The Wild West is one of those magical places that can meld with pretty much anything. There was a film in 2011 called Cowboys & Aliens, and I’ve been spending a lot of time watching a YouTuber by the name of Boylei Hobby Time, who is creating his own magnificent imaginary west dioramas, complete with walking steampunk-inspired wagons and mythological creatures. WolfEye Studios have jumped on board with the imminent release of Weird West.
Back in October of 2021, I was given the opportunity to play the hands-on preview of Weird West, a twin-stick shooter that combines revolvers and rifles with magical amulets and H.R. Giger-inspired creatures. As mentioned in my preview write-up, the game opens up with a magical ritual taking place and hooded figures branding their sacrifice with a strange symbol, before cutting to an in-game scene in which bandits have approached a father and son. After a brief exchange of words a gunshot sounds, and once again we cut to a woman laying on her bed, woken by a burning sensation on her neck and the loud boom of a firearm. With the smell of gunpowder in the air, we race outside to find our son in a pool of blood, our husband missing, and the town sheriff running to investigate. We may have tried to leave the bounty hunting life behind us, but it has found us, and it’s time to strap on the irons once more.
Weird West is set in a procedurally generated world, in that no two play-throughs need be the same. The towns you’ll explore have their own perimeters and crossing these will give you the option to traverse the world map. Unless specifically being directed by your current quest, many of these locations will be covered in a black fog of war, and clicking on a random location will show you how long it will take to get to your destination. During your travels, random encounters will occur, and these could be anything from roaming traders to animals on the hunt for fresh meat. Even while travelling to a quest location, you may find yourself facing off against a band of misfits eager to cash in the price on your head. Unless specifically needed for your current quest, even the towns you can explore will change as the game goes on. You may find yourself in a small frontier town bursting with life, only to return later and find it a ghost town, with coyotes and vultures prowling the streets and dusty old cobwebs dangling from the rafters.
This is all due to WolfEye Studios wanting to create a living world, and they have done so in a number of different ways. Your actions will not only change the world, but it will adapt and change based on how you are perceived. Slaughtering the population will create ghost towns, but then you may find yourself with a bounty of your own while sparing a single bandit could end in your struggling to complete a mission as they decide to roll through town with a new gang and the ensuing firefight causes the population to turn against you. Returning to a ghost town after several days may end with it being full of raiders who have taken over, or perhaps some more upstanding citizens have decided to rebuild. You really never know what you’re going to get.
Adding to the realism even more, practically everything in the playable world has some form of interaction. Bottles can be picked up and thrown as a distraction. Oil lamps can be thrown and shot, spilling their contents and turning a straw-filled stable into a fiery deathtrap. Empty barrels will fill with water and fire will wither and die as it starts to rain. It all helps to make Weird West feel more alive and sets it leagues ahead of other twin-stick shooters.
As with any game of the genre, Weird West plays better with a controller of some description, but even on a mouse and keyboard, it’s a dream to play. The HUD will show you what button you’ll need to press for the action you want to make, but it makes more sense to use a controller as it is displayed in such a way that using an ability or a potion corresponds directly with the directional pad or the A, B, X, and Y buttons on your controller (or your preferred controller equivalent). WASD and your mouse will replace your left and right thumbsticks respectively.
Your special abilities can be earned by trading in Nimp Relics, and these will be found hidden around the world. While I took up “Fan the Hammer” during early access, I decided to switch things out and instead went for the ability to place a Shrapnel Mine on the ground, luring bandits and wild animals to an explosive, shrapnel filled death. Additionally, Golden Ace of Spades cards can be used to grant you perks such as increased health or a slight chance at finding more gold coins as you rummage through the remains of your latest victims.
Considering most twin-stick shooters lack in the graphics department, Weird West features an incredibly beautiful hand-drawn 3D world to explore, and you can explore every single aspect of it. In my preview, I likened this to the Borderlands franchise, with its bold black lines and cell-shaded approach. The inspiration for this actually comes from French comic books, which is quite the redirection for the co-creator of Prey and Dishonoured. It is a beautiful art style that captures the Wild West and effortlessly blends the DnD/H.R. Giger-style dark fantasy creatures. You really feel like you’re in the middle of a firefight as muzzle flashes and smoke burst from your pistols, and the sound effects used help seal the deal.
Nothing gets the heart pumping like a good gun battle, and the combination of different weapons firing, people crying out in pain, and flames licking the walls will lead to some wonderfully exciting gameplay. This is followed up with some amazingly eerie music that changes depending on where you are. Worried townsfolk are accompanied by haunting music. Caves are filled with near-silence, only the pitter-patter of rodent feet and the occasional drip of water is punctuated by the distant roar of an angry creature. Characters trying to gain your attention emit an ethereal gargle as you walk past. There is very little voice acting in Weird West – the majority of conversations you have will be in text form, but I still don’t think this pulls anything away from the game. I think it adds a bit of extra mystery, and as a result, you don’t know if you’re talking to a human or one of the cannibalistic Sirens.
I applaud WolfEye Studios for having the courage to push back the release of Weird West. They could have released it back in January 2022 as initially announced, but even as I type this review, they are going over the coding with a fine-tooth comb, finding the smallest of bugs, and taking the time to work them out. During the hands-off event, they insisted that Weird West was a labour of love; something that all felt very passionately about, and something they wanted to be the best it could possibly be, and they have delivered. Weird West has taken the twin-stick genre and reimagined the Wild West, creating a title that is so much better than the sum of its parts.
- A compelling story filled with amazing characters
- Simple to play with easy controls and mechanics
- A familiar but unique art style
- An open world, twin stick RPG offering layers of exploration
- Play however you want
- Combat can get overwhelming, particularly when trying to be stealthy