Hard West – Review
Hard West is the product of two very different, but equally enjoyable genres coming together; the Western and the Supernatural. Developed by Creative Forge Games, Hard West is another Kickstarter success story after it gained crowdfunding support in September 2014. After raising in excess of $94,000 CAD via the platform it has only taken another year before Hard West became available for mass consumption (their timeliness is something other Kickstarter devs should take note of). Backed by over 4000 players, the game is now available to all of us, and with a few dozen hours of Hard West behind me, I’m pleased to report that it delivers in a number of fantastic ways.
Though Hard West spends some time dabbling in elements of the supernatural, for the most part this is a relatively simplistic revenge story. Starting off as something of a rescue mission Warren and his father journey to rescue his captured mother, but circumstances quickly change and by the end of the game’s tutorial it quickly becomes a story of retribution. Despite having an impressive and very grim sounding narrator, and a novel supernatural bent on the traditional Spaghetti Western, that while still engaging it fails to mask a rather simplistic story. An intriguing twist however is that in the rough and tumble of the west pure evil actually takes physical form and walks the lands as you or I could, and it certainly changes up both the narrative and particularly the gameplay dynamic.
If you’ve ever played an X-Com game before then you’ll immediately feel quite at home with Hard West. Though not X-Com with demons and Cowboys, there are still a few similarities that will make the X-Com veteran feel as though they’ve got a head start on the rest of the pack, but Hard West will still punish those who get a little too hasty or cocky. The top down perspective and turn based tactical approach is normal for the type of game that it is, but there are some simple, yet clever differences to combat that give the game a bit of extra depth. Taking cover is important, but in Hard West it’s important that you take cover behind the right objects, hiding behind a tent won’t protect you, the bullets will pass right through it, another thing to consider is the lighting, despite being hidden behind cover, you can spot an enemy based on the shadow they’ve cast. The supernatural elements creep in with the ability to restore health coming from taking a bite out of a fallen foe, or boosting your luck stat having taken a puff from a Shaman’s pipe. Some of these elements such as the Golden Bullet, an incredibly accurate shot that never misses, are great, but also undermine the tactical elements of the game. There are other elements however that push these tactical elements further, you can recover health when you’ve escaped direct sunlight for example, and this creates an presents an added layer of depth to combat. Regardless of whether a feature is helpful or a hindrance to what the experience is designed to deliver, they’re all quite fun additions.
Hard West hits the nail on the head visually, conveying the visual style of the Wild West, while successfully dabbling in the supernatural themes in such a way that still makes the look feel believable enough. The overworld map is a bit light on for content, but each level is full of charm and personality. The musical score, overseen by The Witcher III: Wild Hunt composer Marcin Przybylowicz is moody and tense, and like the visuals, perfectly portrays the lonely, unsettling, gruelling Hard West style. It’s rare that I’ve found myself stunned by a games visuals when looking at it from a top down perspective, but Hard West nails its look and I couldn’t have been any more impressed by it.
I can’t help but feel that game would have been better without the supernatural elements, but Hard West isn’t particularly held back by them and their inclusion certainly helps differentiate the game from the remainder of the pack. Despite an only semi-decent narrative, Hard West delivers its story so well that you’ll hardly be concerned by its lack of depth, despite some design choices that undermine some of the genres greatest strengths, it still makes for a challenging, engaging experience. Hard West is a great game, and one I recommend wholeheartedly, but with a few wiser choices it could actually have been one of the real greats of the genre.