One harrowing stop on a journey through the first five seasons of Weird West will remind you of what was so rare in its latest contemporary film, Arkane Studios. Deathloop. Both are immersive simulations by definition, but with different goals: Deathloop was about harnessing an impractical system, while Strange West is about living in it.
Early in the West, for example, I would wander through a communal ritual. The witches asked me to leave them alone, but before I could get away, their ritual succeeded. A horde of undead and their apocalyptic leader poured out from the summoning circle. The sisters were ready for it. They had guns and they took care of the abominations as if it was Monday. I just watched.
This event, like some others I’ve experienced in a preview version of Weird West’s first chapter, was revealed without any input from me. The Deathloops also spend their days without you, but few of the consequences happen without your intervention. Rarely can you stand and watch everything happen, noting places where you could have stepped in but didn’t.
Rafael Colantonio, Creative Director of Weird West, previously spearheaded Arkane’s remarkable effort to keep the immersive sim genre alive with Dishonored and Prey. In 2017, Colantonio left the studio he founded, and in 2019 he created a new studio called WolfEye. Arkane has gone on to release Deathloop, a sleek and modern take on the genre, while WolfEye’s Strange West travels through time and moves from classic RPGs like Fallout, defending an immersive sim that isn’t all about you.
Like Deathloop, Weird West is all about finding your own way through environments designed first and foremost to comply with the laws of physics: bullets ignite barrels, unconscious bodies shoot out in flames, and the items at your disposal are often at the enemies’ disposal as well. Like Deathloop Island, the place is a playground for the mess, smearing the American West with devils at the seams. Beyond that, the two games diverge.
Strange West turns the first-person camera created by Ultima Underworld and System Shock into a bird’s-eye view, turning the characters into board game pieces. But that didn’t make it impersonal. As I led the veteran bounty hunter through the tangled world of Weird West, I spent a lot of time talking to people, which is rare in the Deathloop. I didn’t remember their names, but I remembered their faces thanks to the art of Cedric Peravernay, who previously defined the grim Dishonored series. Picture like raw Disco Elysium But not entirely surreal.
Not everyone I came across had a story to tell or seek to tell. A recurring character in the form of a dead young girl referred to my character as “The Passenger” as if that name were to me, the Player. Nods to the nature of Weird West’s world (hint: it’s weird) and not just my character’s place in it, but my place as a player, overturned a lot of my assumptions about how to frame a kind of fantasy.
It’s also the first game I’ve played in this time period that includes a number of black and Asian characters, although it’s unclear to me at this point whether Weird West plans to approach America’s expansion westward from those perspectives or the original, often They are erased in Western fiction, or if the supernatural were to take center stage. The level of historical transformation here is nothing like Friends at the table Sangfielle, which breaks the bones of the Old West into something brutal and unknowable. The five hours I spent with Weird West wasn’t enough time to guess where the story was going, but I was able to master my role in the game.
It won’t be long before you start figuring out where the weird west comes from. It is a character based RPG where you solve problems and puzzles, primarily with a gun. Instead of downplaying your combat encounters like the Deathloop sprint, you fail and improvise as if something went wrong in the sprint. The strangeness of the West is to develop plans that inevitably spiral out of control.
The first character, a bounty hunter looking for her husband, is equipped with a series of deadly and silent skills but is incredibly weak. Enemies with guns took my health away in a few shots. I had to take cover, roll, and aim carefully, but each bullet felt like a dice roll. Stealth is an option too, but the intensity of enemy patrols made it difficult for me to stay undetected, often resulting in frantic firefights anyway. And when the cave monsters coughed, the sturdy chests I was hiding behind could not save me. Skills that allow you to dump an entire clip in one powerful shot or jump into slow motion to avoid scrolling are vital. The only way to earn these things is to search through chests and lockers and take down hidden paths – another way Weird West gets you into gear.
Combat encounters are divided into parts, and each area is filled with oil drums, explosive lamps, puddles to generate electricity and tall grass to hide or set on fire. When you throw a stick of dynamite and it inevitably hits something right in front of you and lands at your feet, a stampede begins. The guards are alerted. You panic and scan the environment for a way out. Sure, you can quickly reload in time and try again, but the most satisfying battles are chaotic. When it works to your advantage, like when a bandit gets stuck on your dynamite and you slip out of the window without seeing, it’s canon. You can’t write anything better than that.
Whether you come across a group of bandits or a group of traveling merchants on your journey across the covered map, both will steal something from you. Which is why Weird West works, at least in the first hours I’ve previewed it. Despite the huge impact on the scenarios you can find yourself in, the world reminds you over and over that you don’t matter, that there is so much going on than you can see, and that to make it happen, you’ll need a little luck. Even your character looks like he’s not from this plane, with sign by sign asking a bigger question that we hope you’ll answer when you return to the same world via the other four characters. Weird West promises that the decisions and relationships you make as one character will carry over to the other.
By contrast, Deathloop was not my type of immersive sim. The time-loop hypothesis means that nothing lasts, and that going through the same levels over and over again until I squeeze them out of their spontaneity is inconsistent with the genre’s strengths. “Play your own way” only works if you are pressured to do so.
Weird West reassured me that the immersive sim is still fun, still sharp, and open to interpretation by developers who want to push it even further. If what you played is close to what the final will be early 2022I would be happy to step into the realm of the clock and make some mistakes.