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May 2021

West of Dead

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Raw Fury
Developer: Upstream Arcade
Release Date: June 18, 2020


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Switch/PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'West of Dead'

by Cody Medellin on June 13, 2020 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

West of Dead is a fast-paced twin-stick shooter that takes place in Purgatory, a place of gun smoke and darkness, sin and damnation, wendigos and witches.

Last November, at Microsoft's X019 event in London, West of Dead was announced to the public. It grabbed some attention because of its striking presentation and the gruff and recognizable voice of Ron Perlman as the narrator. Since then, the game has had several open beta sessions, with the last one announced for June. We took a look at that open beta build on the PC and came away rather impressed.

Based on the preview build alone, there's not too much in the way of story. You play the role of William Mason, a man with no memories of his past. He also happens to be dead, has a flaming skull for a head, and is stuck in the aptly named Purgatory, Wyoming. To regain his memories, he needs to hunt down wayward souls in a Wild West setting until he can finally piece together his past.

At its core, West of Dead follows the expected roguelike blueprint with twin-stick shooter mechanics. Levels are all procedurally generated in both layout and enemy makeup. Weapons and bosses are also randomized, and deaths have you starting up a new run instead of replaying the one you had. Shopkeepers are ready to take your coins in exchange for temporary power-ups, while witches at the end of a world will exchange the sins you've obtained from your enemies into more permanent upgrades, like increased health.

There are two specific elements that make the game feel different. The first is the use of cover, as each room you enter has plenty of places to hide behind when the bullets are flying. Attaching yourself to cover is automatic, so there's no need to press a button unless you want to dive out of cover, and if you want to fire, you need to aim in a direction and squeeze the trigger. However, you need to move from cover to cover in more heated fights, as everything will break down after a few shots. Surprisingly, cover resurrects itself after some time, but you'll only take advantage of that during boss fights, since normal enemies aren't too much trouble.

The other thing you'll notice is that West of Dead is more tactical compared to other twin-stick shooters. Aside from the ability to take cover, you have the option to activate lanterns to temporarily blind your enemies. You'll also be able to carry and fire two guns on your person at all times, and while that seems like you'd be overpowered, you'll actually have to manage those weapons carefully since they need to be reloaded. The reloading is done when you aren't firing, but it also results in you being careful when it comes to making shots that count, since you can't spray and pray a room to clear it out.

The result is a shooter that takes a more careful approach to combat. It has the pacing of a more melee-focused roguelite, but the shooting makes it feel more accessible.

Presentation-wise, the game is stunning. The music evokes that creepy Wild West vibe without being overpowering, while the effects come in sharply, which is necessary since there are times when you'll be shooting almost blindly and hoping to hit something. Graphically, the game stands out thanks to deep blacks and stark use of colors — an art style that is reminiscent of Mike Mignola's comics, like Hellboy. It is absolutely eye-catching and is usually the reason people want to seek this out in the first place.

West of Dead is scheduled for release in summer 2020. The game is intriguing in a sea of twin-stick shooter roguelikes. We can't wait to see how it all comes together once the final copy hits.

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