Western-themed video games have grabbed my attention ever since Red Dead Redemption first launched on PS3 and Xbox 360 a decade ago. So when I first heard about West of Dead and saw its eye-catching cel-shaded graphics, it immediately jumped to my games-to-watch list.
The indie twin-stick rogue-lite shooter puts you into the shoes of a man named William Mason. Turns out, William is actually dead and has no memory of his former life. You have to fight your way through purgatory in search of a preacher who might have answers.
Actor Ron Perlman lends his immense talent as William. His voice adds an extra layer of gravitas to a game that is already a decidedly stylish affair. The cel-shaded graphics give the game an almost comic book art style. It’s fitting, and it complements Perlman’s role well since he is perhaps best known for Hellboy.
The controls are fairly basic. Your character moves with the left analog stick and dives with A. The right analog stick is used to aim and the triggers fire your guns. The longer you hold down the trigger, the more accurate your shot.
Between levels, you can visit the witch to trade in sin that you collect in exchange for a health flask, shield, and weapons. You also get the chance to restore all of your health. Quite literally, these prove to be life-savers for our protagonist.
To use an item or ability, you press the left or right bumper. This includes things like dynamite and molotovs, as well as my personal favorite, the machete. Pressing the X button interacts with things like lanterns and chests. Holding it down uses your health flask. Once you get acquainted with the controls, they are simple and fairly intuitive.
Speaking of lanterns, when first lighted they temporarily stun enemies. This is useful, but it often comes at the cost of finding yourself surrounded by an unseen mob of enemies when you go in to light it. This got me killed more than a couple of times.
Most rooms are at least partially dark, so it’s hard to see enemies. You’re at a tactical disadvantage until you light up the room – both with candlelight and gunfire. To make matters worse, the camera can get in the way sometimes. Walls often appear or disappear based on the angle of the camera, so it’s not always easy to judge whether or not you have cover.
Even though the levels are procedurally-generated, they only vary in the layout and placement of enemies, chests, and weapons. So while you will not know exactly what to expect each time you play, you do know what types of enemies to expect, just not their precise locations.
Because you do not know what is around every corner, this is a game where taking cover is essential to survival. It’s especially important to use cover while reloading your guns. By the way, reloading is done automatically, but it takes time. Depending on the gun, it takes anywhere from a second to over three seconds.
Still, even if you use cover perfectly and dive when appropriate, you’re still going to die a lot. That’s because the enemies prove to be spot-on accurate with their gunfire and predict your movement in a way that almost feels like the computer is cheating. This sucks the fun out of the game.
West of Dead is a stylish rogue-lite. For someone who is not a big fan of the genre, I found it to be a fun and entertaining diversion, at least in small bites. However, it does become tiresome replaying levels that look a lot alike over and over again, even if they are both visually striking and not technically laid out the same way.