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‘Weird West’ Preview: Sublime Wild West Will Eat You Alive… Literally

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‘Weird West’ Preview: Sublime Wild West Will Eat You Alive… Literally

Weird West. A straightforward name for a game that looks like the very opposite. In an alternate version of the American Frontier, where magic and myth are as commonplace as shootouts and cattle rustling, the player will embody five protagonists and decide their fate. I got a glimpse of the immersive sim in a preview and with influences from French comic books, American Horror Story and classic CRPGs, Weird West is a game that should be watched like a hawk.

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WolfEye Studios, which is composed of former members of Arkane, has been keen to flex its freedom with its debut. With celebrated titles like Prey and Dishonored looming large over Weird West, it's important to recognise the extent to which they have influenced this smaller-scale immersive sim to understand the studio's aims with their new game. The answer may surprise you.

Check out the eerie art style and intriguing gameplay of this immersive sim right here.

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Creative director Raphael Colantonio explained that the concept of an immersive sim is "more than a genre," and that everything in this alternate version of the Wild West has a "reason to be." The frontier itself was a hard and harsh home to countless hermits, opportunists, lawmen and families, but in this world, they eke out an existence next to strange creatures of all stripes.

There are five central characters in Weird West - a bounty hunter, a werewolf, a prophet, an archer and a pigman. One sunrise, they all awaken with a burning mark branded on their flesh. The story of Weird West is split into chapters where the player will control one of these five, and once each section is concluded, the next character will live with the consequences of the actions of their predecessor.

Weird West / Credit: WolfEye Studios
Weird West / Credit: WolfEye Studios
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Delving deep into the systems that drive the game, the developers encourage players to experiment. If you're familiar with the way that Prey and Dishonored deliver their environmental storytelling, then you'll slide into Weird West like a pair of well worn boots. In the hands-off preview, Jane Bell the bounty hunter stuck to the shrubbery to hide her entry into a hideout of a cannibalistic faction. Towering fences surrounded the settlement, and instead of trudging til she found a weak point, she picked up a barrel and climbed onto it, hopping over the fence.

Given how particular games get about which doors you can open and which walls are climbable, this was the moment when I knew that the team meant what they said with "reason to be." The barrels weren't only decorative, nor were they only something that exploded satisfyingly, nor were they only these two things simultaneously. They served whatever function the player required of them, which is some feat considering the multitude of possibilities from a variety of players and the size of the team. It's not a question of charging in all guns blazing or stealth. It's plucking at the strings of the system, and while some notes might be out of time, the tune is all your own.

Weird West / Credit: WolfEye Studios
Weird West / Credit: WolfEye Studios
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Though the mesmerising art of Cedric Peyravernay returns in Weird West, this is one of the few acknowledgements of the developers' previous games. In fact, WolfEye Studios would compare it to Skyrim before it compared it to Dishonored. Travelling in the game is represented on a map with the character following along until they reach their destination.

They are able to be halted with a random encounter, however, which gives the player a sense of "feeling watched." And, reloading a save after an ill-fated excursion means that the cast of non-playable characters will do different things to their previous incarnations.

With the wonderful colours and detail that's gone into the art style, which was inspired by old French comic books, one might feel regret at the distance that an isometric camera perspective puts between the player and the action. However, this is an element that Colantonio and executive producer Julien Roby were longing to explore thanks to their love for the Ultima series, specifically Ultima IX: Ascension. The isometric perspective "has different moment to moment gameplay opportunities" and was borne out of the "desire to explore outside of the first person" and the passion for classics as "gamer fans" as well as developers.

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Weird West / Credit: WolfEye Studios
Weird West / Credit: WolfEye Studios

Which circles back to the idea of freedom that WolfEye Studios is orbiting. Freedom for the player is exhibited in the emergent gameplay within a world governed by interlocking systems that have a big "KICK ME" sign on their back. Unlockable protagonist perks and abilities combined with barrels that spill poison onto the ground creates a sticky trap for enemies to melt into. Alternatively, the player is welcome to throw in the towel and eliminate every single ally to see what the game's artificial intelligence will summon up next.

And, there is also the freedom that the new studio is feeling from stretching its wings. There are pigmen in Weird West purely because the team enjoyed that season of American Horror Story. Its art is intended to "make the magic" by being stylised, timeless and above all, "ownable." And that hefty kick that the characters have access to - it's a knowing nod to Dark Messiah as well as a mechanic that triggers thrilling and "expressive" moments in the player's story. As such, Weird West is surely a game to keep a weather eye on for fans of classic fantasy CRPGs and people who like to press big red buttons.

Featured Image Credit: WolfEye Studios

Topics: Features

Imogen Donovan
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