Irons Won’t Be Enough

HIGH The Thoroughly Modern Circe.

LOW The hive queens feel a little OP.

WTF The rhyming pigman!

In the Weird West everything is wrong, everything is brutal, and everything is awful. This is a world wallowing in muck and misery — a place so bleak that there are multiple cannibal groups that number amongst the world’s factions. It’s cold, violent and almost entirely hopeless… and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

A top-down action-RPG with a stunning degree of depth, Weird West wears its ambitions on its sleeve, and it kicks off with as daring an opening as I’ve seen — the player doesn’t control the bounty hunter whose husband is kidnapped and child killed in the first few scenes, but rather, they’re an ethereal force that possesses her and leads her on a journey of revenge.

Not since kill.switch have I encountered a game so interested in having a conversation about what it means to to swoop into a character’s life and start making decisions for them. Yes, that’s very much the nature of narrative-based games with branching stories, but Weird West takes things further by asking what happens when the player ducks out and the people they controlled have to live with decisions that were made for them?

Weird West has one overarching storyline, but players complete it by going through five smaller campaigns, each one starring a different character. The first is the bounty hunter whose family is killed, and once revenge is exacted, the focus shifts to the next character, and beyond. I’d love to mention exactly who those subsequent characters are, but finding out is a good portion of the fun, especially when each new face seems to have been chosen with the intention of making the ‘weird’ part of the title as accurate as possible.

Each one has a main quest to follow that will drag them around a section of the map, getting into fights and searching for clues. There are also optional sidequests that unlock a sidekick or add some depth to the world. However, it’s important to note that Weird West makes these quests meaningful by allowing their resolutions to echo forward from one campaign into the next.

For example, in the first campaign players run into a corrupt tobacco baron who has some valuable information — do they do an awful task for him in exchange, or try to get the information in a riskier way? The results aren’t just a few ticks up or down on a morality meter, they’re seismic changes in who holds power in the West’s various settlements, and what kind of foes or friends they’ll be encountering in their next incarnation.

While it has the look of a Desperadoes-style turn-based tactics game, Weird West gives players direct control of just one character in real time, allowing them to run, gun, and sneak around in just about any way they choose. Most problems can be talked through, but even when combat is a necessity, there’s a huge variety in how to approach it. The quality varies a bit, though. When it comes down to shooting, I felt like controller-based aiming could have stuck to enemies more tightly, but mouse-based shooting was extremely tight. Melee combat was iffy. There’s no weight or impact to it, and up-close battles invariably wind up with characters flailing away at one another until someone falls over dead.

Beyond shooting and punching, every area is filled with opportunities for environmental exploitation. There are pools of oil to set on fire, water barrels to electrify and burst, and so many barrels of TNT scattered everywhere that it has to some kind of a health and safety violation.

In addition to normal combat skills, the each character has a variety of skills and spells that range from temporary bullet deflection all the way up to conjuring a lightning tornado. They can also recruit up to two posse members to fight alongside them, including previous main characters, should the player have left them in a state where they’d be interested in continuing the journey. The partners come with infinite ammo and decent health, so they can do quite a bit to prop up those iffy fighting abilities. Thankfully, Weird West offers difficulty levels that range from ‘very hard’ down to ‘story’ — the easiest setting still has plenty of fighting, but it generally won’t get in the way of even the clumsiest shot seeing all of the narrative ingenuity that the developers have packed in.

Weird West is a truly special experience. While each one of its stories is compelling in its own right, when put together they transform into something fantastic. This is a game that shows its monsters and asks the player to be disgusted, and then turns them into a monster and asks if they feel the same way. As such, every one of the journeys contained within is worth taking, but it’s only once players have trod all of those roads that they’ll appreciate just how amazing Weird West‘s accomplishments are. It’s deep, it’s fascinating, and it’s full of the kind of storytelling that resonates for a long time after credits roll — truly an incredible experience from beginning to end.

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by WolfEye Studio and published by Devolver Digital. It is currently available on PC, XBO/X/S, and PS4/5. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 35 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood and Gore, Strong Language, and Violence. There’s just so much cannibalism in this game. Seriously! There are also drunks, whorehouses, unbelievable gore, plenty of swearing – this isn’t a hard decision at all. No kids anywhere near it.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played most of the game without audio and encountered no difficulties. All dialogue in the game is subtitled. Text can be resized. It’s fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, the game’s controls are not remappable.

Daniel Weissenberger
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