Weird West - The Good The Bad and The Occult
There is no doubt I have a love for the old west. It is that romanticised love that comes from watching Tombstone and Young Guns too many times as a young fella and it is a love that has followed me ever since. Sadly, it has always felt that despite many great Western Movies and TV Shows, Video Games have always felt a little under-serviced in regards to six-shooters and saloons. Sure we had Red Dead, Desperadoes and Call to Juarez, but apart from that, the realm of the old west has remained pretty well untapped. Enter Weird West, developed by WolfEye Studios, a new studio comprised of ex-Arkane developers. From its initial announcement I have been excited to play the final product, especially after playing a pre-release demo last year and let me tell you, if you love the old west like I do, you are in for a treat.
Weird West is, for all intents and purposes, an Action RPG. That being said, it is not something along the lines of Diablo or Torchlight. The combat almost feels like a twin-stick shooter with little tweaks and additions that make it a unique experience. For starters so much in the world is interactive and that holds true for combat. Lanterns can be shot, water can conduct electricity, oil can be spread and explosives triggered. All of these interact with each other and all can be triggered either on purpose or by mistake. For example, a box of bullets can be knocked into a puddle of oil, which then gets set alight by an exploding lantern sending the bullets flying everywhere. That is just one example of the way these systems interact and they can come into play at any time without warning. It gives the combat a delightfully chaotic feel, the sense that no matter how careful you are, chance can, and will, send you into a spin more often than not.
This does lead to one of the game’s biggest problems however and that is the camera. The game is presented from a top-down perspective, with the camera able to be adjusted to a roughly 45-degree angle. During the chaos, keeping track of things can get quite difficult, the camera needs constant management and it is easy to get lost in the action. The camera has three levels of zoom which helps but even then I found myself lost or trapped in a corner on multiple occasions leading to a few untimely deaths in the process. This is only amplified by just how much is going on at any one time and can lead to frustration. It also holds true if stealth is required because it is often hard to determine if you are in the view of enemies, especially if they are in a lower or higher area than yourself. This isn’t a deal-breaker by any means, but it does take the shine off the fun at times.
The real star of the game however is the story. The game is actually broken up into five different chapters, each featuring a different protagonist. These individual stories play into a larger narrative and choices made in one story will affect what happens in later chapters. It is a wonderful way to present both the world and the overarching narrative, something I don’t think I have seen done this way before. Each of the stories has a central theme, be it revenge, forgiveness, survival or redemption and are wonderful in their own right, but it is only at the end of the game, that you see all the threads tied up and the consequences of your actions from all five stories play out that you can truly see just how interconnected the whole game is. It is a master class in storytelling that gives every choice you make in game weight and meaning. It is truly an amazing achievement and I find it hard to think of a game that gave my choices as much importance as Weird West did. I am truly excited to dive back into the game and start again, seeing how it plays out after taking a different path or choosing something new.
The world of Weird West is also wonderfully fleshed out, with traditional Wild West settlers, lawmen and outlaws mixing with werewolves, the undead and witches seamlessly. This once again comes down to the writing which makes all of the oddities, the strangeness and the occult fit perfectly in this old west setting. It is an appealing combination but one that could have easily gone wrong, thankfully that is not the case. There are pages and pages of lore to explore, secrets to uncover and knowledge to unearth, so players that get a kick out of learning as much as they can about a game and its world are going to really find something to love in Weird West.
Graphically, the game has gone with a cell-shaded look that closely resembles a horror comic book and I must say it suits the world perfectly. Nothing in the game screams that this is a graphical powerhouse, but it is, artistically, a good looking one. Playing on PC everything moved wonderfully, with no sign of slowdown or framerate drops so it seems to me that this simple, stylised look was the perfect choice for a small development team. It has given the game a unique look while at the same time avoiding tech issues. Sound in the Weird West is pretty much as you would expect it to be. There isn’t a lot of voice acting, but what is there is great (especially the Narrator), the sound effects all feel like they have been pulled from a spaghetti Western and the music is all acoustic guitars and country twangs. Sound is even used in some pretty clever ways to reveal hidden passages and other interesting secrets in the world.
The size of the world is also worth mentioning. This is potentially a very big game, with lots to explore, heaps in the way of side content and all sorts of nooks and crannies to poke your shotgun into. That being said, it took me roughly 20 hours to complete the story and any side quests that popped up along the way, so while I didn’t come close to seeing every area in the game, you can rest assured if you are the collect everything type, there is quite a lot of content for you to play with here. Throw in random encounters when travelling, bounty and hunting missions and treasure maps and I can easily see a completionist run taking 50 hours or even more.
There is one final issue I want to point out and that is the controls. I found the game much easier to play with a controller, the mouse aiming felt a little off if I am honest, but the controller brought its own problems. Each of the protagonists has a range of special abilities that can be activated through one of two radial menus, one menu for when you are aiming, one for when you are not. This leads to confusion and frustration in battle, especially when things are coming down to the wire. There is a lot going on at any one time and having to press 3 different buttons at the same time to activate an ability seems more than a little inelegant. It isn’t a game killer, but it is still a little annoying the developers couldn’t come up with a more streamlined solution.
With Weird West I feel like we have a game that could only be made by an indie studio, but one with AAA experience. There is so much that is unique and even genre-leading here, while at the same time being presented in a way that a big publisher would be proud of. The Story is world-class, the weight of consequence second-to-none and the interactive systems a chaotic sight to behold. The camera and control issues hold the game back from true greatness, but not by much. Weird West is something that you just can’t find anywhere else and is an adventure that is more than worth your time and money, leaving a lasting impression long after the credits have rolled.
Weird West was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by Devolver Digital.