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Some thoughts on Hard West

Posted by , 17 March 2017 at 4:31 pm UTC / 5826 views
Weblinks: Official Website, Steam, GOG.com

It is amazing that there are so few Western video games. The genre dominated the launch of almost every other medium; Gunsmoke remains the longest running American prime-time drama to this day, starting out on radio before eventually making the move to television. With its violent themes and iconic imagery the genre would have appeared a shoo-in to appeal to the next generation of trigger happy gamers. Instead the industry became dominated by sword and sorcery and science fiction.

Perhaps this has more to do with the shift in perception away from Westerns in the popular culture than it does with video games themselves, not that they have ever been known to shy away from controversy. Still, even a game like Hard West that wears its inspirations on its sleeve still feels the need to hide some of its more archaic aspects by staying within the Weird West sub-genre. What follows is a twisting multifaceted tale of demonic intrigue with no real discernible heroes or villains.

Developed by Polish based CreativeForge Games and funded through Kickstarter, Hard West is a turn-based tactical game that takes heavy inspiration from titles such as Jagged Alliance and X-COM. Having just finished the Shadowrun series, I figured I was ready to try my hand at a little strategic gunslinging. Hard West took great pleasure in proving me wrong. If it were a horse I would say that it tried to buck me at every possible opportunity. It almost succeeded too.

Hard West is not an approachable game. It does have a tutorial of sorts, and its mechanics are not all that complicated, but it demands a level of confidence that is hard to come by when you are dying so much. In the end the only way I could progress was by enabling some helpful gameplay mods such as turning off enemy reaction shots until I got my skills up. Combat is fluid, forcing you to aggressively move between cover to outflank enemies rather than staying out of harm's way.

When it works it works, and it can be really satisfying to enter a battle where you are outgunned two to one and still come out with your posse intact. The game’s stealth missions are also quite gratifying, although I do wish I could just assign a character to subdue someone rather than having to keep reminding them. The whole interface is not as streamlined as it could be, and it took me a while to master what should be basic tasks, such as utilizing hotkeys or navigating equipment screens.


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By far the greatest weakness of Hard West though is how unstable it is. It takes a lot of cheek for the game to employ a hard nosed save system when it often crashes right before saving your progress at the end of a combat mission. At least it did have the good grace of core dumping mostly on the missions I was having fun with and would not mind playing again, as you almost always do a better job the second time. You can also quit the game during the overworld without consequence.

These sections serve as interactive interludes between combat missions, having you navigate a game piece across a map to various locations in order to acquire items and complete quests. It actually reminded me of The Oregon Trail at times, if only because of the abundance of dialogues telling me that something horrible has happened to someone in my posse. Each has a unique gimmick on offer that modifies the core gameplay, but even then these segments can get tedious at times.

Hard West lives or dies on how charismatic its main characters are and how interesting their circumstance is, and not all of them are created equal. I had the most fun playing as Warren in the "As Good as Dead" scenario and Cassandra in "A Matter of Time", each of which had the most flavour in terms of both the combat missions and the overworld. Linking them all together is Dave DeAndrea's narration as Death, admirably setting the mood alongside Marcin Przybyłowicz's excellent soundtrack.

A DLC entitled Scars of Freedom was put out a few months after the game's release, offering one lengthy new scenario and two new voiced leads in the form of escaped slave Libertee and the mad surgeon Doctor Gorman. It holds most of the same faults and qualities as the original game, although a lot of the spoken dialogue does seem oddly clipped, with the actress for Libertee in particular often seeming to spit out her lines rather than speaking them.

Hard West is a hard game to recommend to anyone unwilling to subject themselves to a trial by fire. While it can satisfy once you get a taste for it, not all of the obstacles it places in your path are reasonable, especially when it trips over its own feet in terms of technical execution or with the sparseness of some of its scenarios. Still I am glad that I saw it through to the end, and can even see myself returning to it if I ever want to try my hand again at a little strategic gunslinging.
10 Likes, Who?
Comments
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ajgp 17 March 2017 at 4:35 pm UTC
Nice write-up - I have this sitting in my lirary waiting for me to play at somepoint.
chancho_zombie 17 March 2017 at 5:13 pm UTC
I ve been playing it a lot. I'm just 1 scenario and the dlc scenario away of completing it. I really recommend it.
Yes I agree you die a lot but then also at Xcom you die a lot as well, played it at medium difficulty first scenarios where easy to me. And on the stability issues I've never had any crash.


Last edited by chancho_zombie at 17 March 2017 at 5:19 pm UTC. Edited 2 times.
Keyrock 17 March 2017 at 5:23 pm UTC
I really liked Hard West but you are right about how unstable it is. I've lost count how many times it CTD'd or gone into hardcore visual artifacts mode, and that's not even counting the disappearing UI at high resolutions bug that, to the best of my knowledge, was never fixed. Still, I'd love a sequel, one that's a heck of a lot more stable.
descender 17 March 2017 at 5:29 pm UTC
  • Supporter
Odd.. I played Hard West more than a year ago (or maybe longer) and don't distinctly remember it was any unstable. I've also found the game to be quite easy compared to Shadowrun and XCOM.
Hamish 17 March 2017 at 6:09 pm UTC
I am sure that play style matters in this case - in Shadowrun I would fortify myself and lob grenades and the like from a safe vantage while in Hard West you have to keep moving and get as close to an enemy as possible before you can get a hit, which is often difficult due to the enemy reaction shots. You have to be a lot more aggressive and confident, not least because the luck system also favours the bold by penalizing you for missed shots while rewarding you for being fired upon.

I should also point out that I have never actually played X-COM.


Last edited by Hamish at 18 March 2017 at 5:06 pm UTC
Shmerl 17 March 2017 at 6:20 pm UTC
Speaking of western games. I recently bought "Gun" on GOG sale. It's quite good and works in Wine very well (after applying the widescreen fix). I'd say it doesn't exactly match the spaghetti western charm of Outlaws, but it's still a good shooter and you can actually ride a horse there (western without it is somewhat strange).



Last edited by Shmerl at 17 March 2017 at 6:29 pm UTC. Edited 4 times.
FredO 17 March 2017 at 6:22 pm UTC
I loved this game, and finished all scenarios of the base game. If you're used to XCOM I think it helps for the combat, and you need to use cover wisely. I never had a crash, so it looks like peoples' experience will vary.
AlveKatt 18 March 2017 at 1:32 am UTC
There actually was a western game called Gunsmoke on the NES. It was one of my favourite games when I was a child.
lucifertdark 18 March 2017 at 6:47 am UTC
Anyone remember the game Mad Dog McCree?
Hamish 18 March 2017 at 7:27 am UTC
lucifertdarkAnyone remember the game Mad Dog McCree?
I can't say that I remember it, but apparently my brother found a copy of it while thrifting:
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