AS a genre, I’m quite fond of “Weird Fiction” – a mixture of supernatural, horror, sci-fi and just “really should be accompanied by Theremin music” elements.
Typically, the genre is associated with Lovecraftian horror and but it covers all sorts of, well, weird fiction and some of it – like this game – is even set in the Wild West.
Weird West, developed by WolfEye Studios and published by Devolver Digital for PC (reviewed), PlayStation and Xbox is – like the genre itself – an amalgamation of several different elements; it’s not really an action-RPG, it’s not a twin-stick shooter, it’s not a straight adventure game – yet it is also all of those things, too.
The basic idea is this is a version of the Wild West, but one with witches, magic, curses, pig-men, werewolves, wendigoes, and a generally unsettling, dark tone – not entirely unlike Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, in some respects.
I really liked the story – divided into five chapters, you play a bounty hunter, a pig-man, a Native American tribesman, a werewolf and a cultist, all tied together by magical forces outside their control and experiencing their own individual journeys which are part of a larger narrative that doesn’t become clear until the end of the game.
Of the five stories, I liked the Native American and the Werewolf chapters the best; their stories were the most engaging, even if the moral choices in the Native American chapter were far too obvious.
Disappointingly, the only voice acting in the game is the opening animation and the voice of the game’s narrator. Having voiced characters really would have helped bring the world alive.
Graphically, the game reminds me of Wasteland 2 and Wasteland 3 – it’s viewed from a quasi-isometric third person perspective, but you can rotate the camera and zoom in and out too.
Combat features quite prominently in the game, with a small number of firearms, a couple of melee weapons, and a bow. You can also upgrade your character abilities with relics found throughout the map, but these upgrades do not carry over to the next chapter – although if you find one of your previous characters and recruit them, they will still have them available.
Golden Ace cards can also be found to upgrade skills (such as overall health, stealth damage tc) and these skills do carry over, fortunately.
On anything but the lowest difficulty level, getting detected basically means an all-out gunfight with every baddie in the level, and even with two NPC party members you’re still not likely to come out on top without taking a serious battering. Stealth was not, from the experience, a viable or rewarding playthrough option unless you adored the Desperadoes series.
I understand why the devs might have wanted to go with a twin-stick-shooter style combat mechanism, but it just felt a bit out of place with the measured pace of the rest of the game – not to mention the aiming system isn’t always helpful, telling you that you’ve got a clear line to your target then having your shot blocked by an obstacle like a barrel or something when you pull the trigger.
I can’t help but feel if this game had been developed with a turn-based combat system, a la the OG Fallout games or the recent Wasteland games, that the overall experience would have been a lot stronger, however.
Levels are full of dynamite, oil, and poison barrels to cause chaos with, which certainly makes things interesting (and loud) but also ties back into the “stealth isn’t really a viable option” thing, too.
The developers go on about the interconnected nature of the world and how Your Choices Have Consequences, but (with a few notable exceptions), they don’t really, at least as far as I could tell.
Rescuing someone from captivity or something like that might earn you “A Friend For Life”, where they’ll show up randomly and help out in pitched gun battles sometimes; it’s an interesting mechanic but never proved decisive in battles for me and once it’s over they basically say “Well that was fun, see ya around!” and leave.
At the other end of the scale, you might incur a vendetta after killing a gang leader, at which point random members of that gang might accost you during your travels to seek revenge for you shooting their boss, but they were little more than mild inconveniences to deal with and ended up making me feel like Indiana Jones shooting that show-off swordsman in Raiders Of The Lost Ark.
There are some interesting mechanics whereby people can piece together the fact you committed a crime simply because you were the only stranger in the location – for example, you may decided to kill a particularly vile mayor in his hacienda, and despite no-one seeing you actually bury a machete in his head, people did see you arrive at the hacienda and no-one saw you leave, but the mayor is dead and gee, I wonder who did that?
While the world map has a number of settlements on it – some of which can become abandoned due to your actions – they still feel like procedurally generated Random Towns to visit; there’s no unique characters in most of them and the main reason to visit is to sell off all the junk you’ve collected and buy more ammo.
Overall, I couldn’t help but feel Weird West needed to be a proper RPG. The world is there; the setting is there, the atmosphere is there, writing is there, the story is there – but it hasn’t quite come together for me in this form.
I’ve still enjoyed the game (I do like a good story, after all!) and given it’s on Xbox Game Pass right now, it’s well worth saddling up for – just don’t expect Fallout meets Red Dead Redemption.
There’s a lot of worldbuilding and lore that’s only lightly touched on, so I hope we’ll see more from the Weird West in future – ideally in a form that takes better advantage of the lore and story possibilities we’ve seen in Weird West.