West of Dead (Xbox One)

West of Dead makes it’s way to consoles, offering a roguelike twin stick shooter wrapped in a paranormal western setting – with added Ron Perlman. Does it do enough to fight its way out of purgatory? Let’s find out.

You wake in the boots of a dead man names William Mason and descend into the grim and gritty world of Purgatory, a shifting and chaotic world that takes its form from the memories, culture or beliefs of the souls who pass through. Styled as Wyoming in 1888, your only thought right now is ‘why’ and Williams trail soon begins on the hunt for his memories.

The premise and setting for West of Dead is a highlight, as is the choice of narrator in Ron Perlman, as you blast through a purgatory inspired by the protagonist. As William has no memories, it’s down to you to piece together his memory by defeating foes and accepting burdens. Burdens can also curse you somewhat, which can change up how you will play the game. You’ll need most of these memories, some can be traded to the Witch, to face the final boss to finish the game. Oddly enough you’ll need a few specific memories to get the games ‘true ending’, which is something to frustrate completionists given the game doesn’t allude to which memories are required.

I’ll admit, I’ve had a soft spot cel-shading since playing Jet Set Radio on Dreamcast – so any game that implements it has my interest. With most games having a somewhat subdued implementation, the devs here seem to have gone the other way with thick black outlines and comic book shading throughout. Shadows & lighting play a big part in the presentation too due to the games overall dark look, with good shadow detail and fancy effects on show at numerous points in a stage.

Performance is generally good for the game, so long as you don’t mess around with the shadow sources option. I increased this but didn’t notice much change graphically, tho some stuttering was introduced. The games audio was a match for the good visuals, with some fitting western BGM complementing the voice work from Ron Perlman.

Whilst the game is labelled as a twin stick shooter, its not quite as you would expect once the game starts and it actually feels more like a cover shooter. Procedurally generated maps offer up a different layout to the stages on each run, with rooms to clear of foes and items to find on each journey. As noted before, this plays a lot like a cover shooter as you hit each room and clear it from anything that can be used – tho the cover is generally destructible so you occasionally have to make a run for it or roll. The gunplay is satisfying enough, you can carry 2 weapons for dual wielding and also other items such as axes & dynamite. Other items such as health are key to fighting on given the damage enemies dish out, and finding shrines to level up will let your character slowly improve.

It may not take long for issues to start popping up tho, not least in the shooting and the RNG nature of the stages. The shooting is generally satisfying for the most part, but all too often the auto aim can really frustrate. It’s great shooting enemies off-screen so long as they are illuminated, but not so when the game refuses to shoot an enemy in front of you for one behind them in a completely different room. RNG is generally applied to the value of items when starting a level, they’re also never in the same place. Problem here is it applies to both items & weapons, so you may go entire stages with no weapon upgrades or be offered no new weapons at all as the game decides to fill the stage with items instead. Imagine still rocking a level 1 Musket rifle on Chapter 2 and beyond, may as well pack a spud gun instead when going up against a boss as planning is off the table.

West of Dead is a fantastic game from the perspective of presentation, cel-shading & Ron Perlman the standouts, which is unfortunately hampered a little by some gameplay design choices. The gunplay & skirmishes are generally good when the gameplay isn’t letting its oddities show, but its really the randomised nature of the stages that feel stacked against you which can lead to frustration later on. If you’re looking for a slower paced and tough rouguelike twin stick shooter, then this should fit the bill easily as it works well when it comes together – so long as you can overlook its issues.

3

Summary

Like a swanky custom 6-shooter packing cheap ammo, sure West of Dead will misfire every now & again, but it can still be fun to shoot.

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Geoffrey Wright

Rocking the world of gaming since the Atari 2600, has now settled down to bask in the warmth of moe. Moe is life for a moe connoisseur.