Westworld is a TV show about video games. Yes, of course, it’s also about playing god, human morality, evolution, and all manner of beard-stroking existential issues. But at its core, Westworld is a very big, very fancy video game and it carries with it all the advantages, disadvantages, issues, and benefits of partaking in the medium. The creators and showrunners have openly admitted that it was inspired by video games, and it’s not too difficult to think of the specific titles that inspired it. So, if you’re looking to get ready for the return of Westworld season 2, or just want to feel a bit like you’re actually there… here are seven games you can try right now.
1. Red Dead Redemption
Ok, this one is super obvious. It’s a Wild West game where you can essentially gallop around New Mexico and do - within the limits of game design - anything you damn well please. Gun fight with the local villain, gamble and drink in a saloon, hog-tie an enemy and place them on the railroad tracks, hunt wild animals, form a posse (of sorts)? Yeah, you can do all that. Admittedly, there’s no option to go rogue and scalp a croupier while looking for a meta-game (er, that I know of), and you can’t do whatever the hell you want to quest-givers but… it’s not a bad approximation of Westworld at all. And with another game in the Red Dead franchise on the horizon, you can bet your horse on there being even more similarities between HBO’s show and Rockstar’s video game when that launches…
2. Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag
This game plays on very similar themes to Westworld, but the setting is very different. Well, the ‘player’ setting anyway. You spend the majority of your time as a ‘pirate / high-seas assassin’ in Black Flag, which isn’t too far removed from the outlaws of the Wild West. However, where AC and Westworld converge is that they’re both about playing video games. In Westworld you’re a guest, and you enter the vast open world to discover who you really are. In AC Black Flag you’re a (willing) test subject who is also placed into an alternate world and encouraged to ‘find yourself’. However, in Assassin’s Creed you’re actually working for a corporation called Abstergo to unearth genetic memories of your ancestors by ‘reliving their memories’, which does ask questions about the nature of man and the connection we have to our primal selves. Plus, it raises some of the same issues about being fully immersed in a game, which leads us neatly on to…
3. Rez Infinite VR
Virtual Reality is - essentially - the bridge between current gaming and the reality of Westworld, in that it takes players beyond the ‘flat screen’ of traditional games and actually places them inside the experience. Obviously nothing in VR games is real, and you can’t physically touch or interact with objects made of pixels. However, in terms of feeling like you’re actually there, nothing comes as close as VR. I could really have chosen any VR game and said “There you go”, but I’ve gone with the one that looks ripped straight out of a dystopian ‘80s B-movie about technology gone mad. Why? Because it features a rogue AI and asks players the question: what does it mean to have life? If you’re sentient - like the AI in the game - what right does the player have to remove you like a virus? You have to really dig deep into the philosophical debate to make the links between Rez and Westworld, but they exist. And, to be honest, Rez VR is one of the most beautiful games you’ll ever play, so it’s worth a shot anyway!
4. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
But, but… Deus Ex Mankind Divided is about human augmentation and the social and economic separation that comes about when you create ‘Man+’ - that’s totally different to Westworld. Yeah, you’re right, but there are plenty of philosophical similarities. The biggie here is the debate around what makes one set of people better than others, and what gives these superior people the right to play god with humanity (often at the expense of those at the bottom of the evolutionary food-chain). In Westworld it’s achieved by some lovely acting by Anthony Hopkins and chums - in Deus Ex it’s more about shooting people in the face or stabbing them in the back. However, the world and dialogue of the game do raise these issues of human superiority, so you can have a good old think while you’re murdering virtual military types with your knife-arms. That’s a thing.
5. Binary Domain
The parallels here are fairly obvious to see. In Binary Domain mankind creates androids (admittedly, they’re nowhere near as lifelike or sophisticated as the Hosts in Westworld) to fulfil mundane human chores like cleaning, servicing, and child rearing. The robots are made too smart and decide that they want a bit more ‘life’ than they’re given, and the shit very much hits the fan. Complex debate is provided by the more obvious question of ‘if robots act human, then should they be treated like humans?’ question, and Binary Domain does offer a slightly less clear-cut view of rogue androids than just ‘robot bad, man good’. It also dips into issues of corporate responsibility when it comes to AI life-forms, which is undoubtedly something Westworld will deal with later in the season.
6. Fallout: New Vegas
The setting may be slightly different, but Fallout New Vegas is another way to experience the sensation of being ‘in Westworld’ via the rather restrictive medium of sitting in your living room for hours on end while your other-half sighs pointedly and tries to watch Bake Off on the iPad. New Vegas is the most ‘Wild West’ of the Fallout games and, while the main objective here is to take revenge on the guy who shot you and left you for dead, the real aim of every Fallout adventure is to discover yourself and act accordingly. In other words, to apply your personal morality to your character and have heaps of goody-goody / total bastard fun. There are quest givers, random events, cowboy hats, and even a few rogue robots thrown in for good measure. No interactive hookers, sadly, but there is a pleasure robot called Fisto, so… yeah.
7. Custer’s Revenge
Actually, maybe don’t play this one, because it’s vile. However, its parallels to Westworld are uncomfortably clear. In the game (which was made in 1982) you play as Custer - a randy chap with a cowboy hat and a very visible erection - and your objective is to dodge a hail of arrows and reach a naked, bound Native Indian girl on the other side of the screen. Yeah, told you it was pretty unsavoury. However, Custer’s Revenge is a very simple, very basic manifestation of the primal urges the Guests exhibit in Westworld. Many of them play Westworld’s game to rape and murder because these are things they’d be unable to get away with in real life, and because the victims aren’t technically ‘human’ then there are no repercussions. Similarly, no-one actually gets hurt when you play Custer’s Revenge but… it’s not really ok, is it? In real world similarities between the two, the creators of the game (Mystique) actually claimed that there is no rape involved and that the Native Indian girl is attempting to seduce the player. Sounds very much like the way certain Host behaviours are designed and justified in Westworld.