Published by Devolver, developed by the founders of Arkane and taking up a possible bis-subgenre, Strange West has everything to be a pure nerd product. Having played cowboys and native americans in video games the last few times we haven’t been disappointed, from Red Dead Redemption 2 to Desperados 3. Also, we leave a large part of the infiltration to this Strange West will remind of Desperados 3 or other Shadow Tactics. So an original universe modeled by a talented team. But does the recipe work?
(Weird West review on Xbox Series X created via a commercial copy of the game)
Cowboys, Indians and Werewolves (and Vampires) (and…)
Before The Weird West is the title of the game that concerns us for this review, it is a subgenre of fiction that originated somewhere in the 1930s. One of the first notable works that can be associated with the genre is therefore the short story Le Tertre Maudit, by Robert E Howard (also known for the adventures of his character Conan The Barbarian), published in 1932 and featuring cowboys and vampires.
The Weird West is a mix of classic western and fantastical stories about zombies, witches and other secret cults… We are on Strange Westthe game that begins in a movie set of john ford, where a massacre has just taken place. We play the wife of a man and a son, both bathing in a pool of blood, and if our character appears partially amnesiac, such an outburst of violence is probably not human…
With the release of Weird Western Tales by DC Comics, whose acronym is Weird West, the genre would solidify in the ’70s and take on the name it still bears today. Jonah Hex that we saw at the cinema Josh Brolin in a movie released in 2011 was born on these pages. Since then, the Weird West has brought us works like the series The Mysteries of the West, The Dark Tower of StephenKing, or novels with the Bourbon Kid. a night in hell Robert Rodriguezcan probably also be described as a modern Weird West.
Freedom, darling of freedom
And since it’s about gender, let’s get to the bottom of it. Strange Westthe game is signed, among other things Raphael Colantoniowho is none other than the founder of Arkane Studios (Dishonored, but was that worth mentioning?!), which he left in 2017 to found and develop WolfEye Studios Strange West.
If the brand has changed, the spirit is still there, and Weird West fits well into the immersive sim genre that was so successful with Arkane and at Dishonored. The game is in fact very open in its proposal, and anything that comes to mind is possible, or almost. So, very early on in the adventure, it will be about extracting information from the corrupt mayor of a small town, information that he is only willing to share in exchange for title deeds, which we have to steal from a family a little further away. From there, we’ll do what we see fit: break into the night farm, ninja style, to steal the titles? Get out guns in hand and get the papers back voluntarily or by force? Or give that bugger Mr. Mayor what he deserves and search his home for the information we need?
Everything is possible and It is even recommended to explore different routes through the game, which explains to us that it is even possible to get rid of main characters. For this purpose, a fast save and load system has been implemented, allowing us to experiment with different ways to achieve the goals we set ourselves.
With the immersive sim, the other facet of game design Strange West, this is emergent gameplay. The thing was necessary for us to feel that freedom in the game, that idea that anything is possible. Stack the crates in order to be able to climb them and get to the roof of a building? It works out ! Distribute oil lamps in front of the doors of a building to catch the occupants, who trample on the lanterns as they exit and then light them? It works too!
stay in the brain
Unfortunately, the limits of the game will not only be the imagination, but also artificial intelligence, which turns out to be somewhat limited. So, a shot heard too close, for example, will lead the enemies directly to our position, if the sounds of thrown objects will not make them react at all. As in many titles of the genre, the enemies remain “alert” only for a certain amount of time, and once they return to their original state, they don’t mind resting for a minute on a bench at the foot of which the corpses are accumulating. and then become the next body in the stack…
To this must be added controls that are far from easy to master. The game is displayed in top-down view, somewhere between old-school isometric 3D (Gauntlet…) and top-down like Hotline Miami, with three zoom levels and the ability to close the camera almost like a third-person game move.
The action scenes play out like a twin stick shooter and we quickly get overwhelmed in the fights, between the difficulty of aiming correctly and the complexity of the controls (R1 + A/B/X/Y to use a power to trigger, but L2+R1+A/B/X/Y to trigger a weapon’s special ability – logical, but not super instinctive in the heat of battle…). Maybe playing with keyboard and mouse is more convenient?
Therefore, despite the openings offered by the game, we will carry out the missions in infiltration mode as much as possible. The game is designed around that anyway, with the cones of enemy field of view displayed on the mini-map and the ability to silently get rid of those same enemies.
If the emerging gameplay elements give us the pleasure of devising devious plans to get rid of our enemies, we’ll find that we’ve quickly left the gameplay loop behind. We will embody different characters throughout the game, presented as an anthology of different short stories, thus fitting perfectly into the legacy of DC Weird Western Tales, but the small differences between them will not sufficiently renew the gaming experience.
However, we stay there until the end the universe is rich, well written and very faithful to the genre to which it belongs, also in its artistic direction, very funny book. We will also sometimes think of the style of The Wolf Among Us, despite a completely different staging.
Despite some shortcomings, We can say that Weird West is a success. By bringing a rather rare fictional genre to the stage, he manages perfectly to translate, even enrich, this universe into a video game. The game’s lore is indeed specially written, and we wouldn’t be surprised if it were turned down in DLC, comics, or other narrative forms. The promises of the immersive simulation are well delivered: the player can build their adventure roleplaying style, and when the experience reaches its limits at the end, it keeps us excited for the ending of the story.
However, it will take an appetite for infiltration to appreciate it Strange West, a certain imbalance in the game design that pushes the player to progress in this direction. Surprisingly, in the last few weeks Blood West has also been released in Early Access, a game with strong stealth components that mixes western and fantasy themes. Like a touch of time?