West of Dead - Open Beta Impressions (Preview)

Updated: Feb 19

It’s like purgatory, with guns

Platforms: PC

Available On: Xbox One, PS4, Nintendo Switch

Developer: Upstream Arcade, Raw Fury

Genre: Roguelike, Twin stick shooter

Release: June 30th, 2020

If purgatory was anything like Upstream Arcades upcoming West of Dead, I’d probably die again from how cool it all looks. Growing endorsement aside, today I’m taking a quick look at this unique mix of dungeon crawling, twin stick shooting and endless gunning ARPG by way of the open Beta, available on both Steam and Xbox One as of this writing.

What immediately struck me when first booting up the game, was its sense of style. I am a real sucker for this look in general but the design is hauntingly beautiful. From the way your character William Mason’s (voiced by Ron Perlman) skull acts like a persistent light source as you trudge through dungeons, to the heavy contrasting and thick outlines of characters and objects as they clash violently with the scenery, everything jumps out at you and it just works.

It is very reminiscent of the work of Mike Mignola’s incredibly gothic and dark style seen in his Hellboy comic book series (yes, Perlman once played this iconic character…coincidence?). Everything feels deliberately designed to evoke this feeling and the fact that it also happens to be a western is just icing on the cake.

So, How Does it Work?

West of Dead is a procedural generated, dungeon crawling, twin stick shooter. You wake up in Purgatory, Wyoming in 1888 with no memory of who you are but for a figure in black. As you make your way through the world, you’ll start to piece together what happened to you, who did it and all one bullet at a time. What sets it apart from other twin stick shooters, at least that I have played, is in it’s cover based shooting. This isn’t a run and gunner of old, each enemy filled room you walk into requires some thought. The action is frenetic and with cover, such as fences, crates, coffins and tombstones all destructible, you’ll need to keep moving to stay alive.

But what’s a shooter without guns, right? Well on that front there is variety and tactical-based choice aplenty. Throughout your jaunt through the underworld you’ll come across different types of upgrades, consumables and weapon types to help keep things interesting. It seems in my time playing, levels were not the only procedurally generated things, as each time I died or started a new run brought with it random starting weapons. Sometimes I was rocking two double barrel pistols and others a combo of musket, hunting rifle or double barrel shotgun to take out emaciated goons at a distance and let their melee preferring cousins get in close to mete out double barreled justice.

Mason is quite the limber fellow for a flaming skeleton, able to duck and dodge his way across rooms to get out of danger. Though I did have some instances where the stick to cover mechanic meant I awkwardly saddled up to an enemy that managed to flank me instead of my intended roll dodge to safety. Few and far between but it felt like some objects of cover had their own center of gravity that kept pulling me inward.

The weapons themselves, of the ones I played with, each had their own unique ticks. See reloading is automatic but only when every bullet is spent. You’ve got to unironically get a feel for how many bullets are left in each weapon. Luckily you can check the reload speed and clip count of each weapon as you pick them up. It created some fun challenge in how I approached a fight, requiring me to stay on my toes. Couple this with the enemy types and you can easily get taken out by even a standard goon if you’re not careful. I wouldn’t say it is like, Dark Souls levels of bone crunching difficulty, but I was given a run for my money more than once. The balancing act comes in not only being conscious of the weapons at your disposal but also the types of enemies you encounter in each room. You could be swarmed by a bunch vicious, decaying looking, hounds while getting harangued from afar by a musket wielding hick at the same time. That need to stick, and move is always apparent.

Spoopy Ghost Stuff

In between fights and boss fights you’re simply moving from corridor to corridor. Coming across the odd health pick up or a different weapon variant to your current arsenal. There are also denizens of this world that don’t immediately want to kill you in the form of shopkeepers, soothsayers and lost souls offering you new items, ability upgrades and side quests of sorts, respectively. In the quieter moments, Ron Perlman will comment on the current state of your characters mind in the most Max Payne way imaginable but there isn’t much else going on. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I was always looking for the next fight anyway, just know what you’re getting in for should you choose to check this one out.

Is it One to Keep an Eye on?

Absolutely. The game-play loop is satisfying enough that I want more and have already lost a couple of hours too it without even realizing. There’s some great feedback from weapons fire, the world design is unique in its own right and so far, the difficulty feels equal parts challenging and rewarding. As it’s in beta I did run into one game crash during a boss fight and a few weird bugged out moments with enemies but these are all niggling issues that I would expect to be ironed out by the time of release. You can expect me to chime in again on this one with a full review once I’ve gotten my hands on it and if we’re still stuck indoors by June, at least I know I’ve got something play.

All images taken from the press kit found here

All gifs taken from the official website here

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