Currently in it’s pre-1.0 state (though still fully released), West of Dead offers an interesting take on the twin-stick shooter style. Dead, and finding yourself in a saloon, there isn’t much to do other than pick up a gun or two and head out to find out what’s actually keeping you tethered to this realm instead of letting you pass on. Maybe, just maybe, you should take a shot of whisky for good luck before you head out the door though.
Like all trailblazers, West of Dead brings in a new element to a very well established style. Twin sticks have been around for a LONG time and we’ve seen plenty of different variations from bullethells to shoot ’em ups and loads in between, but moving around in stealth based cover? Now that was something new and to only make things tougher? It’s all wrapped up in that wonderfully hardcore Roguelike format.
Starting off with “nothing”, you’ll essentially be level 1 with a standard pistol and rifle as you head out into battle. Working your way through a series of rooms that can either be walked into or kicked open as you melee the boards in your way, you’ll soon find out if you’re all alone or if there are enemies waiting for you in the dark. Not sure if that sparkle is an enemy or not? You can easily fire off one of your guns, or, you can dodge roll for safety over to a lantern that can be lit up stunning those that were lying in wait for you.
That there is about the entire gist of it. You move from room to room until you find the exit for the next skirmish. While that’s the basis though, everything in between adds in a fair amount of gameplay challenges and it’s honestly fun as this really isn’t your typical twin-stick shooter.
For starters, each room that you’ll walk, run or dive into have a series of objects that can, and SHOULD, be used for cover. Bullets hurt. Even the undead. So as you’re gliding past, you’ll want to keep an eye on where you can hide just as much as where your enemies are so you know where to hide and not offer up a free shot. Like reality though, not all cover will last forever and some will last for only a shot or three while others you may be able to hide behind for an entire fire fight if you’re lucky.
Also pretty neat with the cover system is that you’re not just sliding behind objects to crouch behind but you can also slide across. Not all enemies will be shooting at you as many will instead charge at you to hit you with large objects, bite you if they are a fast four legged variant or just punch you because they have nothing on hand. So being able to slide up and over is very effective to stay alive and even then, if you time it properly, your sliding or your dodging away will slow down time to both better let you know what’s in that room for a defensive position and let you know that you avoided damage. Real time speeds? You most likely got hit.
To help you out a bit with all of this, new weapons and gear can be found on the ground. While you start off with a basic pistol and rifle, you can pick up stronger versions of those as well as full or sawed-off barrelled shotguns. Each has an amount of time that it needs to aim properly. Each has a reload time once the chambers are empty. So if you’ve gone and spammed it all and the fight isn’t over? You’ll have to either vault over and kick whoever is left or dodge around until your guns have reloaded themselves.
Before getting into the Roguelike element however, new guns aren’t the only thing to help out. There are a ton of shrines around offering you choices of what you want to level up for free. The only catch is that the shrine only allows you to pick one of these choices and then disappears. You want more upgrades? Find more shrines. These upgrades though range from extra health to more damage with ranged weapons. All very useful, if you can last that long and let’s be honest that other than those that are REALLY good at what they do? You’ll find yourself biting the dust fairly early.
So to help with this, as you move through the rooms and take on enemy after enemy and work your ways over to the boss, you’ll be accumulating Sin. Yes, that sin, you are rampaging around and killing people here. This Sin can be used between stages in order to unlock new things such as guns, throwable lanterns and a health flask that can be used whenever you need. Each item on the list requires a certain amount of Sin and things like upgrading the health flask to be able to have a second? It costs upwards of fifty so you’ll want to know what you really want as I felt like I was only ever playing with anything between eight to twelve at a time. A good bonus to this though is that you can put these points in as you have them and don’t need to save up for the full amount so that makes it a bit easier.
Now while West of Dead handles itself pretty well, I did have a few issues with it. The first of these is that your melee attacks for other than breaking down boards between rooms is fairly useless. It doesn’t do much damage and in a pinch? You’ll want to get the hell out of dodge instead of trying to kick the enemy in the face. Also only adding to that, often I found myself not even able to kick the enemy as the melee attacks just didn’t want to “kick in” costing me a good hit to my health bar in the process.
The other issue is that it’s dark. It works for the atmosphere very well and gives it a nice grunge feel but because of the colours, the first stage works but it’s so easy to not notice things when you get into the second because everything is grey and black. You can easily lose yourself, lose the bladed canine like creatures heading at you and somehow miss the giant freaking axe being boomeranged in your direction. There just isn’t enough contrast and it works against you.