Wicki-wicki Wild Wild West
West of Dead puts you in the boots of William Mason – voiced by none other than Big Ron himself, Ron Perlman! As you awaken in purgatory you must fight your way out in true gunslinger style. The gameplay is a hybrid mix of cover-based, twin-stick shooting wrapped in a roguelike world. You must fight your way through a series of procedurally generated levels facing down a series of enemies and conquering boss fights. Being a roguelike, each run is its own unique outing and if you die, you must start again.
At the beginning of each run, you will be provided with a set of basic weapons, usually a pistol and rifle but along the way, you will be able to acquire better weapons and a range of explosives to tip the odds in your favour. The weapons you find will be specific to each run as is the nature of the genre, anyone who has played the popular Enter the Gungeon or Blazing Beaks will have an idea of what to expect.
You may enter the first area and get your hands on a powerful pistol with high damage and knockback abilities and a swanky shotgun that will near enough one hit most of your basic enemies with a well placed charged shot which will make early combat a breeze. But then you die, start again and you end up with some floppy cock of a gun that’s about as useful as a wet fart in a broken elevator to struggle along with. This unpredictable nature is what drives the addictive nature of West of Dead and is not for everyone but for those who like a challenge it’s certainly a formula you can sink many hours into.
Procedurally generated exploration
As mentioned, the levels themselves are procedurally generated and consist of a series of rooms connected by dark corridors with the overall notion of getting from A to B and using a portal to advance to the next area. There will also be a series of hidden rooms to find which will contain health regen and loot chests if you fancy exploring. The core rooms are where combat takes place, using the left stick to move and the right stick to aim with ZR and ZL firing each of your equipped weapons respectively you must take down the ghastly ghoulies that are out to stop you.
This being the underworld, darkness is all around, enemies can only be damaged when they are in the light so you must find ways to lure them from the shadows, most will not shy away from coming to kill you but others will be more sneaky and seek to ambush you. At times there will be lamps you can switch on that will briefly stun enemies and illuminate the hidden areas and enable you to dispatch your foes or even gain a short reprieve while you wait for your weapons to reload.
Cover is also available for when bullets start flying your way, the cover will only last so long under heavy fire so don’t get too comfy, quicks the word and sharps the action and thankfully Big Ron Mason is an agile fellow, switching between cover, vaulting over obstacles, rolling and evading will all have to become second nature if you are to have any hope of success and this in itself becomes a task to reckon with.
Death is the end
It won’t be long before you are in rooms full of enemies of various types, some charging forward to tear you apart while others stand back and unleash gunfire and grenades your way, assessing the situation and formulating a strategy while under such severe attacks is no simple task, even more given the notion that if you croak it you must start all over again.
This can become frustrating in the early going as you get to grips with the various enemy types but oddly doesn’t become so infuriating as to make you want to give up, one thing the roguelike genre really knows how to invoke is that “one more try” mentality. If this is sounding too much of a challenging prospect then fear not, you are not completely naked through each run, along the way you can accumulate iron and sins from slain enemies, these can be used to apply upgrades to your character and weapons with a large range of options becoming available to help you work on building around your preferred playstyle. If you want to go full-on pale rider then you might want to focus mainly on increasing your health and the damage of a favourite weapon to ensure you can tank your way to victory but other options will be available depending on your preferred set up.
Upgrades are the key to success
Though the challenge was real the tight controls and movement make the whole experience a well crafted one and the more I played the more I found my own style and got into the groove. The main problem I had, as can be the case with the genre as a whole is if by the first couple of area’s I wasn’t rocking a decent weapon or upgrade I knew my time would be short spent. Tackling bosses and the more hectic areas would become that much more difficult which unfortunately sucks the flavour out a bit but manages to make victory, if you achieve it, that much sweeter and ensures the runs with more fortunate finds are that much more enjoyable.
The tough gameplay is the bread and butter of the experience but its good to have a story running behind it to give some context to the situation, though not likely to win any awards the backstory of William Mason is decent enough and brought to life even more by the great delivery of Ron Perlman, the odd thing about this is Ron is the only voice actor in the game, any NPC’s you encounter will all deliver their dialogue through text which to me feels like a missed trick. When you have an actor of Perlman’s calibre who is known for having great exchanges on screen it feels a shame to reduce his performance to just inner monologue.
One thing that instantly stood out for me was the art design.
The cel-shading really popped on the Nintendo Switch with the majority of my time being spent playing in hand-held mode. The concept revolves heavily around darkness and light so expect to see lots of moody shadows and pitch-black areas which helps emphasize the brightness of the lamps you find and the explosions, this delivers a fun moving comic book experience but I couldn’t help but feel that aside from a slight colour pallette change here and there most area’s did begin to look and feel the same, though this is a minor gripe as when the action kicks off I didn’t have time to waste admiring the architecture. Sound design is right on the money with a moody soundtrack that fits the 1888 western vibes with some creepy horror tones present and accounted for.
Overall the performance was a solid one though at certain points the fixed camera did become an enemy in itself as a useful item like a lamp would be obscured off-screen meaning I couldn’t factor it into my strategy while doing my best Benny Hill impression among a group of ravenous beasties. Melee attacks are also slightly unbalanced, though the majority of the combat will be done with some good old fashioned gunslinging, if an enemy gets too close you will automatically switch to a melee attack that is about as effective as a politicians promise. Guns reload automatically so, on one hand, this is handy if you get caught off-guard but losing the ability to fire at point-blank even if you are fully loaded can cause some annoyingly cheesed deaths.
West of Dead is a challenging experience but one that is well suited to the Nintendo Switch. With great visuals, audio and addictive gameplay for those who relish an almost groundhog day style of play in a morbid western setting, look no further. If you have not gotten on with similar titles I would recommend avoiding West of Dead at least until it drops into a sale but fans of fast-paced action that requires the reactions of a crack addict to overcome with plenty of replay value, look no further! And did I mention, it stars Ron Perlman!
Review code provided
Platform: PC, Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo
Release Date: 26/08/2020
No. of Players: 1
Category: Action, Adventure
Developer: Upstream Arcade
Publisher: Raw Fury
Download link: eShop