- Developer: Upstream Arcade
- Publisher: Raw Fury
- Price: £17.99 / $19.99
- Release Date: 26/8/2020
- Code provided by Raw Fury
Introducing: West of Dead Nintendo Switch Review
I’m going to throw a few things out there that have been stewing on my mind, friends. Things that this game has made me think about that I never really had put to words before. All of this has to do with one simple truth: cowboys and the Wild West are such a great and deep well to draw upon, that I think it’s a shame we don’t do it more often these days.
The following is a list of incredible and massively fun games set in the Wild West that developed my understanding for more cowboy games:
- Sunset Riders (please for the love of everything holy, go play this game with some friends. It’s on the Switch! And it’s CHEAP!)
- Red Dead Redemption
- Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath
- West of Loathing (If you love Cowboys AND fabulous writing)
- West of Dead
I mean, yeah, we have Red Dead Redemption, but what if I wanted that feeling of being a cowboy, but also the vengeance and power of Ghost Rider? The fine folks at Upstream Arcade decided to make one of the arguably greatest rogue-like shooters I have ever played: West of Dead.
Saddle up, friends. We have souls to claim.
The Last Sheriff in Hell
You’re not sure what just happened, and you’re not entirely sure who you are, but you wake up in a beat down old Saloon in the depths of nowhere. Looking at yourself in the mirror, you see yourself for what feels like the first time. Where your dusty, sun beaten face should be instead sits a flaming skull with the back blown out. You look to be some sort of Marshall from a western town fresh from the frontier. Gathering what memories you have, you can barely remember that you were killed by a preacher who betrayed the folk in the town you were sworn to protect. You take it that makes you pretty angry. Your job is to hunt down this preacher who destroyed you and everything you hold dear while destroying those unclean souls you confront on your way to purge him from the underworld you now tread.
You’re gonna need to keep your wits about you, as this isn’t just a game where you can run into a place guns blazing and blast anything that moves. No, West of Dead takes careful planning and fast reflexes to get the job done. See, the depths of Purgatory are DARK. With the super stylized art direction reminiscent of grittier comics, the Marshall needs to use every tool at his disposal to defeat the hordes of the damned that lie ahead. Both triggers of your controller are mapped to a different gun you hold, and reloading takes valuable time, so making sure to utilize the various forms of cover around you is critical to you surviving long enough to best the Preacher and his armies.
Along the way, you’ll find other items you can use in the fight (bundles of dynamite, knives, throwing axes, etc) that can deal a massive blow to your enemies, but take longer to be able to reuse. Also, along the way you’ll find fragments of your past that help paint the picture of not only who you are and were, but also what happened to get you down here as well. So how you get through the dark depths is up to you – just make sure you survive long enough to get the job done.
The main gameplay loop for this particular netherworldly shooter revolves around utilizing the cover and waiting for the right time to shoot. Now, I realize this isn’t anything new in the world of gaming, but what they do here, they do WELL. See, the weapons you can get in the game are separated into a few categories: Rifles, Shotguns, Pistols and Revolvers. Each weapon has their benefits, for instance pistols and revolvers have more shots per reload, but do less damage, while the rifles and shotguns have much higher damage, but smaller clip sizes and longer reload times. The big catch is that each gun takes a not-insignificant amount of time to START reloading. Not just an instant reload, but to start reloading. And, to boot, if you try to fire the gun during its reload time before any bullets have been loaded in, it resets the full time. Two-and-a-half seconds doesn’t sound like much, but when you’re trying to shoot at a thing, it can feel like a century. However, it’s a little deeper than that.
When enemies attack, you can see a small marker of where they are going to hit. If there’s nothing between the two of you, obviously the marker is on you, but you can utilize the cover around you to reload or just dodge oncoming bullets/attacks. However, to balance this, each barrier in the rooms you fight in can only take so much damage before they are temporarily destroyed. A lot of the gameplay decisions involve dodging oncoming attacks, avoiding the melee attackers who close in on you, and jumping from barrier to barrier while avoiding the hailstorm of bullets coming at you. Another mechanic that was added into the fray is the concept of lanterns. As I said before, Purgatory is DARK. In every room, you will find unlit lanterns marked with circles underneath them to clearly mark them in the murkiness surrounding you. Lighting a lantern not only illuminates a section of the darkness, but any enemy with a clear line of sight to you in temporarily stunned. (also, as a side note, you can’t automatically target an enemy in the darkness)
Gunplay is highly satisfying, as you pop out from cover and unload bullets and shells into nasties all around you. There are few things I love more than unloading everything you have into a particularly big lug and watching them fade from existence as the smoke clears and the dust settles. Seriously, you’re gonna have a good time. Each kill gives the Marshall iron, the game’s regular currency to be used at shops you can find strewn around the worlds. On top of that, occasionally enemies will drop sins, the high-grade loot that can be used to unlock new items and consumables that help ease the difficulties you meet on the different attempts. It’s nothing groundbreaking or new, but the presentation just oozes that dusty cowboy charm you want from this dark tale of revenge and redemption.
There’s nothing quite as powerful in a story as a talented narrator. I mean, just look at any game from SuperGiant. Would Bastion or Transistor have been nearly as good without the voices that accompanied you in your travels? West of Dead throws its hat into the ring with none other than Ron Perlman, or for those who aren’t as familiar with his work, the voice of Hellboy among others. That deep, gravelly voice that he delivers with every line is just *Mwah* perfection. Every time you hear the Marshall deliver a line, it’s worth stopping for a second and just enjoying the gift that is Ron Perlman’s voice. Seriously, it’s a simple pleasure. The rest of the sound design is great, too. Gunshots sound fabulous and like they should. Hitting enemies is satisfying and a joy to do. Every little detail that you hear has been tweaked to perfection – it’s like a little buffet for your ears. This is good stuff. Connecting with a bladed weapon is fabulous, dynamite exploding feels right, and elemental variants of weapons (poison, fire, electricity, etc) all add that little somethin’-somethin’ to make it sing.
The music is killer as well. It’s just enough to feel dusty and mysterious, but there are also small audio cues to let you know when you have done something. Specifically, after you have finished clearing out a room during a shootout and the last foe fades into dust, there’s always a little guitar riff that let’s you know nobody else is looking to kill you for the time being. It’s like a little cherry on top after a good fight. I cannot express enough through writing how happy this game makes me.
I also have to give a rightful nod to the art team. The heavily-inked cowboy-noir comic style they went for with West of Dead is near perfection. It’s just stylized enough to be unique and memorable while also making sure the player knows where they are in all of the chaos. Enemies, when you can see them, are interesting to look at. Each new area is unique and has its own energy to add to Purgatory. This game is a treat.
Hitting the Trail
Folks, I love this game. I love this game a LOT. It’s not perfect, but it’s a solid title that I have thoroughly enjoyed. It has a lot of what I wanted out of a game set in the old west: great cover-based shootouts, dark and gritty demons, and Ron Perlman. This is a good time. I love the story. I love the atmosphere. I love this game.
- Killer atmosphere
- Incredible value for the content included
- Literally every single thing Ron Perlman says
- Some lines can get repetitive
- Occasional “That was bull crap” moments with enemies in the dark
- Earlier stages can get a little repetitive
West of Dead mixes the perfect balance of Ghost Rider and legendary cowboy vengeance to keep me coming back for more.