I am getting my ass kicked by undead miners. Time and time again, as I try to travel back to a town called Grackle to cash in on a bounty, I'm interrupted by a trio of zombies hurling sticks of dynamite at me. Time and time again they kill me and I load back up at the last town I was in, just to walk right back into the pyromaniac predators again. I try hurling dynamite at them, hacking them up with a machete, and letting loose a barrage of gunfire from my pistol, but it isn't until I realize my shotgun detonates the dynamite sticks in their decaying hands that I finally best the bastards. This is the world of Weird West, a brutal immersive sim set in a bizarre version of the infamously lawless lands.
It's no surprise that Weird West is so immersive (and so punishing). The top-down, twin-stick shooter RPG is from WolfEye Studios, led by Raphael Colantonio – the former founder, CEO, and creative director of Arkane Studios. Colantonio channeled his love for immersive sims into Arkane games like Dishonored and Prey, but Weird West takes that immersive sim love and adds a healthy dose of top-down RPG flavor reminiscent of Ultima 7 and the original Fallout.
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Weird West doesn't just tell the story of one person living in these strange lands – an alternate version of the Wild West where flesh-eating Sirens stalk the plains and magic exists amongst the dust and tumbleweeds – but follows five characters each with their own main storyline. The game begins with a father and his son being attacked outside of their homestead by a group of bandits known as the Stillwaters, who kill the son and kidnap the father, ostensibly to deliver him to a cannibal. You take on the role of the wife, Jane Bell, who is far from your average housewife – she was once a renowned bounty hunter, who buried her irons in the yard after deciding to start a family. When the sheriff shows up and sees what has taken place, however, she goads you into strapping on your pistols and spurs to seek vengeance on the Stillwaters and find your husband.
From there, the map opens up, although much of it is obscured. Despite this, you can select any point on the map and travel there by way of a small walking animation at the bottom of the map screen. Your movement will help fill in the map, but every trip runs a serious risk, especially if you're on foot. The Stillwaters wait to ambush you, coyotes nip at your heels, and the aforementioned undead miners wait, dynamite at the ready. It's these interactions in between major map locations that make Weird West so interesting, as they can often repeatedly set you back to a point where you have to load an old save in order to make any forward progress.
In any combat situation, Weird West has options aplenty. The combat is twin-stick shooter meets RPG, giving you the chance to swap between a variety of weapons and abilities that you can level up along the way. You can try to sneak around enemies to kick a vat of acid onto them, or shoot out the glass on an oil lamp with a rifle and set its surroundings on fire, or walk-in pistols blazing and use a special powered-up kick to yeet an outlaw off of a building – it's entirely up to you.
I haven't played many top-down RPGs, but Weird West certainly offers more choice than most: you can interact with almost every object in the game, whether you want to throw bottles or break open a water barrel to douse yourself while you're aflame. Add that to the ability to jump up onto objects and roll through windows, and you've got a top-down game that feels like a proper third-person shooter.
The world of Weird West is dangerous and dire, and everything you do affects it. Early on, I gain a fair bit of coin by rifling through the pockets of my fallen foes and happen upon a man leaning up against the outside of a saloon. He offers to act as my bodyguard for a fee, so I decide to bring him along on a bounty mission. He holds his own against Jessica Miller's gang for the entire battle, landing some important shots on a bad guy who was trying to flank me, but stumbles into a fire I started by smashing an oil lamp and dies at my feet.
"Oh shit," I mumble before digging through his pockets for coin and trinkets, thinking nothing else of the man who just died to protect me. Later, as I'm strolling back through Grackle in search of more bounties, a bit of dialogue pops up over the head of a villager lamenting his death. He was a bodyguard whose name I can't remember, but he was also someone's family, and Weird West wants you to keep that in mind.
The environment remembers your every move, remaining the same even after you've died – and beyond. Although I don't finish Jane Bell's main questline during my initial playthrough, Weird West will lead you through four other people's journeys – and everything I did during my time as Bell will permanently affect the world for the next protagonist. All five protagonists' paths will come together in the final chapter, and I'll even be able to take the previous protagonist along on some of my journeys, although now I will certainly do that with more caution, considering what happened to my last bodyguard...
Weird West is like nothing I've played recently in both gameplay and style. Visually, it's somewhat reminiscent of West of Dead, with a slightly cell-shaded vibe that doesn't skimp on the details. I nearly die to a pack of bears while staring up at the brushed concrete of an abandoned church, and I accidentally walked straight into a firefight because an entrancing, glowing mass sat at the center of an area and I just had to know what it was. There's little dialogue in the game, with most of it playing out via speech bubbles, but when the narrator does speak it's incredibly effective. This game is very vibey, and I dig it.
Vibes aside, Weird West's combat is pretty challenging, especially for those of us who aren't the best at twin-stick shooters. During my playthrough, I die more times than I can count, but the sheer variety in which I can approach an encounter keeps me from getting frustrated. I take a zombie miner beating at least a dozen times before I crack the encounter's code, but whereas this would make me walk away from a game like, say, Assassin's Creed Valhalla, Weird West keeps me weirdly invested.
Weird West is hitting PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S on January 11, 2022.
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