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August 2022

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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PC Review - 'Weird West'

by Cody Medellin on July 6, 2022 @ 12:30 a.m. PDT

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

The Wild West remains a popular setting for games, mostly because there aren't enough of them to reach critical mass. It is also a setting that seems fitting to mix with the supernatural, as evidenced by games like Darkwatch, Hard West, West of Dead, and Hunt: Showdown. Weird West is another offering that slots itself into the category of supernatural Wild West game, and while it has the right ideas, the execution is less than stellar.

The story tells the tale of five different protagonists, each with their own motivations. An Oneriest can see the future and seeks to stop future events. A bounty hunter tries to save her husband from cannibals and avenge her murdered son. A werewolf seeks to grow his kind. A native protector is on the hunt for an evil spirit. A pigman tries to find a cure for his cursed fate. The only thing tying them together is a mark and the mystery of why they were chosen in the first place.

The stories are compelling enough to give players a desire to push forward, but the fascinating part of the game is the world. It has all of the trappings of the Wild West that most people are familiar with, but there are enough parts to keep things mysterious. Sirens broker deals with outlaws, talking trees issue curses, and monstrous shopkeepers speak in rhyme. They're strange occurrences but treated like regular, albeit dangerous, things. The lore sometimes comes through via character conversations, but most of it is delivered via short newspaper snippets that seem normal, but some little details show how it deviates from what's familiar.

Played from an isometric viewpoint, Weird West is an action-RPG that doesn't focus too much on either aspect. For the action part, the game adopts a twin-stick shooter philosophy that's more involved since you need to hold down a button to aim, point in the direction you want to fire, and then hit another button to fire. There's more to manipulate compared to other games that squarely focus on twin-stick shooting, but it doesn't take long to get used to it. You can jump and dodge-roll, and you can even do a slow-motion dive a la Max Payne. There's a decent variety of weapons to choose from with pistols, shotguns, bows and arrows and the like. If you don't want to go everywhere with guns blazing, you can employ some basic stealth by crouching behind obstructions or hiding in bushes in addition to knocking out enemies and disposing of their bodies before their friends investigate.

There are a few things that make the action and stealth combo fun to play. The game is a bit more forgiving when it comes to the twin-stick shooting, so as long as your aiming line turns red before you fire, you'll hit the enemy without issue. Everything you encounter is interactive, so you can shoot out a lamp to set everything around it on fire or throw almost any object. Objects can also be kicked to put them into a better position to create mayhem. Leave a dead body out in the open, and vultures come by to pick at it. While the bird blocks gunfire, it means that you get an extra source of meat when you kill it. Aside from dying, there's no other fail state, so it does feel more freeform than expected.

At the same time, there are parts that could use some tweaking. In particular, the enemy AI isn't exactly the brightest. They're fine when spotting you, but let them spot a dead body, and they aren't on high alert for too long. Knock over a lamp, and they have a tendency to run into the lamp and end up setting themselves on fire, after which they do nothing to put out the flame. Other times, they're oblivious to noise, so throwing dynamite that kills no one will startle them, but that's it. Aside from that, the camera could do with a larger range of zoom levels; three distinct zoom levels isn't good enough because none of them strike the correct balance between seeing your character and seeing the rest of the environment. Also, while the twin-stick system works fine for firearms, it doesn't feel so natural when you partake in melee attacks.

The RPG portion of the game is pared down. You don't get XP of your own, and you can't customize any of your characters, but you can give your players specific abilities, like unloading a full flip into an enemy or calling upon a spirit bear if you find the relics to unlock it. You can also find gold playing cards to unlock basic buffs, like increased health and faster reloading. You can pick up just about everything in the world to sell off or transform unused guns into something more useful. You can hire other people to be in your party, and some of the people you rescue can randomly appear to lend you a hand. You can mine for ore, cook, and participate in a ton of side-quests. The areas to explore aren't exactly expansive, but the travel from these areas does uncover random events, like getting ambushed by foes, running into merchants, and finding nearby towns for more side-quests. There are even a few mysterious strangers that pose questions or give you items that affect the game much further down the line.

Both of these elements come together to produce an adventure that contains quite a few immersive elements. Go into an abandoned town to kill all of the bandits or spirits, and you could find yourself with that same area bustling with regular civilians; the opposite occurs if you clear out all of the townsfolk. Let an enemy leave, and there's a good chance they'll return to seek revenge. Do good or bad deeds, and everyone reacts to you in kind, no matter where you go. We've seen games where every action has repercussions, but it remains a delight to see it play out here.

What can be a bit divisive is the way that Weird West handles all five protagonists. Each story is told separately but in a linear order, so you'll always start the game as the bounty hunter. Protagonists you control later on can encounter the same people and recruit them into the party, and they'll have the same abilities and items you'd left them with. That part is great in reinforcing that this is a lived-in world. What will disappoint some players is that moving to a new character means starting from scratch. You'll keep any of the previously unlocked perks but not the abilities, items and cash. You can prep for this by stashing everything in the bank or on your horse before the transition occurs, or you can gamble on your new character meeting your old one somewhere down the line. That kind of "gotcha" isn't a great one to experience and can leave you deflated if you weren't invested in the story.

The presentation treads that fine line between excellent and questionable. The music is brilliant, as it captures the mood of a spooky west quite well without feeling overwhelming or sounding like it mimics the soundtrack of other Westerns. The sounds come off perfectly, but the voices may give players pause. Namely, there's only one voice in the game: the narrator who embodies the spirit of the Western quite well due to his gravelly voice and soft-spoken performance. Everyone else is mute, but there are times when you'll catch someone speaking in a mumbled manner as if they came out of Banjo-Kazooie. Considering the amount of dialogue, it makes sense that it isn't fully voiced, but it would've been nice to hear someone different every now and then.

Graphically, Weird West sports a modern comic book look, with dark lines accentuating a broad color palette. It isn't so overwhelming compared to when the technique first appeared, but it is noticeable and gives the world a striking look. The frame rate is absolutely solid no matter what's happening around you, and the particle effects are quite good, but not too many are flashy. Aside from the aforementioned camera zoom, one thing you'll notice is how the game doesn't go for a high-polygon look. This is especially evident when you zoom in on the final enemy in the area and see some hard edges that normally would've been smoothed out. It makes sense that this would be the case considering the levels of zoom in the game, but it is still startling to see.

Weird West is a game that players can grow to love, provided you can forgive some of its issues and design decisions. The idea of going through five different protagonists with somewhat connected stories is fascinating, but the resetting of items and skills when changing characters doesn't contribute to the desire to explore. The lands don't vary much given the setting, but the changes based on your actions are fun to see. The combat is fine, but the enemy behavior can sometimes be laughable, while the presentation teeters between amazing and average. It's worth checking out if you're prepared to invest some time waiting for its magic to hit.

Score: 7.5/10

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