West of Dead
West of Dead is a top-down cover shooter created by Upstream Arcade and published by Raw Fury. The game fully embraces its classic graphic novel style in everything from cutscenes to the characters. Players dive into the dark world of William Mason, an undead soul looking to find his way through Purgatory. The main character is voiced by the famous Ron Pearlman, an actor who has starred in major films like Hellboy. His voicing of the character is very well done, and I now hope he opts to voice act in more games. West of Dead provides a nice, fresh look at how a developer can bring a graphic novel art style game to life. Unfortunately, the overall game is held back by technical issues that ruin a smooth gameplay experience as well as a few other flaws. A review code was provided to review this title. West of Dead was reviewed on PC. You can find the game on PC and Xbox through Xbox Game Pass or direct purchase.
The Story & Missions
West of Dead plays out through procedurally generated levels. Areas are completely randomized each time you start, providing a fresh experience every time. This has always been a nice aspect when implemented into games where repetition is heavy. West of Dead is no exception. The entire game is designed to replay through missions repeatedly to the point where you know how to deal with the enemies off by heart. There is a certain set of types of enemies found on each level. Even though the levels are randomized, the same type of enemies are always found, just in new places. Speaking of which, there is quite a wide variety of them which does wonders for keeping the gameplay loop interesting.
William Mason is a fun protagonist. Voiced by Ron Pearlman and armed to the teeth with one-liners that help create a flowing narrative through the game. Your journey takes you through Purgatory: a place between places where lost souls come to find their way. Good souls move east, while bad souls depart to the west. Your job is to help these “lost souls” on their way west. At the same time, you are trying to find salvation going east. The story is quite enjoyable and grim. Like when you read a gritty old western novel. There are also memories you can collect, that help piece together your brutal past. Some stories aren’t so bad while others… well, I’ll let you find out what they are. It is safe to say that they tell a very interesting story and history of William Mason.
West of Dead has a simple gameplay loop that allows anyone to play. It’s nice to see a game that isn’t so heavily embedded in complicated mechanics and builds. If it did, the repetition of West of Dead would end up being too much. West of Dead shares some gameplay features with 2018 smash-hit, Dead Cells. You start by collecting two randomized weapons before entering the first level. This could be a flintlock pistol, shotgun, rifle or a revolver. Once you play the game a bit, you can unlock different varieties of the same type of gun. This provides a good mix of ways to deal with enemies on your adventures.
Cover is smartly placed through the level and you quickly become trained to spot and use it as soon as you enter a room. You can dodge into cover to quickly escape some bullets, but don’t stay for too long. Your cover will eventually take enough damage and end up being destroyed, which is a nice touch that most cover shooters ignore and adds some tensions to the gunfights. Be mindful of who exactly you are fighting as well, since certain enemies can destroy cover faster than others.
The big bonus for being in cover is having a much faster reload speed. Speaking from experience, making the mistake of blindly walking into a room and opening fire isn’t the best idea. You are constantly on your toes, moving around and trying to take advantage of each encounter. As you decimate bad guys, you collect two different types of currency: Iron and Sin.
Iron and Sin
Iron is used to purchase weaponry, charms, and items from a shopkeep that appears inside each level. Meanwhile, Sin can only be used at the end of a level. Once a level is completed, players can visit “The Witch” who allows you to spend your Sin to unlock new unique weapons, charms, and items. You can also unlock a health flask to help keep you going along with other things that help provide an easier experience.
Spending your Iron though is a different matter. As you play through a level, you will encounter a shopkeeper. He will have three items for you to choose from, all randomized so pick wisely. Double shotguns with some dynamite as a loadout though? Don’t mind if I do! Some of the weapons are an absolute must to acquire, such as the Bloodshot and the Charger. So the more you play, the more Sin you collect, the more of a weapon collection you have at your disposal.
Where There Is Light, There Is Fire
There are some unfortunate setbacks though. On multiple occasions, I encountered issues which made it quite difficult to progress. Bosses would glitch out on the last bit of health, or melee attack range spontaneously would grow much longer than it had been. One of the biggest frustrations is the auto-aim system. It tends to focus on enemies that are furthest away from you if they are not in line of sight of your character. This becomes problematic when you first encounter a room that might be a little difficult for you. If you decide to back down a hallway, and only one enemy follows, you will have a very difficult time eliminating the one following. Many times there were instances of aiming at the wall beside the enemy in the hallway, or not at all.
This is where using the lanterns in West of Dead is important. You can’t exactly shoot what you can’t see, right? Which makes absolute sense, except when those hallways have light and you still can’t seem to hit the target chasing you. All in all, the auto-aim mechanic could use some refinement. It’s a great feature to have when it works. Having said that, the lanterns are a very important mechanic to utilize in your journey through Purgatory. Igniting a lantern allows you to see and hit more targets, while also stunning the enemies in a wide area. The gameplay overall is quite enjoyable in this roguelike experience. But is unfortunately held back by some technical issues and bugs.
It is really enjoyable to see unique artistic takes on graphics in video games. The developers UpStream Arcade did a fantastic job in creating a world that oozes a grimmy, wild west underworld graphic novel look. No object is truly defined. Shadows are prominent everywhere, and as you move through the environment, they almost come alive. I truly feel West of Dead wouldn’t have worked in other forms of artistic vision.
There isn’t too much to touch on in this area. The music is fantastic, setting the tone of the game perfectly. Combined with a kickass guitar riff at the end of combat, West of Dead fully executes a unique vision. Even though you may hear the same guitar multiple times on each level, it thankfully slightly differs in tone on each level. One level could be sharp to the ears, where another is soft and melodic. Combat also sounds great. Nothing seemed to sound like it was out of place, or lackluster.
West of Dead is a solid cover shooter set in a memorable artistic style. My time with the game was very enjoyable, but the technical issues did add a level of frustration and difficulty to the point where some of the higher levels were unachievable. Despite that, I still found myself going back for more. Having a wide variety of weapons and items to use allows players to open up on how they want to engage enemies and keeps things fairly fresh. Combined with a killer narrator and soundtrack, West of Dead is a satisfying roguelike cover shooter hampered by technical issues.