Games with a rogue-like development continue to cause fury among independent teams. Usually because they allow you to focus on the mechanics of their gameplay and not so much on the plot. They can be addictive offering countless hours of gameplay. We have seen some good ones in recent years, but also quite a few other weak ones. In general, they are defined by two elements: procedurally generated maps that change the game every time we return from death and progress that is based on advancing, learning from mistakes and returning with a somewhat better prepared character.
West of Dead by Upstream Arcade is the latest title in this long list of adventures (available on Xbox Game Pass) and is inspired by that theme of the Wild West. A genre that apart from Red Dead Redemption and Desperados has not been exploited too much. Although West of Dead presents us with a very different version of desert towns in broad daylight with a scorching sun.
Death is part of the design of West of Dead, of its own history. Our character is William Mason, a dead gunman who explores the world of Purgatory. A hell that consists of maze-like caves populated by enemies. This is far from being inspired by post-apocalyptic landscapes with rivers of lava. These locations are similar to the mines of the time (late 19th century) poorly illuminated by lamps of limited power. Of course, the random generation of these levels makes the routes unpredictable. So you might take a path that only leads to some type of reward or confrontation, but nothing excessively valuable.
The formula is known, but West of Dead brings some quirks. The first is that we are talking about a third person shooter. You aim and move with the joysticks, although not as arcadey as other games in the genre. Keep in mind that the combat zones are usually quite small, and the type of weapons, especially the initial ones, are old style. Only having a few shots in the magazine and a slow reload time. You are not going to smash the trigger foolishly, and so every shot of a revolver or shotgun needs to be accurate.
These combat zones have some covers to hide in, like boxes, but they are not indestructible. A few shots or explosions and they will break, forcing you to change positions. Still, it’s essential to take cover, because the protagonist and the enemies only endure a few shots. You won’t survive long in these mazes if you suffer more damage than you should. You will find potions and some points to improve our health or damage caused by firearms, but the attack is as important as the protection.
A Mexican Standoff
There’s an auto-aim system to fine-tune our shot by holding down the fire button. This also brings in another one of West of Dead’s original ingredients, lighting. As previously mentioned, the caves use lamps and not all of them are lit. They need us to activate them. Many enemies are placed in dark areas and you won’t know their position until it’s too late. It is advisable to light an area as soon as possible. Also, if the enemies are close to the lamp, they will be blinded with the flash and you will get a small advantage. These battles are a kind of puzzle in itself.
Throughout the exploration you obtain resources and new weapons. Each weapon has a damage value, bullets in the chamber, and some extra ability. An example could be a revolver that does critical damage every certain number of shots or a bleeding effect. The artificial intelligence of the enemies is very fair with the player. Many of the enemies barely move from their position. Others go towards your character in a zombie like fashion regardless of the damage they receive. And they throw explosives. That does not mean that it’s a walk in the park. Between the breakable covers and the damage of each shot, you are going to restart it a lot. Proceduraly generated maps makes it more bearable.
Dying and Improving
Once we understand the cycle of it’s gameplay, West of Dead shows us a fun twist to the rogue-like fantasy genre. The gunplay gets a little harsh at the start and it’s not the best that’s seen in the genre. It’s just that the game is looking for a more strategic pace than other shooters. Do not think that you will last long dodging bullets, because the movement of your character is rather slow. And of course, there are also permanent improvements to unlock, as well as new skills and weapons. No matter how bad you do in a run, every little bit of progress makes the game a little easier in your next playthrough.
Art Inspired by Mike Mignola
In the sound section, the narration of the actor Ron Perlman and the sound effects of the weapons stand out. Although the music, with somewhat generic Western-type themes, goes largely unnoticed. It’s a shame because the atmosphere of this hellish place could be exploited more.
The graphic designs are very comic-like and in a certain way seem inspired by Mike Mignola (the creator of Hellboy) due to the use of light and harsh shadows. A very successful cell shading that without the need of technical boasts attracts you from the first minute. But as is often the case in rogue-like, there are a limited number of graphic elements, decorations and maps. After a few hours of play you may begin to get tired of the limited cave-themed levels.
West of Dead contributes enough to stand out among other indie games of the genre. Either for its attractive visual style or a few shootouts that reward cold blood more than reflexes. It shares the peculiarities of other adventure games of the same style. This game is striking enough that it deserves our attention. It’s for anyone who likes action packed games and has a taste for the rogue-like genre.