El Paso, Elsewhere is beautifully simple. It’s a third-person action game in which you fire guns and dive through windows, triggering bullet-time as you whittle down ranks of converging foes. Its levels are labyrinthine, its hunger for carnage is nearly endless. It’s a thrilling challenge at the standard difficulty and thoroughly cathartic if you drop down the damage you receive, set the ammo to infinite, and just thrash away in the abyss. All of this, yes, but what’s special about El Paso is how it’s been dressed up.
It comes in layers. A noir hero in a trenchcoat enters a motel and rides the elevator down to hell, stopping at every level along the way. Twin pistols, blocky outlines, fizzing, flickering shadows: at first it feels like a Stranglehold PS1 demake. The character models have the odd silhouettes and triangle noses of early Tomb Raider, while muzzle-flashes are lovingly ragged and pixelated at the edges. Environments have walls and floor and – most often – no ceiling, revealing a twisting Llamasoft sky, while each stage has the twisty-turny relentlessness of a great Doom level.
But there’s more to it, still. The logo, with its bold font and emergency-services yellow suggests Lost Highway era Lynch, and he would certainly make the most of that cage lift you ride around in. But there’s something deeper and more rarified in its pulpy strangeness here. El Paso, I decided after a few hours, really reminds me of Repo Man-era Alex Cox. It’s witty and also kind of serious. It’s shlock, but strikingly so. It’s Americana but someone’s taken a step back to reveal the domestic oddness of it all. And then it goes wild.