Skip to main content

El Paso, Elsewhere pays tribute to Max Payne with style and substance

Ever since it was first announced, I’ve been completely entranced by El Paso, Elsewhere. Developed by Strange Scaffold, the indie shooter looks like the developers of Max Payne were asked to create a Constatine game, and then someone made a PS1 demake of the result. It’s a wild and weird action game that sees its trenchcoat-wearing hero gunning down monsters during slow-motion dives. It’s a premise that sells itself once you watch a trailer of it.


Going into my first hands-on demo with it at this year’s Game Developers Conference, I wanted to know more. I figured I’d know how satisfying its bullet-time action felt within a few minutes, but I hoped to find some extra depth in its intriguing neo-noir story. As I quickly learned from Strange Scaffold studio head Xalavier Nelson Jr., El Paso, Elsewhere is much more than a small-scale Max Payne homage. It’s a richly detailed meditation on race, addiction, and more – all wrapped up in a stylish gameplay system that feels as fun as it looks.

Max Payne’s spiritual successor

El Paso, Elsewhere is a third-person shooter that wears its Max Payne influences on its sleeve. From its dark noir monologues to its commitment to black trench coats, there’s no mistaking what the foundation is built on. Though that’s the inspiration, El Paso entirely deviates from the PS2 classic when it comes to its story and structure. Its hero is James Savage, a pill-addicted gunman who’s on a mission to save the world from his vampire ex-girlfriend. That takes him to a small motel that’s somehow defied reality and grown over 46 stories tall.

The levels I played were built like small mazes, filled with vampires, werewolves, and other creatures to blast away. While the slow-motion gunplay most explicitly welcomes its Max Payne comparisons, it almost feels a bit more like Hotline Miami reimagined in 3D. Survival can be incredibly tough, as I had to react quickly in tight hallways or bathrooms. I died a million deaths during my playthrough, with each one teaching me to better prepare for what was around each corner and conserve my limited slow-mo meter carefully.

When I finally do clear a wave of enemies, it’s like I’ve just finished a gracefully morbid dance. Each slow-mo dive earns its own “oohs” and “aahs” as I sail over a werewolf and blast them with a shotgun or dive away from a vampire’s attack while leaving a trail of uzi fire in my wake. What worked so well for Max Payne works just as well here in a hypnotizingly lo-fi art style.

While the action is as strong as I expected, paying homage to classic shooters while maintaining a wholly unique texture, I’m drawn further the more Nelson Jr makes it clear that there’s substance to the style. For instance, Savage heals himself by popping pills. That isn’t just an empty nod to Max Payne’s healing system; the story will actually grapple with Savage’s very real addiction problem.

Even its hero’s name isn’t just a funny riff on “Max Payne.” Nelson Jr points out that it’s no coincidence that El Paso’s Black hero has “Savage” as a last name. It’s a loaded word that’s historically been used to dehumanize Black people, and the neo-noir story will grapple with that too. None of the small details are accidents. They recontextualize a handful of silly video game decisions, transforming them into powerful narrative tools. The medium is the message.

At the end of my demo, I walk away with exactly what I hoped to gain going into it. Strange Scaffold isn’t delivering your average indie action game built around a core, gameplay-forward hook. There’s a rich neo-noir underneath all the slow-mo dives, wrapped up in 46 stories of hell-raising, supernatural melodrama. I don’t need to know another detail; I’m ready to lock and load.

El Paso, Elsewhere is scheduled to launch this fall on PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
There’s an HP gaming PC for $530 in Best Buy’s Memorial Day sale
The HP Victus 15L gaming PC on a desk.

If you've been thinking about dipping your toes in modern PC gaming but you'd like to start with a budget gaming desktop, look no further than the HP Victus 15L, which is available from Best Buy's Memorial Day sale with a $200 discount. From its original price of $730, you'll only have to pay $530 for this gaming PC. However, you need to act fast with your purchase -- there's a few days left until the holiday itself, but we're not sure if stocks will last until then.

Why you should buy the HP Victus 15L gaming desktop
The HP Victus 15L gaming desktop, with its 12th-generation Intel Core i3 processor, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1650 graphics card, and 8GB of RAM, isn't as powerful as the top-of-the-line models of the best gaming PCs. However, it meets the minimum system requirements for some of today's best free-to-play games like Fortnite, Apex Legends, DOTA 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and Valorant, especially if you're willing to scale down the graphics settings a notch to ensure smooth performance. As a starter gaming desktop, you won't be limited with the titles that you can play on the HP Victus 15L, and when you feel the need for an upgrade, you can easily swap out its components for more advanced ones as that's one of the advantages of a gaming PC over a gaming laptop.

Read more
Final Fantasy 16: release date, trailers, gameplay, and more
Shiva in Final Fantasy 16.

Final Fantasy XVI is finally on its way after a prolonged gap between it and the previous numbered entry. While numerous major titles have seen delays in the past couple of years, we're glad to finally know the game is nearly upon us. There are still plenty of mysteries about the new adventure, but here's everything we know so far.
Release date

Final Fantasy XVI is confirmed to be arriving on June 22, 2023.

Read more
First big discount lands for LG’s 45-inch OLED WQHD gaming monitor
lg 45 inch ultragear oled curved gaming monitor deal best buy april 2023

If you've had your eyes on the 45-inch LG UltraGear OLED gaming monitor as a potential upgrade for your gaming setup, here's your first chance to get it with a significant discount. Best Buy has slashed the curved gaming monitor's price by $200, bringing it down to $1,500 from $1,700. It's still not cheap, but any amount of savings is a bonus for a high-performance display that's just been introduced to the market. We're not sure how long this offer will last though, so you need to take advantage of it right now as it may go offline at any moment.

Why you should buy the 45-inch LG UltraGear OLED gaming monitor
LG, one of the best TV brands with OLED technology as its calling card, is unsurprisingly also a mainstay in our list of the best monitors as it keeps churning out amazing computer displays like the 45-inch LG UltraGear OLED gaming monitor. If you want complete immersion with your high-end gaming PC, this is the screen to match it with because of the large screen that's combined with a 21:9 aspect ratio and a steep 800R curve, so you'll feel like you're in the game that you're playing.

Read more