West Of Dead PC Review

West of Dead is constantly at odds with itself and, while that doesn’t make it a bad game, it does make it harder to love.

By Woozie, Posted 21 Jun 2020

In West of Dead, you play as William Mason, a man with a flaming skull who can’t die. Stuck in Purgatory and cursed to return to the same bar upon death, his search for the root of the problem takes the gunslinger across multiple procedurally generated levels rendered using striking cel-shaded visuals. But while its graphics immediately make it stand out from the crowd, the core gameplay loop of this isometric twin-stick, cover-based rogue-lite is rife with inconsistencies.

West of Dead’s maps take a page from the Binding of Isaac book, being comprised of corridors that connect rooms in which you encounter enemies. Then, they insert their own particularities into the mix. You quickly learn that even with infinite ammo, using cover is the key to surviving combat encounters. Not only does it block incoming shots but it also immediately triggers your reload animation if you stay in place, which is the main limiting factor in fights. There’s always some sort of object to hide behind, although cover does degrade as it takes damage. Sooner or later, you’ll need to dash across shorter or longer distances to another temporary safe spot, in which case you rely on properly timed dodges to save you while out in the open; that if you can’t put enough holes into your enemies first.

West of Dead PC Review, Screenshot

West of Dead’s battles never last very long and, at their best, have an inner rhythm that, in tandem with the moody guitars and strings of its soundtrack, easily pulls you in. Unfortunately, their quality varies greatly. In most cases, a portion of the levels is obscured by darkness, rendering you unable to use the game’s free lock-on system to target enemies within. You can, theoretically, hit them but it’s considerably harder. In cases like these, you need to wait for the right moment to rush lanterns which light up a chunk of the level and stun foes in the process. The number and types of enemies you encounter, however, take battles across the entire spectrum that starts with trivial fights and ends with those that feel like a sadistic puppet master crushing your skull underfoot.

When you’re dealing with one or two strong enemies, or a bigger pack of regular riflemen, shotgunners and melee-oriented foes, West of Dead plays like an excellent, tense, methodical twin-stick shooter in which you must time dodges as you move between cover, keep track of remaining ammo, quickly break line of sight to reload, and always consider your positioning. It’s quite a handful at first but the more of these fights you partake in, the better you internalize this rhythm. All of it can be downright exhilarating, too. On the flipside, when rooms hide multiple enemies in darkness or face you with too many foes, including some that can one-shot you, it betrays the stiffness of its combat, almost always resulting in unfair deaths that can put a sudden stop to an otherwise successful run. Even if, aside from guns, you get additional items that grant quicker reloads, temporary shields, or throwable dynamite, you’ll inevitably find yourself needing to reload and wait for item cooldowns. When the room is extra crowded, finding that brief moment of respite can prove hard to do as you’re relentlessly harassed from multiple sides, doomed to die.

West of Dead PC Review, Screenshot

West of Dead’s melee combat is also terribly unreliable. In theory, it triggers when you’re close enough to a foe. In practice, half of the regular melee attacks I attempted resulted in Mason standing idle next to a stunned foe until it meleed back. Additionally, items like knives either missed from up close or landed hits when the animation was nowhere near to connecting with the enemy. For the other half, they behaved like proper complements to the rifles and pistols I used, making me a versatile killing machine. West of Dead’s free lock-on system picks a target from the general direction in which you’re pointing and, for the most part, it works fine. That being said, when you’ve multiple enemies near each other, it has difficulty in choosing the right one until you circle around to better single them out. Sometimes, shots miss their targets altogether, despite being in clear view.

All these things amount to much unwanted frustration resulting from lost runs caused by things outside of the player’s control. The pace at which you unlock items – that make up the game’s persistent progression system – further compounds the issue. West of Dead has plenty of new weapons and items you can unlock. Doing so requires filling a bar by spending a set amount of Sin – resource which drops from dead opponents – at the Witch in between levels. The problem is that you always get small quantities of Sin, amounting to far too many runs required to unlock a single new gun, especially if you’re first shooting for the more expensive items.

The moment I unlocked the Workhorse – a rifle with more ammo than most and great damage to boot – I felt like my efforts actually meant something, as it instantly became a weapon I’d automatically pick up when I found it in levels. Aside from it, I barely unlocked two other guns which turned out to be just decent alternatives for the remainder of my time with the game. Purgatory’s not meant to be a fun place, but West of Dead is too adamant about keeping all its cool toys to itself.

West of Dead PC Review, Screenshot

West of Dead also has means of growing your power inside levels. Exploration can lead to finding shrines where you can choose between upgrading health, weapon and ability damage. You’ll also find chests that reward a random unlocked gun, usually of a higher level and damage, and the Trader, an NPC which lets you spend iron – a second resource dropped by foes and found in crates – on up to three random items. It’s all very run-of-the-mill and, especially with the slow pace at which you get to use new weapons and items, neither of these systems manages to keep things fresh enough by the time you’re hitting the 15-hour mark.

The game’s comic-book style visuals – very reminiscent of Mike Mignola’s work – do a great job of creating a brooding atmosphere. Sadly, while the interplay between darkness and light is interesting at first, it also contributes to the levels lacking a strong sense of identity. While each of them introduces its own enemy types – ranging from humble musketmen and shotgunners to suicide bombers and massive butchers whose ranged attack one-shots you  –  they all feel like random rooms with cover in them rather than farms, bayous or churches.  Ron Perlman’s delivery and West of Dead’s straightforward writing do successfully build up protagonist William Mason as a no-nonsense gunslinger looking to escape his cursed fate. As you progress, the game also reveals more about his past, which is a neat distraction.

West of Dead PC Review, Screenshot

West of Dead starts off by promising an engaging twin-stick action rogue-lite, but the more you play, the clearer its inconsistencies become and, with them, frustration seeps in. As brilliant as its combat can be, unreliable melee alongside a lack of options when faced with too many foes drag the experience down. For each cool item you could unlock, there’s a wait that’s hard to sit through given the game’s penchant to frustrate and its rather dull level design. West of Dead is constantly at odds with itself and, while that doesn’t make it a bad game, it does make it harder to love.

Bogdan Robert,
Senior Editor, NoobFeed
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General Information

West of Dead

67/100

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, Switch, PC
Publisher(s): Raw Fury
Developer(s): Upstream Arcade
Genres: Action-Adventure
Themes: Western, Rogue-like
Release Date: 2020-06-18

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