I’ve always been enthralled by the immersive sim genre, as it puts the freedom of choice in the player’s hands. I was ecstatic when I heard that ex-Arkane developers, who had worked on Prey and Dishonored, were opening a new studio and debuting their project, Weird West. It was set to be another immersive sim, only this time situated in a bizarre and supernatural rendition of the American wild west. Unlike their previous efforts, it utilizes an isometric top-down perspective that combines elements of a CRPG and a twin-stick shooter. While it may not have the triple-A budget like the developer’s previous titles, Weird West mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do. However, it falls short one too many times to make it a truly recommendable experience.
“While stealth works mostly as intended, it is ruined by how fast and responsive enemies are when you accidentally break out of stealth.”
To no one’s surprise, Weird West, like the developer’s previous games, offers you an impressive amount of freedom. You are not required to engage in combat, and can technically get through the entire game without killing a single person or enemy. However, it is unlikely that that would occur during your playthrough considering how lacklustre and inconsistent the stealth mechanics have been implemented. While stealth works mostly as intended, the problem lies with how fast and responsive enemies are when you accidentally break out of stealth.
To make matters worse, the distance from which enemies can spot you is incredibly inconsistent. One minute they’re noticing you from a mile away, the next they’ll barely give you the time of day despite being stood toe-to-toe. Once one enemy is triggered, all the other ones will come flocking in and unload bullets on you faster than you can react. This is somewhat manageable on lower difficulties. However, it becomes increasingly frustrating on higher ones since it only takes a handful of bullets to see you dead.
“Combat feels rather cumbersome due to imprecise shooting and inconsistent enemy AI behaviour.”
Should you choose to ignore stealth and instead engage in full combat, then expect an experience more akin to a top-down real-time twin-stick shooter. You can equip a range of different weapons, from pistols and machetes to rifles and shotguns. Further progression into the game rewards you with special skills as well as a “bullet-time” mode which is fairly self-explanatory.
Unfortunately, combat overall feels rather cumbersome due to imprecise shooting and the aforementioned inconsistent enemy AI behaviour. Weird West does, however, do an excellent job at incorporating the environment with combat. For example, you’ll be able to shoot an oil canister to cause an explosion or throw a water barrel to dispel a fire. You can also recruit up to two NPCs to follow you until the bitter end, so long as you can keep them alive long enough. However, like with a lot of aspects of Weird West, this mechanic is a little inconsistent. Not only do you have absolutely no control over these party members, but you also have to factor in friendly fire alongside their unfortunate suicidal tendencies.
“While the lack of voice acting in Weird West did detract from my overall enjoyment, the organic nature of progression through the narrative is commendable.”
When It comes to narrative, Weird West doesn’t fare too much better. While it is understandable that this game may not have had the biggest budget to cover voice acting for each of the five main characters, it is a shame that it lacks it. For a game that relies so heavily on the different perspectives of these individuals to further its world-building, the lack of voice acting and ultimately lack of emotion from these characters hurt the narrative’s immersion and impact.
Fortunately, while the lack of voice acting did detract from my overall enjoyment of the narrative, the organic nature of progression through the mainline quests is commendable. I was impressed to see that each character had a meaningful presence in the others’ storylines. For example, if you complete a playthrough as the first character, she will show up as an NPC during your playthrough as another. On the other hand, if you kill everyone in a town as the first character, the town will still be empty on your playthrough of the next character. This attention to detail goes a long way for a game of this nature.
Furthermore, every quest, both main and side, revolves around some sort of moral quandary for you to solve. The game introduces a reputation system that increases or decreases depending on the choices you make. Helping people out can earn you friends for life, whereas killing random people can tarnish your reputation and likely result in you being invaded and ambushed every so often. This mechanic and sense of morality plays a huge role in Weird West, and it is frankly all the better for it. Not only did it vastly increase my overall immersion, but it made me genuinely contemplate a significant portion of my actions.
“Weird West excels at interesting characters and compelling narratives, but is ultimately held back by its clunky combat mechanics and repetitive gameplay.”
However, while certain aspects of the overall narrative do shine, Weird West once again stumbles when it comes to its RPG elements. As much as Weird West desperately desires to be like a role-playing game, it really isn’t. There are no experience points to be gained or levels to go up in. Skills and perks can only be unlocked by picking up certain items throughout the overworld. The absence of any meaningful RPG elements does greatly harm the game’s overall longevity and ensures that progression – outside of the main story – feels somewhat stale.
Unfortunately, the issues do not end there. The inventory management present in Weird West is a complete mess in this game. You will find yourself out of inventory space within the first ten minutes of the game and forced to either find a shop to sell it to or just drop it for good. Most items are just repeats or reskins of each other to the point where it’s not worth it to even pick up due to your meagre inventory space. Themes of repetition are further emphasized by the sheer number of maps and layouts that are reused. The lack of enemy types and shallow patterns of play sometimes make progression a chore to get through.
This all leads us to the overall issue with Weird West. While it excels at presenting a grim world filled with interesting characters and compelling narratives, it is ultimately held back by its clunky combat mechanics, repetitive gameplay, and frustrating inventory management. WolfEye Studios have done a fine job on their first game as an indie studio. Now they just need to touch upon the other gameplay mechanics to create a game that is holistically fun.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the Publisher.