TUCSON, Ariz. — If you've ever watched a Western movie and found yourself wondering what it would be like if ghosts and zombies were involved, "Weird West" is the game for you.
The isometric shoot-and-loot RPG lite spawned from the vision of Raphael Colantonio, one of the creative forces behind "Dishonored" and "Prey." You can see influences from those games throughout the wacky, choice-driven story.
Phil Villarreal: "Weird West" surprised me throughout my time with the game. Often for the better, but sometimes not so much. For starters, the premise just made me smile. It's sort of a shock that nothing quite like this has ever been done, despite how obvious the combination seems to be. Gunning down werewolves and zombies with six-shooters just seems oh so right.
On the downside, the writing doesn't do a whole heck of a lot with the premise, leaving too many unplayed cards on the table. For a free-wheeling, absurd, over-the-top "Diablo"-like, the affair gets pretty stale quickly. What did you think, Sean?
Sean Newgent: The game follows in the footsteps of recent critical darling "Disco Elysium," offering a very tight RPG that does its best to simulate a realistic world, sucking the player in. Actions that have consequences are not just a phrase your parents throw at you after getting into trouble at school. Video games are growing increasingly obsessed with ensuring player decisions fuel the game world and the story, and "Weird West" definitely does a good job at making sure everything you do has some sort of immediate or long-term effect.
For instance, in the early game, you are confronted with a jailed member of the gang who killed your family. You can interrogate the man politely or snap each of his fingers till he talks. I then decided to meet some justice in front of the sheriff, shooting him down in his cell. And the sheriff, in typical western fashion, looked the other way.
But the problem with that is now his family wants revenge. And it goes double if you kill any NPCs unrelated to the main storyline. You never know when the wife of a man you gunned down will strap on a bandoleer of bullets and seek out revenge.
As you progress through the game, you get to play five different characters, and the things you do as previous characters impact the landscape and personality of towns and locations you go to down the line. This commitment to creating a cohesive, involving world may be the ultimate accomplishment of "Weird West." But everything else...well, Phil, how did you enjoy the combat?
Phil Villarreal: I thought the combat was erratic. The majority of the battles seem fair and strategic, rewarding you for your choices in layout and approach. But occasionally, it would feel as though I was cheated by circumstance and that the results were left more to chance than skill and planning.
Retracing steps to squeak past bottlenecks is irritating and discourages me from moving forward. As much fun as "Weird West" was at times, too much of the game seemed like a chore.
The game's best character is its environment, which truly made me feel as though my actions influenced what lay ahead. There was real potential here for something special. I see the game as sort of a flawed gem.
What would you change if you were on the dev team?
Sean Newgent: I wholeheartedly agree the combat needed more fine-tuning. While I think the Rube Goldberg-style cause-and-effect of your decisions in combat can lead to some fun encounters, the randomness doesn't fit into the more grounded RPG elements. The game's pacing tends toward the slow and methodical, rewarding you for discovery, whether in exploring the maps or talking to NPCs. But the frenetic combat tries to be like a "Shadow Warrior" yet also "Hotline Miami," succeeding at neither. Were this a twin-stick shooter with more forgiving checkpoints, I would have had more fun.
Conversely, were this a "Shadow Warrior" or "XCOM" style strategy game, I'd have enjoyed myself as well. I can see the vision and appreciate what the devs are trying to create here. It's translating the old top-down RPGs like "Fallout" into a more palatable modern flavor that allows multiple gameplay styles and experimentation. It's also creating the kind of chaos Devolver Digital's games (and press conferences) are known for. But as it stands, the game just doesn't work for me.
Admittedly, I played "Weird West" on console, and I can safely say that I am sure I would have had a slightly better time were I to play the title on PC. It feels like it was made with a mouse and keyboard in mind. The often frustrating combat became more so with the clunky controller inputs.
I'm sure "Weird West" will find a cult fanbase on some corner of Steam. But I found it middling, a tad frustrating, and ultimately disappointing given the great premise and how much thought and effort was obviously poured into it.
Final thoughts, Phil?
Phil Villarreal: I know you've been excited about this one for months, Sean. And your excitement got me psyched as well. Maybe my expectations were too amped up, but to me, "Weird West" feels like a promise only half-filled.
While the game is plenty of fun in short bursts, it takes some endurance to stick with it over the long haul. Maybe a comprehensive update or expansion could draw me back into the world, but for now, I'm content to bury my gun, turn in my badge and call it a day. At least Game Pass subscribers will get the opportunity to play for free. If you're a subscriber, give it a roll. For everyone else, the $40 cost is a tough sell.
Past game reviews by Sean and Phil:
The publisher provided review codes. Phil played the game on Xbox Series X. Sean played on PS4.
Phil Villarreal is the senior real-time editor for KGUN 9. He is also a digital producer and host of "Phil on Film" seen weekly on Good Morning Tucson, Phil moved to KGUN after 17 years with the Arizona Daily Star. He is married and has four children. Share your story ideas and important issues with Phil by emailing email@example.com or by connecting on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Sean Newgent has been with KGUN9 since January of 2020 and is Good Morning Tucson's executive producer. He graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in broadcast journalism. He is a critic and cultural commentator. Share your story ideas and important issues with Sean by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.