Weird things happen out on the frontier. Weird West, the immersive sim from studio WolfEye Studios, puts you in the middle of a dark fantasy version of the wild west where bandits, bartenders and lawmen are sharing screen time with zombies, werewolves and er… pigmen.
This weirdness unfolds around you as you play. While the game’s opening cinematic hints at something dark and terrifying going on, you’re dropped into the game as a former bounty hunter, Jane, living on a farm after bandits have attacked your farm. After the death of your son and the kidnapping of your husband, you dig up your guns and head out to the nearby town of Grackle to try and get vengeance, only to discover the town has been massacred and corpses litter the streets. It’s time for Jane to take on One Last Job.
But cracks start to show in the standard Western facade. The gang that murdered your son, the murderous Stillwater bandits, seem like pretty standard outlaws until everyone starts to ask why they’re kidnapping so many people, and who their new boss is. As you pull on strings, everything unravels, with supernatural weirdness arriving unannounced as a rich part of the world. Before you know it, people are introducing themselves in the same breath as both a bounty hunter but also the frontier’s biggest expert on immortality.
The biggest achievement of Weird West is that the world it creates is robust enough that it doesn’t feel weird when the bounty you’re chasing turns out to be a werewolf, or a random event turns out to be a witch stood at a crossroads, keen to give you a box you absolutely cannot open before you see her again.
The world of Weird West flexes and bends to account for these bizarre encounters and creates several notable set pieces, both intentionally and also because the game’s nature as an immersive sim means that sometimes you’ll accidentally kill a flesh-eating troll with a crate of dynamite, or you’ll try to jump down from a ledge, land on someone, and accidentally start a firefight with an entire town.
The game will let you save at pretty much any point by hitting the F5 key, and you’ll want to quicksave often to protect yourself from accidental chaos.
Sadly, as with all immersive sims, there’s a frustrating clumsiness to the world. The isometric camera makes interactions feel imprecise, meaning taking out a guard stealthily and trying to loot his body for a key before you’re spotted by his friends becomes ten times harder. I want to be penalised for my own failings, not because the camera won’t turn to the precise angle that’ll let me do the interaction I actually want to perform.
Weird West pushes you through several different protagonists, one after another, each giving you different characters to meet, new viewpoints and new playstyles.
Each story is like a little vignette, little slices of frontier justice that can get as involved as you want them to be. I spent several hours hunting bounties as Jane, earning money and building my reputation. I’d check in at several small farmsteads to see if anyone needed help, or poking and prodding at the world to see what comes out.
The biggest prize is the currency for Weird West’s two different progression systems. One, which uses golden Ace cards you can find in the world, persists throughout the several characters Weird West has you inhabit during its runtime. The other currency is weird glowing purple things which let you level up skills for whoever you’re currently playing as and they’re often about boosting combat skills, with the bounty hunter Jane getting a variety of supernatural shooting skills to make you better at gunfighting.
I spent most of my golden Ace cards on levelling up my jump height, which meant I could take advantage of Weird West’s impressive verticality, clambering over walls and leaping up to the second floor of well fortified buildings with ease. For someone who can’t see a locked room or sealed safe without the urge to break in and check for valuables, getting easy access to unprotected balconies, or escaping detection across nearby rooftops, is invaluable. It’s pretty much the only way that stealth works, too. Crouch waddling around the place might keep you hidden, but the stealth system is fairly rudimentary: step in front of someone and they’ll slowly spot you, and then the excrement collides with the fan.
I enjoy the shootouts, but they’re messy things. Combat plays out like a twin-stick shooter but damage feels inexact and every bandit in the world seems to carry just two bullets in their pockets. In some games, this would be exciting and force you to experiment, but having to loot enemies for ammo mid-firefight or change between a host of throwable items and weapons is just awkward and frustrating.
By the end of the game, the storyline has stitched itself together and you’ve inhabited the body of, amongst others, a werewolf and a recently transformed pig man. The world remains a highlight throughout, but at some point I stopped wanting to interact with the world around me and just wanted resolution. It’s a huge win for Weird West’s world, but a disgruntled shrug for the rest.
Weird West is a wonderful world tacked on to a clumsy bundle of mechanics. Personally, it’s one of my favourite games this year, but a host of small issues mean most of the game’s impressive potential is left untapped.
- The supernatural frontier setting is captivating
- Creative, enjoyable cast of protagonists
- Oodles of player freedom
- Some clunkiness makes certain parts of the game frustrating
- Combat could use some polish