levels that are pulsating music videos with evocative rap lyrics, or mind-bending trips through layouts that cascade on themselves as you navigate them passively, focusing on the twisting nature of the stage around you rather than blasting enemies away. From its distinctly retro-style character models to the chunky pickups for ammo and health, El Paso, Elsewhere looks like something you've played before but also won't be mistaken for anything other than itself, which is a difficult balance to strike.

Despite taking more time than it should to really hit its stride, El Paso, Elsewhere is unrelenting once it does. Its straightforward action is enhanced by its consistently evolving enemies and delicate balancing of power, while its captivating love story presents a novel take on established mythologies with some impressive performances to back them up. It wears its inspirations on its sleeve but has its own ideas to add to the mix, making El Paso, Elsewhere much more than the sum of its apparent parts. It's a game with its own interesting approach to narrative that's backed by exciting gunplay, and one you shouldn't judge entirely by what it reminds you of.

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