West of Dead by Upstream Arcade
West of Dead starts off with the main character having a stage case of amnesia. Our skeletal protagonist doesn’t know who he is or why he finds himself in some undead, Wild West limbo.
Slowly, bits and pieces surrounding this character are revealed via memory fragments found throughout the game. The narrative takes a back seat to the gameplay, but there’s enough to garner just enough interest.
So strapped with period-appropriate weapons, you set off to find a way out and uncover his mysterious predicament.
Where the Ghostly Buffalo Roam
If you’ve played a twin-stick Rogue-like before, you know what to expect when it comes to environmental design. Areas are randomly generated, creating a number of rooms to fight through. Find the exit to move on to another area.
You’ll encounter The Bayou, where tall yellow grass fills the surrounding area, or find yourself in the rocky, snow-covered terrain of The Hunt. Each area has its own atmosphere but doesn’t drastically change the structure of the levels themselves.
Even though areas have mostly the same feel, the game does a good job of mixing things up with the enemy variety. Each area has its own set of enemies, from foes that can teleport in the Church area to burrowing creatures in the Bayou.
West of Dead throws a good number of enemy types to not only bring some rewarding challenge but also make the gameplay feel more exciting.
There are a number of weapons to chose from, though just a handful of weapon types. Revolver, shotgun and rifle make up what you have at your disposal: a number of each, all with their own stats. For example, one shotgun gives you critical hits while shooting from cover, while another shotgun may fire more slowly but cause more damage. There is a sizable amount of weapons to find randomly during your play-throughs. There are also items like dynamite and machetes.
However, the game requires you to permanently unlock the better ones before getting the chance to pick them up randomly. Along with items and some permanent stat upgrades, this is how West of Dead allows you to make each progressive play-through easier. I feel like for the most part it works, but I was hoping for more variety when it came to weapon types and status effects. Weapons and items don’t go far enough to make the gunplay feel wild or different in subsequent play-throughs.
Morbid Mosey Rather Than Ghostly Gallop
There is one big differentiating factor with West of Dead compared to others in its genre. West of Dead is a far slower-paced experience. In every room you enter, you must properly use destructible cover in order to survive. Not using cover will lead to death quickly.
This means that gunfights rely on timing, quick thinking and proper strategical planning. It’s a more methodical experience and a little less twitch-based. I found it to be a nice welcome change of pace.
Since the game is slower-paced, runs feel lengthy. This is exasperated by the fact that the game relies heavily on exploring each area completely before moving onto new ones.
Completely exploring each area is a must, because to do otherwise puts you at a huge disadvantage. Not finding the two stat upgrade stations to enhance weapon damage or health makes for a tougher experience.
You’ll also find upgraded weapons and items in chests. In a way, this limited the way I approached the game. Moving onto a new area quickly didn’t offer any incentives, which meant I had to explore every area fully in order to have a fighting chance. This gives West of Dead a deliberate pace, but I also wish the game offered incentives for choosing to rush through areas instead of combing them fully.
Cowboy Meets Hellboy
I adore the way this game exudes a dark atmosphere with its visuals. The mix of a muted color palette and a lot of black fills everywhere you look. It gives the game a cel-shaded comic book feel. It’s a wonderfully executed art style. It reminds me a lot of the Hellboy comics drawn by Mike Mignola. It’s superbly done, and the developers should be applauded for making such a visual showpiece.
Everything is top-notch in terms of sound and music, too. Weapon sounds have that great rewarding punch to them. And each area has its own distinct music track to make it more atmospheric.
And the game is even narrated by Ron Pearlman, who does a fantastic job of playing the weary skeleton protagonist.
I enjoyed my time with West of Dead. I was hoping for more crazy weapons to make the gameplay wilder, but that’s not what this game was aiming for. It succeeds in creating an atmospheric, stylized and slower-paced experience. I recommend it to those looking for a highly stylized, different kind of twin-stick shooter.
West of Dead is available via the Nintendo Store, Sony PlayStation Store, Microsoft Store and Steam.
Check out the official trailer for West of Dead below: