West of Dead review – SelectButton
A gritty Wild West on the hugely popular and addicting rogue-lite genre, West of Dead features a procedurally generated world, two-stick cover firing mechanics, and a stylistic protagonist with a flaming skull voiced by Ron Perlman, who you might recognize from Hellboy, Sons of anarchy, or as the narrator of the Fall franchise. Located in Purgatory, Wyoming in 1888, you’ll venture through dark catacombs, icy caverns guarded by a dangerous wendigo, and passageways carved out of a gold mine, only to perish and wake up in the same living room every time. .
The grimy living room, with its overturned chairs, dirty tables, and an empty piano sitting in a dark corner, serves as a hub, the place you’ll return to after a failed race. As a thug-lite you’re supposed to die, dying in West of Dead is good. Although you lose all of your upgrades, abilities, and weapons, you acquired them during your previous race. Upon exiting the tavern, you will have access to two random levels, a gun, located in a large area, highlighting all of your unlocked weapons and items. Go outside and start your journey again through the gritty crypts.
The environments consist of narrow corridors that give access to rooms of different sizes. Enemies never spawn in the hallways, giving you time to decide which direction you want to go. That said, the tactical approach to combat allows you to draw certain enemies into these hallways and, more importantly, the previous rooms. Not only do these enemies separate, but it gives you the advantage of engaging them while they attempt to chase you away. Lighting plays an important role in the conduct of engagements. Most of the rooms you will enter are deprived of light, making it impossible to properly lock onto enemies, hiding those who wish to send you back to the living room. Hanging lamps are scattered around which, if activated, illuminate rooms and temporarily stun nearby enemies. The in-game automatic aim does not lock in the dark; however, you can manually target these enemies whenever you want.
You will almost always need to find cover during shootouts, using parts of the environment, such as massive stone coffins. These are destructible, so you won’t be able to stay hidden for too long. There are both melee and ranged enemies, with the former rushing towards you, and the latter taking multiple hits at you with pinpoint accuracy. Dodging and sliding into position is essential, as the bad timing of a dodge leaves you open to enemy fire, as only perfectly timed dodge will allow you to avoid taking damage.
It took five or six gruesome races to slowly grasp the mechanics of the game to begin to progress through the crypts. Before long, you’ll understand how many hits it will take to knock out enemies with your revolver, or how slow-pushing corpses love to follow you around the previous rooms, making them easy targets. I still haven’t perfected the art of dodging, and more often than not when I’m not in the shelter or trying to get out of my ruined hideout I’m instantly targeted due to being too fast or too slow. Dying means you’ll lose everything you’ve acquired, so say goodbye to those upgraded weapons. However, if you can clear an entire floor, you’ll spend one of the two currencies on permanent upgrades.
When you reach the witch at the end of a floor, you compare their presence to that of an overwhelming storm. Sin must be purged, unlocking permanent and temporary buffs, such as a health ball, to regain some of your overall health which you will retain in subsequent races. Others include a shield to absorb damage for a set period of time, a lantern to stun nearby enemies, and new weapons, such as The Freezer, to briefly slow enemies or The Traitor, which deals critical damage when firing. enemies from behind. The second currency, iron, can be exchanged for temporary abilities that you will lose when you die. These include gaining health while slipping into cover or cutting your reload time in half for a short time. Rooms with a shiny skull provide buffs, giving you the change to improve your max health, melee damage, or gun damage. Given the procedural nature of world design, I had these back-to-back safe zones, which gave me a much-needed boost to traverse multiple floors before succumbing to a boss.
West of Dead provides an adequate challenge through an intriguing premise. Hearing Ron Perlman’s voice, as you explore the dark underworld, added to the experience. There’s not much to the overall narrative, but it can be overlooked once you master the thrilling gameplay and the great cel-shaded graphics. The random nature of each race means you’ll be lucky, being able to cross a floor in a matter of minutes, and other times you’ll have terrible weapons and rooms filled with multiple enemies. Do not launch me into the cave beasts rushing towards you that have a large heather pool.
Note: West of Dead has been reviewed on Xbox One. A digital copy of the game has been provided by the publisher / developer.