In an age where almost every popular game of the past is getting rebooted, reimagined or remastered, it’s always a little surprising when a piece of gaming history slips through the cracks. The original pair of Max Payne games combined third person shooting with badass bullet time diving and a noir vibe, and after a slightly more modern appearance in 2012 the series has been all but forgotten. Nowadays we don’t really get a lot of linear shooters where the focus is simply on that badass feeling of soaring through the air and taking down hordes of bad guys, and until El Paso, Elsewhere, I didn’t know it was something I missed.
In El Paso, Elsewhere you play as James Savage, a ridiculously named character on a quest to stop his ex-girlfriend from doing something catastrophic. His ex-girlfriend is Draculae, an all powerful vampire aiming to open up a portal to some sort of sinister dimension that would probably destroy the world as we know it. Fortunately there’s one man who can stop her from performing the ritual required at a sleazy Texas hotel, and that’s our pill popping, moody protagonist.
If you played Max Payne all those years ago you’ll be familiar with the style of narration on display. James quietly and gruffly spends time between levels talking about his history with Draculae, usually using a whole lot of ridiculous metaphors that make him sound like a bit of a cliché. At first I thought the story side of El Paso, Elsewhere was simply taking everything it could from Max Payne for a lovely hit of nostalgia, but the story actually evolves in a really interesting way as James slowly starts to struggle with the realisation that he’s going to be confronting someone who was once (and still sort of is) so important to him.
To get to Draculae though you’ll have to make your way through a lot of stages full of creepy creatures to kill. The gameplay in El Paso, Elsewhere is simple but effective, and involves a whole lot of shooting and diving. By pulling the left trigger you’ll cause James to dive through the air in whatever direction you’re facing, which slows down time to a crawl so you can line up headshots on the enemies that fill the hotel corridors. The action is fast paced and taking down a bunch of baddies in slow motion is pretty damn satisfying.
The enemies in El Paso, Elsewhere don’t really lend themselves to this dive based gameplay though, because whereas in Max Payne you were constantly in danger of getting shot here most enemies just want to come and hit you up close. Especially once you swap your meagre pistols for a shotgun or machine gun most enemies won’t manage to get in range for a slap, and diving actually ends up making a lot of encounters worse because once you land belly down on the ground you’re really vulnerable to getting smacked about. You can trigger slow motion without diving (which is way more effective most of the time) but it just doesn’t feel as badass as soaring through the air and nailing headshots.
The stages of El Paso, Elsewhere are often more interesting than the action itself, because each floor of the hotel you arrive at is getting torn more and more from reality. You’ll start off finding floating chairs and noticing a distinct lack of roof to the rooms you wander between, but once you clear a few stages you’ll be presented with indoor graveyards, sarcophagus’ and all manner of dimensional anomalies. Max Payne has some seriously trippy sinister moments, but El Paso, Elsewhere is a game made up almost entirely of that stuff.
Although the stages are interesting to look at, actually navigating them gets old pretty fast. These flat mazes of doors, keys and hostages feel more than a little dated, and although it almost feels even more nostalgic because of this there’s no denying that when you’re twenty stages deep they’ll have outstayed their welcome.
Despite some issues there’s a lot to love in this noughties throwback, much of that thanks to the audio and visuals. The rap soundtrack is just perfect for stabbing and shooting hordes of undead nasties, and when a track amps up it’s hard not to get really into blasting that shotgun. The lo-fi visuals might not quite appeal to everyone, but they suit the game wonderfully and really took me back to those teenage years of gaming on the PS2.
El Paso, Elsewhere is very much a mixed bag of a game. The engaging and surprisingly deep story and setting are really impressive, but the dated, one note gameplay struggles to back it up. It’s hard to look past the fact that diving through the air and shooting often isn’t that effective a strategy, and the enemy variety and level design doesn’t help that either. Despite its issues though I’m really glad I saw this game through to the end, and if you can turn off your brain and blast through the combat then it’s worth experiencing the supernatural noir vibes of El Paso, Elsewhere.
A fun throwback
Tells a great story
Some cool environments
Gameplay feels pretty dated
Levels are lacklustre
Diving just isn't effective enough