West of Dead Review
The Wild West and the afterlife converge in West of Dead. A stylish supernatural roguelike shooter with a 90s comic aesthetic and Hollywood’s Hellboy (Ron Perlman, that is) stepping into the shoes of its enigmatic leading man, the aim of developer Upstream Arcade was true. Alas, West of Dead appears stranded in purgatory on PlayStation 4 with a list of game-breaking bugs keeping our hero (or indeed me, the player) from completing his quest.
It all started so well too. I clicked with West of Dead’s art style and the character who we come to know as Mason immediately. Ron Perlman does a great job of narrating and embodying this character from the beginning. On paper, a no-nonsense gunfighter in an oppressive, occult universe seems like the role Perlman was born to play. However, it didn’t take very long for me to grow tired of him. As the only speaking character his lines don’t exactly vary, with rare changes in dialogue only coming once you’ve progressed through a few of West of Dead’s procedurally generated environments.
If you’re anything like me, you’re going to die a lot in West of Dead. Normally, that wouldn’t bother me too much in a roguelike. It comes with the territory. However, the early onset difficulty spike in West of Dead is so egregious that it quickly became no fun. Dying and re-emerging in The Bar before heading into the game’s first section to hopefully gather enough resources to progress was punishing. And with the game’s systems are as shrouded in mystery as its piecemeal story it quickly became hard to feel like I was making any kind of progress. This also meant I heard the same lines (and read the same dialogue from silent characters) a lot. And no, our Perlman-voiced lead commenting on the frustration and repetition of the game’s early sections does not help either.
Combat is a game of skill, speed and patience. Taking cover and choosing the best time to take out your targets and the best of your two guns or abilities to use is key. You’ve not got a lot of room to manoeuvre, but you often have the advantage even against bigger enemies and bosses. Plus. when combat clicked, I felt like the bad ass undead cowboy that I saw on screen. Timing everything to perfection and flying through a room unscathed can feel incredible. Practice does make perfect and a great run often felt really rewarding, and alleviated some of the tedium of returning to the main menu when my luck eventually ran out. When I did finally battle out of that second area and move on, some of my ill will towards my first few hours began to wane and I even took down my first Outlaw and battled with my nemesis The Preacher with no fuss.
I thought I’d cracked it, and then, out of nowhere the game stopped saving my progress. Right in the middle of my best run, the game’s autosave function stopped working. This left me exiting from a system menu every thirty seconds and then unable to progress at the end of the level. Only exiting the program would allow me to continue, resetting my progress to my last save point in the process. This is unforgivable in the majority of games, but it becomes an even bigger issue in a run-based game like this one. A little research will also unearth a list of other damning, game-breaking, bugs people have experienced whilst playing West of Dead. At the time of writing this issue has yet to be fixed. I’m not even sure what’s causing the issue and it appears that not everyone is affected.
Before this bug struck, my experience of West of Dead wasn’t the greatest, but I was willing to push through. The game’s art style, slowly evolving story, and simple but tactical approach to combat were keeping me going. Technical issues aside, the game has plenty of quirks that make it hard to recommend. However, even now I still want to play the game. To me, that says something. Unfortunately, without assurances I can properly progress, that's not going to happen.
As you can probably gather, I haven’t managed to finish West of Dead or uncover a lot of what the game has to offer beyond the basics. A coarse blend of frustration and disappointment clouds my time with a game that, when everything fell into place, seemed to have a lot of promise. Alas, I can’t review a game based on what could have been. West of Dead on PlayStation 4 is a mess. That’s not something I say lightly or flippantly, but it’s the unfortunate truth.
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