Wild West has always been a safe setting if you want to give you game a unique identity. Not many games from that era and it’s perfect for any kind of open-world RPG. There is even a famous one about redeeming, the redemption, or something, I don’t know. From what I do know, it gathered a plethora of awards (also money) so it’s just a matter of time until other developers follow through. Or is it? See, West of Dead is a bit different in that regard.
You find yourself in Wyoming in the year of 1888. Location: Purgatory. Wait, what?! Yep, it is the underworld of Wild West. It is a place of gun smoke, darkness (quite a lot of darkness, to be fair), wendigos, witches, and murder. You play as William Mason trying to get yourself out of the purgatory through dark corridors and mines of the Wild West. Shoot, dodge, cover, and throw sticks of dynamite on your way to freedom. Or some light at the end of the tunnel.
At the core of it, West of Dead is a procedurally generated roguelike with some unique spices thrown into the pot. A top-down, twin-stick shooter where you have to think fast, count your bullets, and plan your every move. You will kill a lot, die a lot but there is almost endless variety in how you complete (or at least try to) every section. In the dark purgatory of Wild West, weapons, covers, and light are your only friend. You’ll have to learn how each weapon reacts and when is the best time to use it. Revolvers have no delay in aiming but they do have slow reload once you fire up all of your shots. Rifles have a slight delay when you aim at the enemy, but they also possess incredible accuracy and long-range. Shotguns are extremely powerful but they won’t do much unless you get really close to the enemy. Now let’s talk about the cover system. The cover is important here since shooting at the enemies in the open won’t get you far. You might survive 5 or 6 shots if you’re lucky and then it’s game over for you. Going from cover to cover is crucial since after every few shots from the enemy (or dynamite or two), that stone grave that’s been hiding you will break into pieces and you will have to find a new one. This mechanic forces you to think on your feet while also paying attention to the enemies. It is hectic, challenging, but also incredibly rewarding whenever you come victorious out of every battle. Another gimmick that you can use to your advantage is the lanterns that you might find occasionally in rooms. By running to them and lighting them up, the immediate flash will stun every enemy in the room. If you’re quick, you can make swiss cheese out of every enemy before they even figure out what happened.
As it is obvious by now, West of Dead has a distinctive art style. The game marvelously uses the play of light and dark to its advantage and to amplify some game mechanics. Despite this being a procedurally generated game, the areas in the game are anything but generic. From the gloomy mine shafts to moldy swamps of hell, there is always some new upgrade or a weapon to discover, as well as some new ways to die. If you ever wanted to play as the Ghost Rider of Wild West, look no further!
Obviously, we can talk about the audio segment of the game without mentioning the marvelous work of Ron Perlman here. To be honest, I had zero clues that he was the voice actor here until I checked out the press release. What I can tell you for sure is that his work here elevates the atmosphere of the game way above expected. William Mason’s occasional remarks and ramblings as you move forward are the perfect backdrops to the setting of West of Dead. The gritty, raspy voice of our protagonist couldn’t be more menacing as you shoot your way to the freedom through the mystic purgatory.
While the game certainly won me over with its art, setting, and voice work, I can’t help but to talk about some things that most of the players will find anything but user-friendly. This being a roguelike, some things are given (and expected) but West of Dead is one of those games where you have to know what you’re getting ourselves into. The skill and practice as you play come from repetition, meaning prepare to die a lot. The tutorial is as basic as it gets, and you’re just thrown into the world of utter despair and danger while being forced to learn most of the stuff on the go. If you can get past that, you’ll find some rewarding content and enjoyment in the West of Dead.
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