You arrive in a dusty looking saloon. The only man to greet you is a tired-looking bartender, there’s no knowing how long he’s been there. Outside the swinging saloon door is a long, dark corridor taking you to a sprawling labyrinth.
Also, you have a burning skull for a face.
West of Dead is an atmospheric twin-stick shooter with roguelike elements from Raw Fury and Upstream Arcade, and while both genres are well represented on the indie scene this game brings something a little different to the twin-stick shooter side of things. The gameplay is as you would expect, use one stick to direct your aim and the other to move around, hitting the appropriate trigger buttons to fire one of two guns. The game has your standard two-weapon loadout, which you can find and swap either weapon out for new weapons you find around the dungeon area. You can basically pick and choose your preferred loadout and are not limited to one firearm and one long barrel.
The combat itself is also tweaked in interesting ways, with the use of a cover mechanic to help you hide from enemy fire and buy you time to reload. This a great element that adds new depth and strategy to the standard twin-stick shooter formula, it really accentuated the old western feel of the world.
Exploring will net you power upgrades and new weapons, as well as finding items to access new areas of the world. This has roguelike elements of play so backtracking and exploring every possible corner of the world is standard in order to progress. But if you die, you go back to the saloon and must start over. It is ruthless but it teaches you to be smarter and more tactical in your shoot-outs, running in guns blazing like some skeletal Butch & Sundance will get you killed quickly and the deeper into the dungeon you get, the more careful you become about your approach to a combat situation.
Enemy types are very basic but they are distinctly designed so you will know what sort of tactics to expect from look alone after just one encounter; it may not be visually varied but it helps take a little of the uncertainty away from the combat.
It is far from a massive game and the locations you explore start feel a little repetitive, initially, but really diversify more as you access new areas and each new style of setting brings its own unique visual flair. That is the big take away from experience West of Dead; it is truly a stunning looking indie title. From the character designs to the colour palette, West of Dead feels like a Mike Mignola Hellboy comic brought to life. Enhancing that Hellboy vibe is the use of Ron Perlman as the voice of the protagonist during the intro (other dialogue encounters are handled with test boxes).
The distinct art style is really compelling enough to make West of Dead worth playing, even if you are not a huge fan of either twin-sticks or roguelikes, just basking in the moody aesthetic is enough reason to appreciate what this game is doing.
My biggest complaint would be that there is not enough of this world to explore. I wanted more. More maps, more enemies, more side characters. It is never a bad thing to find yourself complaining that you want more game. West of Dead is a game that made me want more. The combat, the exploration, the art style. It gave me plenty to chew on but I was still left wanting.
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