Sniff out the outlaw who killed your family.
PC Release: April 16, 2015
By Ian Coppock
Wild West media is easy to spot because of its rustic setting, but there’s a motif even more endemic to that genre than saloons and gunslingers: vengeance. Many (maybe even most) stories set in the Wild West feature a similar pattern: a young man seeks bloody revenge for a wrong dealt to him or a loved one. That motif has made it into every Wild West video game from 12 is Better Than 6 to Call of Juarez: Gunslinger, but no title exhibits it more thoroughly than Westerado: Double Barreled.
Westerado: Double Barreled is a Wild West whodunit that challenges players to find a murderer in a bustling town. The game begins when the player character returns home from a long day of bison-chasing to find his ranch burned down and his family killed. The young man follows a trail of clues to the nearby town of Clintville and must discover who the murderer is by gathering hints about his appearance. Players can collect these hints by completing quests and exploring the environment.
The player’s journal contains a composite sketch of the murderer that gradually fills out as players learn more about his appearance. Does he wear a 10-gallon hat? Does he flaunt a big ole beer gut? Townsfolk will disclose details like these once the player has completed a quest or two, like shooting up the local bandit clan or escorting a stagecoach to safety. All told, there’s probably two dozen such clues, and the fun of Westerado is getting out into the world to find them. Each quest is structured the same; talk to a character, complete their assignment, and come back for a hint.
Westerado is presented as a side-scrolling game set in a small but vibrant open world. Players can explore the town of Clintville or head out into the wilderness to search for clues. During their journey the player becomes acquainted with a colorful gallery of characters, most of whom have at least one clue to give about the murderer’s appearance. Sometimes players have to complete missions before characters will talk to them; that wealthy oil baron doesn’t take time out of his schedule for just anybody.
What do those missions entail? Sometimes they’re as simple as talking to someone. Players can approach NPCs and engage them with a few options for conversation. Some characters are more talkative than others while some are there just to add bodies to the town of Clintville. Players can ramp up the charm and form alliances with locals or be a bit more bullish in Sherlocking their way around town. Either way, being amicable to the townsfolk is usually the better way to complete a quest.
Of course, players can always count on their trusty revolver when words don’t do the job. Combat in Westerado: Double Barreled is simple, if clunky: everybody shoots in a straight line and players dodge bullets by being out of their foes’ line of sight. This means a lot of skipping up and down all over the screen, which can be difficult to do if the player’s fighting a lot of enemies. Players can extend their health by buying a hat, which will fly off after a few shots but is still better than nothing. Players can also sink their hard-earned cash into other items… like a shiny new gun.
What’s great about Westerado is that combat and dialogue are both just options. Players are free to complete most assignments however they’d like. Maybe it’s better to talk those bandits out of occupying the railroad instead of gunning them down… then again, shooting and killing all of them would probably be the faster option. However players want to complete the job, Westerado offers that flexibility. Players can gain a violent or pacifist reputation depending on their actions, which can impact gathering clues and challenges them to find out if it’s better to be feared or loved.
If talking through a quest is a better option in Westerado, it’s thanks to the game’s funny writing. Players begin most sentences with “Ah’m lookin’ fer” as a tongue-in-cheek homage to Texan accents, and the dialogue is riddled with little jokes and innuendo. Seducing the oil baron’s wife is not adultery, it’s simply her being interested in the player’s “hat-making skills.” The dialogue satirizes Wild West one-liners in as loving a manner as possible, which is both funny and its own right and helps compensate for the relative lack of character development.
Players who are less interested in talking than adventuring can still find plenty of fun in exploring Clintville’s environs. Westerado‘s map, while not huge, allows players to explore a disparate palette of environments ranging from the town proper to the wilderness on the outskirts. Players can also descend into mining tunnels (bring a light), cross the desert, or head up into the mountains. There’s lots to find out in the world (especially money), making exploration in Westerado a must-do for the discerning cowboy detective. With each new area explored, players can fill out another square on their map.
Westerado‘s environments and indeed the entire game benefit from a gorgeous retro-style aesthetic. The game’s world was built from the ground-up with, to hear developer Ostrich Banditos put it, “the grittiest pixels this side of Montezuma.” Each object in Westerado is finely detailed with tons of pixels, resulting in a bustling Wild West town and natural features like groves of autumn trees. The game’s visual style is reminiscent of old desert paintings, especially in its use of strong colors, which produce a vibrancy on par with the most sophisticated 3D games.
Even though the environments in Westerado are pretty, the character models look rudimentary by comparison. The pixels used to build the game’s characters are much larger than the ones used in the environments, which helps draw a bit of contrast at the expense of the characters looking primitive. Their animations are also pretty stiff. None of that stops Westerado from being an excellent game but it does make it obvious which element of the game’s visual design got the most time and attention.
Even though Westerado treads no new narrative ground in its presentation of the Wild West revenge story, the game is unusual for its genre in how much free reign it gives players. Rather than confining them to a linear story and world, Westerado allows players to explore a vibrant Wild West at their leisure. The game also maintains a much lighter tone than most stories in its vein thanks to a combination of humorous writing and subtle encouragement to explore the environment. This vibe is further reinforced by sweet violin-and-harmonica-driven music.
The heart of Westerado is not its writing or sleuthing, but its replayability. A single round of Westerado can last anywhere from 2-4 hours. That’s not very long, but the appearance of the murderer is randomized with every playthrough, giving players an incentive to come back and commence their investigation again and again. Plus, players can unlock new protagonists with every playthrough, leading to a near-infinite number of quest and story combinations. It makes for a lean, mean replayability machine, one that leverages Westerado‘s charming world to the max.
Westerado: Double Barreled is a great title, one that players who love adventure games and side-scrolling shooters should purchase and play right away. Indeed, it’s not hyperbolic to say that Westerado is one of the greatest Wild West games on PC. It’s a great game not just because it runs well or because of its old-school aesthetic or even its charming writing… but because its apt attention to replayability results in a world of endless charm. Get the game and set off into the sunset in pursuit of that most Wild West of goals: vengeance (maybe with a side of bison).
You can buy Westerado: Double Barreled here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.