I don't play games like West of Dead, a procedurally generated, cover-based roguelite twin-stick shooter. Not because of the lengthy genre description, but because I hate doing things I'm not immediately great at - it's one of my greatest character flaws, tied for first with never screwing the cap completely back on anything.
But, West of Dead has done what few other games before it could - it's taught this impatient thirty-year-old how to have composure and how to adamantly attack something that keeps knocking me on my ass. This is a game where permadeath lurks behind every corner, the guns you begin with vary in quality, enemies spawn differently every time, and the only progress is amassing upgrades. It's my own personal purgatory.
Hell on repeat
West of Dead is technically just that - Marshall William Mason (voiced by true-to-form Ron Perlman who sounds like dark chocolate wrapped in barbed wire) is trapped in Purgatory, Wyoming in the 1800s, trying to figure out if he should go East or West (of Dead, lulz). You begin in a bar that will soon beat out your local IRL watering hole for how well you know its interior - every time you die (which is often) you end up back in there, the undead barkeep waiting behind the counter. At first, I always sparked up a conversation with him, but his canned lines have started to grate on my nerves, so now I just bust through the swinging saloon doors without even a nod in his direction. Bastard.
The only measurement of progress in West of Dead is the items you accrue from spending sin, which you collect from downed enemies as you progress through each level. At the end of a level, you'll meet the witch, who asks you to divest yourself of all your sins in exchange for things like health potion, weapons, and more. I believe all of these items are meant to seed into your next run, but most of them have not done that for me (save for the health potion, thank the devil).
West of Dead's cover-based shooting system separates it from the rest of the roguelite pack - whereas games like Enter the Gungeon are all about manic gunfights and lightning-fast button presses, West of Dead seeks to find a balance between breakneck fights and tactical nuance. Jumping behind cover can help you get the lay of the land or reload your weapons, and you can even fire at enemies from behind it. But beware, as the chest-high objects can be destroyed by your foes, forcing you to rotate around a room with precision.
Couple this unique take on roguelite and twin-stick gameplay with a beautiful, Mike Mignola-inspired cell-shaded environment and the rumbling tones of Ron Perlman, and you've got a winner. It's the only game of its kind that has bewitched me, fueling a burning obsession in my gut that has me doggedly pursuing the most minute metric of progress. I haven't worked this hard for so little reward since my first marriage.
Patience in purgatory
One night I was the deepest into the game I had ever gotten when the power in my apartment went out. The sound that escaped me could have easily been mapped onto one of the undead creepies that attack you in the game - it was the most visceral, pained response, one that echoed with loss and regret. When I got power back the next day and booted West of Dead up, there was Mason, standing in the middle of the room I had last seen before it all went dark. I was ecstatic - here was my chance to get to the next level and find out what lay beyond the mines.
I immediately walked through a doorway and into my first ever boss fight - the Wendigo, who whooped my sorry ass like his pension depended on it. I looked at my partner, who was sitting next to me, mouth agape at my sheer dumb luck before I screamed at the heavens, waking both of my cats up.
"I'm really drinking that dumb bitch juice, aren't I?" I moaned, before selecting "New Run" on the home screen and jumping back into purgatory again. West of Dead's aesthetic and gameplay style coupled with the slow drip of progress is like a $17 cocktail at a mixology bar - bold, intoxicating, and a little bit addictive.
West of Dead is currently free on Xbox Game Pass and is available to purchase for $19.99 on Steam.