Indie Haven’s own Erin Hyles was sitting in the hotel room with me when I discovered Hard West.  We had barely finished reading the description of the turn-based, grim western title and both clicked on the game’s link to find out more.  Needless to say, we were both pretty hooked on the game’s premise.  I knew that it was something I had to check out on the PAX Prime show floor.  Hard West’s style oozes forth in the art, music, and atmosphere — heck, the press kit for the game is a bullet. Hard West is a western cowboy world that we haven’t seen the likes of since Red Dead Redemption.

There’s only one thing I didn’t expect from Hard West and that was the game’s punishing difficulty.  In the demo I played, there was no medical evac and when players died on the battlefield you failed the mission.  Keeping all of your gunslingers alive is quite the demanding task and it means you’ll have to move through tactical shootouts cautiously.  Only a couple shots can kill your characters so charging the enemy head-on isn’t an option.

Turn-based combat has become a popular mechanic for shooters which seek to be a little more thoughtful and avoid being a bullet-hell.  Firaxis’ X-COM didn’t invent turn-based strategy, but the title seems to be the starting point of the genre’s recent spurt of popularity.  There’s a clear line of inspiration between the alien wargame and Hard West.  A lot of the look and rhythm of the combat feel much like X-COM as you attempt to maneuver characters around the battlefield and give yourself a line sight on an enemy while still remaining in cover.

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The missions I played offered optional objectives and multiple paths to completion.  There’s clearly a desire to give players freedom to take these combat scenarios as slowly as they want, but added optional tasks provide incentive to move a little more quickly.

The coolest thing about the combat is seeing the creative and thematically smart special powers that Hard West gives to its characters in combat.  My favorite was the ricochet power which allowed my character to shoot a metal object and have the bullet ricochet into the intended target.  It’s a clever homage to the larger-than-life antics of the imagined west.

In case it wasn’t already clear, Hard West isn’t going for historical accuracy with its world.  The game is a more fantastical place, filled with legends and tall tales associated with the western genre.  There are dark powers at work in the game and the weird west vibe makes the atmosphere feel more akin to Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, where a fictitious world of cowboys, outlaws, and lawmen is mixed with dark supernatural elements.

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Adding to the game’s imaginative aesthetic is the design of the world.  This is a dusty, dirty, and gloomy take on the wild west.  Unlike Red Dead Redemption or even this year’s oft-overlooked Westerado: Double Barreled, Hard West isn’t interested in picturesque sunsets and sun kissed golden deserts.  The map I played was filled with rotting wood and rusted steel.  The ugly nature of the world only adds to the dark, weird west motif.

This is also true of the game’s score which is similar to Darren Korb’s Bastion.  The melody is carried by acoustic guitar, strumming and fingerpicking its way through folk-like themes, but is underscored by a heavy drum machine thudding in the background.  It’s stylish, cool, and still in keeping with the thematic world established.

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Hard West was a joy to play and the developers hinted that there were even more mechanics to interact with.  An overworld map allows players to travel the world and interact with characters and settlements, finding missions and recruiting guns to their cause.  There’s a tale of gunslinger revenge that spans over eight different chapters with changing character perspectives.

Video games love to indulge in genre fiction, but usually those genres are restricted to the worlds of sci-fi and fantasy.  To see the relatively untapped genre of the western get some love and be blended with interesting supernatural elements gives Hard West an instantly unique quality.  Mixed with the turn-based combat, Hard West becomes a game which almost sells itself on premise alone.

 

You can look for Hard West Autumn 2015 on Steam.

About The Author

The Glorious Predecessor

As I write this, I am listening to Striking Matches and eating a blueberry muffin. The music is good, the muffin is even better. I dance when I drink and have been known to occasionally free-style rap, none of which benefits society.

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