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[REVIEW] Weird West – A million weird ways to die in the West

I don’t mind a little weirdness. Hell, look up weird in the dictionary and you might even find a picture of me next to the definition. A game developer really has to pull out the stops for me to call its game ‘too weird’. Yet, here we are, with a game that almost does. Because let me tell you, Weird West sure deserves the name it was given. I’m just curious what particular kind of weirdness Wolfeye was going for. You see, Weird West is weird in more than one way, and you might not like all of ’em.

A pig-headed guy walks into a bar. A bounty hunter looks him straight into his beady eyes and asks: “Hey Oinky, don’t I know you from somewhere?” He reciprocates: “Of course you do. I used to be you…” It is at that exact moment that guns are drawn and you and your previous self are being turned into swiss cheese by tons of outlaws while your bullets can’t seem to hit shit. In the chaos, you knock over an oil lamp and become a walking spitroast, mere seconds before you choose to reload the last auto-save. This all sounds like a lame-ass joke, but if this is the kind of weirdness you’re after, you’re in the right place. Welcome to the Weird West, a place that can kill you in a million odd ways.

If it ain’t clear yet, Weird West doesn’t sugarcoat its weirdness. Right off the bat, things become obvious. You’re going to experience some strange stuff. The Weird West has stories to tell, and you’ll be living through a handful of them. Your protagonists? Five individuals, each in turn branded by a hooded cult and set loose to settle their own personal vendetta. None of them used to be directly linked, but ever since that occult branding, they are. They’ve become one and the same person, living their own disturbing lives that may or may not intersect at some point. The question, in the end, is “why?”, and you’ll have to do a whole lot of digging and shooting to figure that out.

Let me start off by saying this: Weird West ain’t for the casual players. The West is relentless, unforgiving, and unkind to those who underestimate it. Branded a top-down immersive sim/ action RPG, Weird West calls for methodic approaches. Gung-ho gunslingers often find themselves 6-feet under if people even bother digging a hole for you. He or she who practices diplomacy, cunning, and stealth can make it pretty damn far in the West. But that ain’t weird, I guess. If you know the people behind developer Wolfeye – devs who worked on Prey and Dishonored – you also know their philosophy.

That Prey/Dishonored DNA is found everywhere in Weird West. Isometric top-down view aside, this game shares some key ingredients. One of them is the inventory system in which tons of useless loot can be stored and sorted. If you thought that the other two games threw worthless junk at you, the West has even more in store. If it ain’t bolted to the floor, you can pretty much salvage it. Not that you’d want to, but at some point, you just go with it. Why? Because Weird West gives you a hard time selecting the one item you truly want to pick up. If there’s a penny to be found amidst a pile of playing cards, cutlery, and empty cups ‘n’ cans… better take it all. The day you manage to select that penny in one try is the day you need to score yourself a Powerball ticket.

Things get better when it’s a lifeless corpse you’re desecrating. Searching through the pockets of a freshly gunned down adversary is a smoother experience, giving you the option of selecting your desired loot. You’d still be surprised to see what outlaws carry around with them, but at least they’re packing guns and ammo, ready for repurposing. But before you get to that point, you gotta make sure he ain’t breathing no more. And that’s a whole different story in Weird West. Because Lord Almighty, I don’t know where they learned to draw their irons, but you should have gone there, too.

Long story short; everyone is an athletic crack shot and you definitely ain’t unless you cheat a little. Outlaws hop around like fleas on a stray dog – punching holes in poor ol’ you – while you struggle to make your bullets count. If you’re not too familiar with a twin-stick control setup, you might wanna steer clear from using a controller altogether, but a mouse and keyboard aren’t necessarily making it any easier on you. It almost feels like their hitboxes are minuscule while yours is the size of a whale. And that can cause aggravation. Dying is too easy in the Weird West, especially in tight spaces where the camera is your worst enemy.

Luckily, you’ll find a friend in the auto-save function, which is more than generous. And if you have been nice to someone in a previous life, he or she might even help you out when the chips are down. That’s right, Weird West remembers what you did and treats you accordingly. If you’ve been playing stupid games, you’ll win stupid prizes. But if you’ve been working on a good reputation, that reputation is the thing that can make the difference between a living and a dead you. Just make sure to always keep your end of a deal and finish what you started. Business left unfinished can haunt you in this or another life, both literally and figuratively speaking.

If there’s one last ace in the hole to be found in combat situations, it’s the perks and abilities that Weird West deals you. Even though you have to unlock them first – demanding you to find Golden Aces and occult relics – and can be a pain to access in a frantic shootout, some of these extras can help you survive. The perks ate transferrable from character to character – thank Wolfeye for that – but abilities are not. Since each of the five protagonists wields a different skill set, that wouldn’t make much sense. Then again, if you seek out a former character in the vast West and add them to one of the two open posse slots, you will be able to enjoy their expertise once more. As long as you don’t get them killed, that is. Which is easy. Too easy.

Much like the Frontier of yonder, Weird West can be an enjoyable journey once you get the hang of things. It takes a whole lot of perseverance and even more trial-and-error to progress (no… seriously), but these are hardships worth dying for in the end. The story – vague as it may be – is compelling and a joy to unravel. The combat – even if it feels like it always favors the opposition – is satisfying once you get the gist of it. And the vibe… well… you gotta be in for a bunch of occult/werewolf/zombie/man-pig shit if you wanna sit through this one. Then again, if you aren’t, you have no business in a place called the Weird West, to begin with.

The Good
It's weird alright...
Visually simplistic, yet satisfying
Weird West challenges you in more than one way (but not all of 'em are great)
Compelling line-up of characters, each with a compelling story to tell
Auto-save is very generous (and you'll thank the devs for it plenty of times)
The Bad (and the Ugly)
Looting can be a total clusterfuck
The camera can be your worst enemy
Controls during frantic combat can drive you insane
"Where did he learn to shoot like that?!" will often be your last words
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