Weird West

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Weird West – Hands-On Preview

Back in August, I was treated to a hands-off event held by WolfEye Studios for their upcoming game, Weird West. Based on what I saw that day, I have never been more excited for a twin-stick shooter in my life. They promised a lot of different things, many of which are unheard of in these styles of games. Moving forward to October 2021, and I’ve finally been given the chance to try it out for myself – something I had been looking forward to since I had the chance to speak with some of the development team.

As the name would suggest, Weird West is set in the not-so Wild West – A place where cowboys and outlaws duel with six-shooters, while blowing holes in the sides of mountains with dynamite in the hopes of finding precious metals, but then things take a turn for the weird. Strange contraptions, such as the new-fangled Portable Relayograph, which is effectively a one-way wireless fax machine, and based on the accompanying picture, you wear it on your arm. Alternatively, you’ll find yourself carrying items with magical properties, such as the Firestarter Amulet, which, assuming you’re currently on fire from accidentally destroying an oil lamp, you’ll have a chance at setting your enemies on fire with each shot you do.

The weird doesn’t just stop there, however. While you’ll find yourself fighting the Stillwater Gang in an attempt to find your kidnapped husband, you’ll also find yourself encountering a number of enemies inspired by the likes of Dungeons and Dragons or H.R. Giger. These take the form of the mysterious Sirens, a horrific amphibious creature that can take the form of a human and has a taste for flesh, or the blind Mine Crawlers – once human, now nothing more than a creature obsessed with gold and explosives. Of course, there are plenty of other gangs and supernatural creatures to discover, but I can’t go giving too much away.

While it is a twin-stick shooter first and foremost, Weird West features some very intuitive RPG aspects to it. While not as involved as titles such as Diablo or even the Far Cry franchise, the perks and abilities available for you to unlock do help to make your character feel like your own. If you favour the revolver, for example, one of the first abilities you can unlock is to “Fan the Hammer,” which rapidly unloads your remaining bullets in a hailstorm of lead. More powerful abilities will require you to save up your hard-earned Nimp Relics, a strange arcane trophy that you can find hidden around the map. Additionally, perks that increase your health or chances of finding gold coins are available should you happen to stumble across Golden Aces of Spades cards.

The map does seem a little linear and small at first, as it appears that you can only travel to specific destinations as they become available and the map opens up, however, it is completely open to exploration and you can travel where you see fit. While you don’t necessarily play your character while exploring the map, there is a chance that you will come across random encounters as you explore, with some being hostile and others playing host to wandering sales people.

One of the promised features here was the fact that the map is alive, and this is something that WolfEye Studios has delivered on. Should you kill off all the bandits in a particular area, (or even the townsfolks if so inclined) then townships will eventually become abandoned and the buildings will grow to reflect this. They’ll become worn down, full of spider webs, or swarming with wildlife. Come back again later, and perhaps another community has come in to tidy it up, re-establishing a new town for you to rest at, or another gang using it as a hiding spot. On the same token, should you leave someone alive, you may very well find them seeking vengeance as you continue your explorations.

One of the biggest things I was looking forward to about Weird West is that even though it is a twin-stick shooter, you can explore absolutely everywhere. One way or another, every building can be entered, even if you have to climb to the roof to drop down through an opening. You’re not stuck running around on a single level like most top-down games, there are multiple levels and generally multiple ways to climb them, so you can use the environment to your advantage.

On top of this, every aspects of the playable area can be interacted with. Oil lamps can be turned on and off, or more importantly, used as a weapon. Why not try picking one up, hurling it at the enemy, and shooting it mid-air? The lamp will explode, the oil will spill out, and everything in the immediate vicinity will be hit by the explosion AND covered in burning oil. Alternatively, leave a bucket out in the rain so that you have a healthy water supply should you need a drink or to douse a fire caused by your enemy. I haven’t seen anything like this in a twin-stick shooter, let alone most games. Weird West truly is a living world as promised.

While the enemies may borrow heavily from fantasy worlds, both the characters and the environments feature a distinct comic-book style, with characters, buildings, and other environmental features looking like they are hand-drawn and painted. It almost feels like I’m playing a western Borderlands in the way it’s presented, and I think it lends itself very well to the genre. This is coupled with some very creepy music that almost haunts the player as you play, reiterating the supernatural vibe of the story. Voice acting, on the other hand, is almost non-existent. Aside from the opening comic-style cinematic, which I have to add has an incredible soundtrack to it, and the occasional words from a narrator, everything else is dialogue boxes, but I feel this only adds to the game rather than taking away from it.

As a twin-stick shooter, Weird West is designed to use a controller of some kind, and anyone who has played the style before will be very familiar with the controls. This doesn’t mean that you absolutely must play this way, and the game will provide on-screen prompts should you decide mouse and keyboard is more your style, and to be honest, I actually found it to be a lot more accurate when I was. The control scheme is set up so that everything is easily accessible as you play, allowing for very fluid combat and some very impressive gunfights.

While this was an early access preview I played, I did encounter a couple of game-breaking issues that resulted in quite a bit of frustration, the first of which was my character launching into space while digging up a grave. Perhaps this was punishment for grave robbing, but it resulted in being high enough that I could see the black boundaries of the play area, only to have her fall to her untimely demise when I moved her out of the looting animation. The second I encountered was the game becoming completely unresponsive as I was about to finish off one of the big nasties in a cave I had just cleared out. Even Alt-F4 wouldn’t close the game off, so task manager was called in to bring it down but I then had to re-do the entire mission. Thankfully, WolfEye Studios are aware of these bugs so by the time the game launches on January 11th, they should hopefully be all ironed out.

WolfEye Studios have basically re-invented the twin-stick genre with Weird West and created a game that offers significantly more challenges, as well as ways to overcome them. I was sceptical of it when I was getting ready to take part in the hands-off preview, but after experiencing it myself, I am pleasantly surprised. Everything that was promised has been delivered, and considering the state of some games that have been released in the past, it feels polished, regardless of the issues I encountered.

Written by: Mathew Lindner

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