Weird West

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: WolfEye Studios
Release Date: March 31, 2022


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PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Weird West'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Nov. 1, 2021 @ 8:00 a.m. PDT

Weird West is an action RPG experience set within a surreal vision of the developing frontier.

There are few things that go together as well as the supernatural and the Wild West. The frontier setting naturally fits with tales of werewolves, creepy cults and monstrous ne'er-do-wells almost as much as it does bandits and stagecoach robberies. Weird West isn't the first game to combine these two, but it's seemingly one of the most ambitious. Coming from WolfEye Studios, comprised of ex-Arkane Studios (the makers of Prey and Dishonored) developers, it aims to combine the free-roaming nature of those games with a setting that's far larger than anything they've tackled before.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe Weird West is as a Wild West fantasy Dishonored — as if that game weren't set in a weird mix of the real world and fantasy. The setting is pure Wild West at heart, from cowboys and farmers to bank robberies and bandits. Of course, there are also monsters and the supernatural. You'll discover "Sirens," man-eating beasts who disguise themselves as humans, or pigmen, or mysterious relics that allow you to enchant your weapons.

The final game will have multiple playable characters, but our preview build only let us explore one: Jane Bell. Jane was a talented bounty hunter who gave up the gun to live a quiet life with her family. Unfortunately, we all know cowfolk can't just hang up their guns. Jane's quiet life is interrupted when her child is murdered and her husband kidnapped by a group of bandits, who are after more than just money. As we know the most foolish thing imaginable is to force a gunperson to come out of retirement, Jane promptly sets out on a quest for vengeance on those who took away her quiet life.

Weird West is an isometric game that bears more than a passing resemblance to the classic Fallout titles. You move around large environments full of various things to explore. You can visit towns full of people to help (or loot) at your leisure, or you can quest into dungeons full of dangerous monsters and valuable loot. The major difference from Fallout is that Weird West is a real-time isometric shooter game rather than a turn-based RPG. You fight, move and do everything in real time, which gives the game a distinctly different feel.

The game doesn't lack RPG elements, though. You'll find and equip different guns and vests, each with their own attributes. There are even several different varieties of guns, such as revolver, rifle and shotgun. As you play, you unlock perks (which carry over between characters), special attacks and abilities. Some of these are based around the gun you're using, such as a rifle getting a silenced shot or a revolver emptying its entire clip of ammo in a single go. Others are exclusive to the playable character, such as Jane Bell's Bounty Hunter skills.

It's worth noting that this is a twin-stick shooter regardless of how many RPG mechanics are tacked on. Combat takes place largely in real time, pausing only when you're selecting an ability. However, you can't run around without any risks. Jane Bell is not a particularly durable character; she's an ace shooter but depends on her agility to survive. You need to balance moving and ducking behind cover, depending on the situation. You have a cool Max Payne-style, slow-motion bullet dodge, but that's more for eking out more damage, not becoming invincible.

You also need to learn how to play dirty. For example, the environment can be a weapon. There are the traditional Red Explosive Video Game Barrels that can clear multiple enemies with a single shot. You can also shoot an oil lantern to set dry grass alight or use an electrical bullet to shock enemies who are soaked from rain or water. You can get the jump on enemies by moving a barrel to create your own shortcut over a fence. There are a lot of options available, and there are few encounters that have to be taken straight on.

Stealth is also a valid approach. As long as the enemy doesn't notice you, it's reasonable to sneak around. You don't necessarily need to get into combat in some cases, but you're a bounty hunter who's been forced out of retirement by the death of your child.

You know what you're going for.

Fortunately, you can also perform stealth kills. By default, you have the good old standard of "sneak up from behind and choke them out," complete with hiding a body in the bushes. Some of your special attacks can also fill the niche, such as a sniper shot that makes no noise and does more damage to unaware enemies, offering up the possibility to picking foes from a distance.

If this all feels familiar, that is because it's very similar to Arkane's titles, except in an isometric setting instead of a 3D FPS. It's very clear that while the viewpoint may have changed, the design ethos is very much the same. You're offered different paths and solutions, and it is up to you figure out which build works best for you. Likewise, you have a lot of freedom in the game. It's not a great idea to start murdering people, but you can if it calls to you. Likewise, you can take the time to bury dead bodies or, alternately, dig them up to loot. These kinds of actions influence your Reputation, which can have multiple effects on how people like you. Be too awful, and you'll close off potential allies entirely.

As for exploration of the world map, you're given a large overhead map of the area, most of which is covered in darkness, and you can choose a direction and just go. Of course, random wandering is a bad idea. The wild wastes are home to supernatural and mundane baddies that view you as a tasty feast, and they may pop up randomly. On the other hand, you might encounter friendly merchants or other positive outcomes. These encounters aren't fixed, and where one encounter might involve a spooky monster, the next might leave you with a boatload of health-replenishing meat.

Overall, Weird West feels like it's trying to hit a midpoint between Dishonored and the pre-FPS Fallout games, and it's succeeding surprisingly well. Our preview build showed us that the developers have a good idea of how to make areas feel explorable, even within the limitations of an isometric view. At times, I genuinely felt like I was playing Fallout up until the moment that I realized I could use a clever combination of items to skip an entire segment of the game that felt like Dishonored. If the full game lives up to what we saw in Jane Bell's adventure, Weird West has all the makings of a surprise hit. Keep an eye out for the title, which releases on January 11, 2022.

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