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West of Dead, [reviewed on PC]

West of Dead is one of those games where if at first you don’t succeed, then try, try, try again.

And believe me, you won’t succeed your first run. You’ll end up back at the bar where you always start every run, perhaps a little wiser, definitely a little deader.

A twin stick shooter featuring a dead protagonist cowboy with a flaming skull for a head

West of Dead is a procedurally generated shooter in the vein of Dead Cells. Death is a certainty and around just about every corner. The more you die, the more you get to grips with the nuances and fine details that make this game tick.

Our hero (actually, is he a hero?) is voiced by Ron Perlman. The actor known to many for playing Hellboy and TV bad guy Clay Morrow in Sons of Anarchy. Will interrupt proceedings from time to time with a quip or words of wisdom. Finds himself in a perpetual death loop, always starting in a bar with a surly bartender wiping glasses with a cloth after he dies.

Through dimly-lit crypts, mines and purgatory, danger is never far away. In fact, danger is just about around every corner. Be it a gun-toting soldier, a shambling zombie that tosses dynamite or a vicious hound that will follow you as you backtrack out of harms way. Things all tend to end up the same, anyway, with our hero dying and finding himself back at that damn bar. Until you find the exit portal somewhere around the map. At least, that’s how it was with me.

West of Dead - the bartender

A particular style

West of Dead has a rather fetching cel-shaded graphic novel visual style that compliments the western ambience. With strumming guitars and smooth bass notes the soundtrack to this adventure. Early weapons range from a rusty farmer’s shotgun and a six-shooter than only has four working chambers. As you progress they get more powerful like the Razorshot, which causes enemies to slowly bleed out. When you die – and you will die – you end up  back at that bar, minus the weapons, abilities and upgrades you picked up along the way Of course.

Enemies will be skulking behind cover or hiding in a dark corner. If you’re in luck there will be a kerosene lamp that you can ignite, bathing the surroundings in brilliant light. This stuns enemies, for a few precious seconds anyway, at least. Allowing you to melee them, dive for cover or fire off a couple of rounds before they recover.

Along the way you’ll upgrade weapons and abilities. Or find precious health pick ups that will restore your vital life force. You can equip two weapons – a pistol in the left hand, a rifle in the right. Meaning you’ll generally be well armed for most encounters.

West of Dead - Altar

My first few runs of West of Dead were a disaster

Upon entering the first room, shooting blindly at anything that moved but connected with nothing, falling a short time later thanks to a bullet from a foe, with each new run, I got better, smarter.

I remembered to shoot a few shots then run to cover while an enemy reloaded.

I remembered to retreat to safety so I could divide their numbers.

I remembered to vault over cover, igniting a lamp, stunning a foe.

Importantly, though, I started enjoying it because I new the rules.

Now I knew how it was meant to be played.

West of Dead-Crypt-dodge and shoot

Each defeated foe drops iron, which you can use to upgrade weapons and buy abilities. There are Altars to discover around the world. Where you increase your health, your weapon’s stopping power and your powers. There’s also another currency: “Sin”, which can be “unburdened” by a witch and to purchase health flasks.

The more I progressed. The more I worked out how long I could stay behind cover before it would disintegrate. Or how many shots it would take to defeat a particular enemy. West of Dead is all about trial and error (like Dark Cells). It’s all about stopping, reading the room, igniting light sources – and knowing when it’s safe to go in guns blazing and know when it’s time to take pot shots from the safety of cover.

West of Dead

West of Dead has its frustrations

Those bloody hounds that follow you through doorways are a major frustration. Especially if you think you’ve killed one but have really only stunned it and it comes for you as you approach.  But if you’re the sort of gamer that like to stay on the move and learn from your mistakes then this is definitely a game that will be right up your alley.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether it’s the game for me, yet. I gave up on Dead Cells after becoming frustrated at the difficulty spikes. West of Dead seems – so far – less interested in placing you in situations where you’ll die constantly. So it can scream at your virtual corpse “Git Gud” then spawn you back at the start. Still, I’m not sure I have the stamina to see a game like this through to the end.

So while I’ll likely give up with West of Dead after I’ve died five hundred and seventy million times on the same run.

For the time being I’m enjoying it. Of course the dulcet tones of Mr Ron Perlman help.

West of Dead