What is it? A top-down immersive sim set in the Weird West—a Wild West full of supernatural monsters.
Release date March 31, 2022
Expect to pay $40/£31
Developer WolfEye Studios
Publisher Devolver Digital
Reviewed on Intel Core i7-10750H, 16GB RAM, GeForce RTX 2060
Link Official site (opens in new tab)
I’ve lived many lives as I’ve travelled around the Weird West. Bounty hunter, werewolf, pigman—that was a memorable one. And in every body I made the West a little better, or a little worse. As much as it’s a game about constant micro decision-making—stealth or direct assault; Molotov cocktail and oil barrel or revolver and John Woo slow-mo dive—Weird West is just as concerned with the bigger picture as other immersive sims, including Dishonored and Prey.
That bigger picture begins in a familiar place: with a bounty hunter coming out of retirement to locate her kidnapped husband. For the first few hours, I was tangling with outlaws in typical Wild West fashion and wondering where all the weirdness was. You buy supplies in towns, and pick up bounties before heading out, traversing an open world map stuffed with abandoned mines, ghost towns, and isolated homesteads. More often than not, these locations are filled with enemies you can either sneak past or fill with lead, via fast-paced, top-down combat.
It may be that I was cursed with the knowledge that Weird West’s creative director Raphaël Colantonio was co-director of the original Dishonored, and director of Prey, but I couldn’t help comparing Weird West to Arkane’s immersive sims—at least at first. The similarities are there, particularly when you enter a hostile environment offering various methods of approach, but the action isn’t as slick or creative as in Arkane’s games. Unlockable abilities primarily increase your damage output, add elemental effects, or let you hit multiple targets—you can’t meaningfully synergise abilities, as you can with the Outsider powers in Dishonored 2.
Stealth, typically my preferred approach, is certainly possible in Weird West, but I used it more as an opening salvo, as a prelude to the inevitable massacre when it all went wrong. That’s partly because the fiction encourages it—you’re fighting eminently killable assholes, be they gang-members, monstrous sirens, or settlers driven feral by gold—and partly because of the murky visual style, which sacrifices readability for a grungy comic book aesthetic.
I was forever zooming in, to better make out the characters and environment, and zooming out for an overview of the level, and generally getting myself spotted in the process. When fighting does break out, it’s refreshingly and mercifully quick. However, between that dingy visual style, and an overly complex twin-stick control scheme, I never found it all that enjoyable.
My main takeaway from the top-down sneaking and shooting is that Desperados III developer Mimimi Games does it a whole lot better. Thankfully, there’s far more to Weird West than its combat.
I mentioned the pigman earlier, and now it’s time that Chekov’s gun went off. The second story in this anthology puts you in the trotters of an unholy man-pig mashup, who leaves his swamp to enact revenge upon the witch that did this to him. All that weirdness comes out in a flood, as you traipse across the world for clues to your identity. You’ll chat with a sentient, foul-mouthed sentient tree and battle witches in ancient, subterranean temples.
Structurally, all five stories are similar, playing out as miniature CRPGs complete with main and side quests, and companions who can tag along on the adventure. You can even recruit the protagonists of the previous stories, each of whom has been marked by a mystical brand. With each new chapter, you see even more of the West’s weirdness, until you’re ankle deep in an overarching narrative concerning ancient entities and the body-hopping Passenger. It’s a fascinating story with memorable characters including Pigman Joe, who has been cursed so he can only communicate in rhyme. I couldn’t wait to see how it all played out, and was left pretty satisfied by the conclusion.
While each new chapter is a fresh start of sorts, certain elements are carried across. Passive character perks persist through the whole game, while the former protagonists retain their inventories, reducing the need to gather supplies in later chapters. But the main thing that persists is the state of the West, which is shaped by your major and minor decisions.
To give an example—and it’s a spoiler for the second chapter—you can choose to leave your fellow pigmen as soulless husks, or return their missing souls to their bodies. Make the second choice and they’ll go out into society, turning up in subsequent chapters as NPCs. Not every decision is as notable—some are mere footnotes in the daily news—but you do feel like you’re having an impact on the world.
You can also turn settlements into ghost towns by wiping out their inhabitants. And that’s not a part of the storyline, just something you can do if you want to. Kill everyone in the town of Grackle, from the shopkeepers to the sheriff, and the place will become abandoned. Bandits might even have moved in, next time you visit. Similarly, if you clear out a bandit-occupied town, its former residents may eventually return to their homes.
In truth, one town is much like any other, so you’ll hardly miss one if it falls to ruin, but the possibility is exciting—the thought that almost anyone can be killed, and the game will roll with it. I tested this at one point, when a story ally laid an ambush for me, attacking in a scripted event on the road to an objective. I died several times trying to win the ensuing battle—until I reloaded an earlier save and killed the ally before she could turn on me. The ambush still happened, but my attackers were now a woman short.
I’m sure there will be better examples once Weird West is out in the wild, and I keenly await those more creative anecdotes. Weird West’s conclusion takes it all into account, so be mindful of the people you kill, of all the decisions you make. Far more than a lot of games with branching stories and morality systems, Weird West is watching everything you do.