West of Dead Beta Impressions: Go East, Young Corpse
There’s something innately appealing about mixing horror and the Old West. They’re two genres that just fit together naturally, especially in gaming. This pairing is definitely one of the key attractions for the upcoming West of Dead, currently in a limited-run open beta on both Xbox One and Steam.
This first taste gives players plenty of reasons to get excited about further adventures in the Old West underworld when it actually releases later this year.
Two things immediately strike players when first starting. The distinctive, comic book art style and Ron Perlman’s voice. Perlman is, of course, one of the most instantly recognizable character actors out there and he lends his distinct gravitas to our newly resurrected protagonist, William Mason.
The visual style creates a superb gothic atmosphere. West of Dead takes place in some ghostly purgatory between the “west” and “east." Heading East, as it happens, is the more fortunate of destinations. To get there, though, our hero will have to blaze his way through a hell of procedurally-generated mazes.
You always start off in the saloon before pushing through those swinging doors into a world of hurt and violence. The game lays out a variety of different firearms and explosives — pistols, rifles, shotguns, TNT, smoke grenades, and more. You can hold two firearms at a time and two secondary weapons like grenades. Ammunition, in the beta at least, isn’t an issue, but reloading is.
West of Dead uses an isometric-style perspective to show off its cover-based gunplay. Rooms with bad guys are generally equipped with several destructible pieces of furniture to duck behind and evasively slide between. Mason automatically reloads when hiding and you’ll aim with the right stick in proper twin-stick shooter style.
Since each gun has different rates of fire, reload times, and shot counts, a big part of staying alive is having guns that complement each other. The rapid-firing six-shooter might not do a ton of damage, for instance, but it’s perfect for softening up your target before unloading the double barrel on them. New weapons can be picked up throughout a level and there are also upgrade stations that allow you to enhance three stats: toughness (health and melee damage), perceptions (firearms damage), and resourcefulness (abilities damage and item recharge speed).
The interplay of light and dark plays a key role in Mason’s underworld journey. Hanging lanterns can be turned on, briefly stunning enemies. Unfortunately, those lights only reach so far, seldom illuminating the darkest corners of the room. In proper horror style, those dark corners could be hiding monsters.
Walking into the dark only to be killed by some lurking demonic creature for the first time quickly teaches players to either avoid them entirely or shoot first and see if anything dies. Dying is a semi-permadeath affair. Based on the beta, you lose your progress and get shunted to the main menu to start an entirely new, randomly generated dungeon.
Levels also contain lost souls who need help passing on to the next world. These encounters basically set up handicapped challenge scenarios. The one that kept popping up in the beta was having to kill a set number of enemies without taking any damage. One wrong move and Mason not just failed to help the poor soul but died in the process.
Based on this small taste, West of Dead has all the markings of an indie worth tracking. The art style and overall presentation are distinctive, and the action is deliberately slower-paced and challenging. Consider our appetite for frontier justice whetted for more.
Stay tuned to GameSkinny for more on West of Dead as we learn more.