The old west has been a popular setting for a number of films and video games. Westerns have reached much acclaim across both mediums, but they typically follow a known formula. Enter Upstream Arcade’s West of Dead. Published by Raw Fury, West of Dead combines roguelike gameplay with tactical, cover based shooting. Set in purgatory during the year 1888, players will embark on adventures as William Mason, a deceased cowboy that finds himself stuck between worlds.
Armed and dangerous
West of Dead’s gameplay centers on twin-stick shooting. While constantly on the move, players will need to hone their accuracy in order to quickly dispatch enemies. I played the majority of my time using a keyboard and mouse, which still felt pretty comfortable, though it may not be the primary way to play the genre. The shooting in West of Dead feels great. Players can hold down the fire button in order to charge their shot, creating a more accurate and powerful blow. It’s incredibly satisfying to successfully land a fully charged shot and watch your opponent fall back in slow motion.
Another major component to West of Dead’s combat is cover. With this being a roguelike, enemies are typically unforgiving, so the player must constantly find cover in order to avoid gunfire. In West of Dead, all you have to do is walk up to a structure to take cover behind it, which is really convenient. Enemies will still fire at you while in cover, eventually destroying it if you sit there long enough. This creates a fun back and forth combat experience, where I hopped from cover to cover avoiding enemy fire, while trying to land some shots myself.
Hell or highwater
The lore and world of West of Dead is incredibly fascinating. Taking classic western tropes and inserting them into this ghostly afterlife setting creates a very unique universe. It’s creepy and unlike anything I’ve really played. Jumping into the shoes of a deceased cowboy had me immediately wanting to seek out more information and backstory. Upstream Arcade scored Ron Pearlman to voice the protagonist William Mason, and the game is better for it. Pearlman is excellent in the role, as he’s so good at delivering that stoic cowboy dialogue.
One of the most impressive aspects of West of Dead is its visual art style. The cell-shaded design makes the roguelike feel like a living graphic novel. The art direction alone is enough to make you want to give West of Dead a spin. The developers also have a strong emphasis on concepts of light and dark. This is clear in the art style, but is also pervasive in gameplay. Players can illuminate rooms to identify and stun enemies.
As is common in many roguelikes, West of Dead features procedurally generated levels. This ensures that each run is different. With deaths constantly forcing players to start from the beginninh, this is intended to keep gameplay fresh. Unfortunately, the randomly generated levels don’t feel too unique from each other, so gameplay still feels repetitive at times.
There’s also a solid variety of loot and weapons that players can acquire throughout their time with the game. This includes a number of revolvers and rifles to use in combat against foes. It’s thrilling to progress through levels accumulating awesome weapons and loot only to get killed by one of West of Dead’s brutal bosses. That’s the cycle of a good roguelike.
The good, the bad, and the deadly
Upstream Arcade’s West of Dead is an impressive roguelike. With a solid twin-stick shooting system, West of Dead has a more than serviceable gameplay loop. However, the game is truly anchored by it’s incredible visuals and art design. Add on top of this an excellent voice performance and unique sense of worldbuilding, and you’ve got a roguelike formidable in any standoff.
This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. West of Dead is available now for $19.99 USD on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, and Steam. The game is currently available on Xbox Game Pass.
West of Dead
- Incredible art design
- Well designed cover based gameplay
- Twin stick shooting creates for a fun back and forth combat experience
- Levels feel repetitive