Weird West Review
It doesn’t seem like it was that long ago when Wild West games were a rarity. For years, the best gunslinging title was Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, but in 2018, Red Dead Redemption 2 came along and changed that. What was once a forlorn setting mostly reserved for pulpy action movies quickly became the environment for games trying to win awards from Geoff Keighley, and even four years after Rockstar released that title, it’s still a place that the industry is trying to (slowly) explore. And while that’s all well and good for people who enjoy slinging a six shooter, those who don’t are regularly forced to question whether or not they should bother picking up this year’s westerly adventure. And, if you’re wondering that yourself, the good, the bad and the ugly news is that Weird West isn’t worth it, because much like the dozens of films that tried to copy The Outlaw Josey Wales in the ‘70s, it’s a title that simply sits in the shadow of Rockstar’s infinitely better entry in the genre.
Much like the oft-mentioned Red Dead Redemption 2, Weird West is a game all about, well, the American Wild West. The story follows five protagonists in an anthology-style narrative wherein each character needs to contend with, and ultimately solve, a specific problem that they or their community are dealing with. The story starts off simple enough with a bounty hunter seeking revenge on the person who killed their family, but as the 10-20 hour tale progresses, it gets increasingly strange with plots about pigmen, ghost seers and everything in between.
The good news is that all five of these stories, as well as the dozens of other mini-narratives within it and the overarching chronicle, are generally excellent. The more banal questlines often border on cliche, but the ones that put the “weird” in Weird West are genuinely interesting. Throughout the plot, you (and by extension the characters you play as) are forced to deal with not only the realities of a quasi-steampunk version of the American Wild West, but also big boy meaning of life questions that will leave you pondering as you roam in-game ponderosas and whatever you do in your daily life after you beat the game.
The characters, the world and graphics of Weird West all ensure this, too. The title uses a cel-shaded art style in combination with dialogue-heavy cutscenes to tell its narrative in a way that’s ultimately engaging in ways that the majority of games (save for, yes, Red Dead Redemption 2) can’t, and it’s incredibly hard to put down the title because of this.
But, the bad news is the same can’t be said for Weird West’s gameplay, which all but ruins what would’ve otherwise been a pretty good game. Unlike most titles on the market, Weird West is a top-down twin-stick shooter akin to Desperados 3, and again unlike most games, it’s not a very good one. While its core gameplay is solid enough, with satisfying shooting and a variety of weapons, that core is completely let down by an astounding number of stupid design choices. Things like a camera that never seems to be at the right angle, guns that constantly miss for some reason and bullet-sponge enemies ensure that you’ll constantly be frustrated while trying to enjoy the title’s otherwise interesting story.
This frustration is furthered, too, by Weird West’s insistence on being a so-called “immersive sim”. You can explore the game’s huge map at your own leisure with all five of its characters, but doing so drains resources like a college kid drains their roommate’s liquor cabinet. You’ll constantly be scavenging for healing items, ammunition and other lootable trash just to survive, and while that’s great in a game like (and not to keep bringing this up) Red Dead Redemption 2, it’s annoying to have to constantly be looting every object in an environment when you’ll ultimately lose those items once your specific character’s story is complete and you move onto the next gunslinger.
It’s also worth noting that, and this is its ugliest part, Weird West is not an easy game. Even though the title’s five playable protagonists’ stories only last two to four hours each, the majority of that time will be spent reloading previous saves or navigating through previously-explored environments to ensure you can simply survive a combat encounter. There are a handful of bosses in particular that can, and will, completely destroy your character if you didn’t think to spend an hour at the game’s many hub cities stocking up on every healing item and bullet you can get your hands on. While there are ways to get around this by doing things like spamming melee attacks or trying to use stealth, this overlying difficulty makes the experience hard to really get into.
Thankfully, it’s (almost) Weird West’s saving grace that this, as well as the terrible combat, kind of make sense within its world. While any items you loot will be taken away once you progress the game’s story enough to play as its next protagonist, the one thing that never goes away is death. If, for example, you kill everyone in a town as the game’s bounty hunter character, that town will still be empty (or infested by ghouls) when you play as the next cowboy. As the narrative progresses, this often leads to serious action-and-consequence moments that further its narrative while making the overall experience a tad more engaging.
However, at the end of the day, that engagement is almost always ruined by Weird West’s terrible combat. While the game’s plot structure, characters, audio-visual design and themes are all evocative of the very best cowboy shooters and cinema, the shooting itself is so abysmal that it’s hard to really enjoy the overall experience. It’s sometimes possible to get around combat by making use of “immersive sim” elements, and the frustrating fights make some sort of sense within the game’s lore, but that doesn’t stop it from making the entirety of Weird West a weak experience that ultimately doesn’t offer much that RDR2 didn’t in 2018.
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