Weird West Preview: Why We're Excited For This Occult Western
The immersive sim genre is a strange one. Those who know it by name are often obsessive fans who will replay their favorite genre games to keep toying with the malleable worlds. Despite that, it remains a difficult term to define.
Weird West is an upcoming indie take on the immersive sim, but it comes from a team comprised of former AAA vets who worked on Dishonored and Prey, two of the finest takes on the slippery genre to date. So it should be to no one's surprise that it's looking quite fine itself.
After a few hours with an early build of the game, I've fired off a six-shooter of things that caught my attention in the promising preview. Here's why I'm excited for the WolfEye debut, Weird West.
Weird West comes from WolfEye, but this is the small, distributed team's first game. While that necessitates an introduction, the team's past works need no such thing. Raphael Colantonio, former President and Creative Director of Arkane Studios, founded the team alongside Julien Roby, former producer at Arkane, and industry vet Binu Philip, COO.
Collectively, the team's penchant for immersive sims and games with deep systems is on display early and often with Weird West, and as this is a genre that lives and dies primarily on level design, I'm excited to see this team put their expertise to use on a more focused scale such as this.
As the game opens with the death of your son and the kidnapping of your husband, you'd think Weird West is set to be a bloodsoaked vengeance quest, but it doesn't have to be. Just like Dishonored and Prey before it, Weird West gives players hub-like levels full of enemies, but also ripe with opportunities.
Do you create a distraction then sneak in the back door? Do you pick off enemies one by one, hiding their bodies in the tall grass? Maybe you set off a chain reaction that gets all the enemies in one spot only to shoot out a lantern near an oil slick, allowing you to burn them all away.
Level design is what those Arkane games do best (truly better than anyone, in my opinion), and Weird West looks to recreate some of that magic even from an angled perspective. It looks different, but it's still so satisfying to take one's time with an encounter and get things exactly right.
Going hand-in-hand with those elaborate environments is the combat, which, after a tutorialized introduction, really opens up to reveal the extent of your abilities. Unlocking major new powers thanks to Weird West's occult leanings adds a surreal twist to it all, but even the good old-fashioned shootouts provide excitement.
That's because enemies, even in this unfinished build, act with a killer instinct. It will be wise to sneak around for as long as you can in Weird West. Every time I blew my cover in a dense area, I was quickly overcome by a swarm of enemies, some of whom wasted no time flanking me with shotguns.
The almost RTS-like UI will keep you informed of your aim and damage, but it's purely up to you to stay on your feet by planning ahead — and acting swiftly when the plan falls apart.
Though I've placed it here in the middle of this list, I'd say the setting is actually my favorite part of Weird West so far. I'm a sucker for when two genres collide (It's a heist movie and a Christmas movie? Reindeer Games rules!), so the blend of mysticism and westerns in both thematic and aesthetic elements has been nothing short of eye-popping.
The central enemy faction wears burlap over their heads like twisted serial killers, cannibals roam the land, and even fiercer monsters are hinted at for the full game. Weird West does a lot with surely far fewer resources than some on the team are used to, and this is most evident in the world-building. It feels expertly crafted as the dark centerpiece to a game already doing a lot right.
Even before I properly started Weird West, I had my suspicions that it was going to be interesting. Part of that is because of the pedigree I mentioned. But another reason for that is the music. The trailer embedded above gives a good taste of it. It brilliantly captures Weird West's dual sensibilities: the walk-tall western and its touches of occult mysticism.
I love it so much that as soon as I booted it up, I reached out to ask the team that provided the code whether we could expect a soundtrack release (no word on that yet, by the way). WolfEye's website mentions that audio is a point of emphasis, and in the team's debut game, it shows.
The Hints of More to Come
In my demo time with Weird West, I was able to play through the story of bounty hunter Jane Bell, but the full game will offer five playable characters, each with their own tale to tell. This approach ensures variety, and also seems to suggest some crossover.
I'd love it if, by the end of Weird West, we can look back and recall how each of these characters, seemingly living disparate lives in the early going, actually affected each other's stories directly and indirectly. With more monsters to discover, more anti-heroes to emerge, and more tragedies to befall the characters of Weird West, I can't wait to see how it all comes together.
Weird West arrives on PC, PlayStation, and Xbox platforms on January 11, 2022.