Video Games
Westerado Captures Everything Fun About Westerns

Marshall Lemon | 27 Apr 2015 16:00
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Westerado Double Barreled

Quick, name three western video games! And no cheating with Google.

It's harder than you'd think, isn't it? We've only seen a handful in the past decade, and outside of Red Dead Redemption very few were especially memorable. Which is a shame, because fighting hostile bandits in remote towns on horseback with six-shooters is perfect fodder for video games. Yet for some reason, anytime when they are released we dissect their faults more than we praise their strengths.

That's why I adore Westerado: Double Barreled - it's not just good, it perfectly captures everything that's wonderful about westerns. It has bandits, ruffians, innocent townsfolk, tense standoffs, and a morally flexible hero. It's presented in a charming retro-pixel style but uses clever modern design principles. And despite its relatively small world size, there's enough content to occupy players for multiple playthroughs without overwhelming them - all while featuring an impressive procedurally-generated story system.

Not bad for the updated version of a completely free browser game.

Westerado puts players in the boots of a young man who finds his mother dead, his brother mortally wounded, and the family homestead ablaze. Naturally he plans to have vengeance but there's a problem - he has no idea who the culprit even is. His only recourse is to explore the surrounding territory, take odd jobs, and align himself with various factions until he's gathered enough clues for a final confrontation.

Sounds like your typical western vendetta plot? Well, Westerado has a twist: Your family's killer is different every time. When you start a game, the role is assigned one of the random NPCs roaming the countryside. By gaining the trust of local factions, you'll uncover clues about the villain's characteristics: What kind of hat is he wearing? Which color is his shirt? Is he overweight? Can you spot his belt buckle? These details slowly come together until eventually - perhaps when you least expect it - you'll notice that fella near the train station looks awfully like the killer you're hunting. That's when the real showdown begins.

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But the subversive genius of Westerado is that you can take any approach to solving the mystery - or goofing off along the way - and the game adapts to it. You can draw your pistol during any conversation in the game, prompting hilarious reactions from NPCs. You can join factions by following their quests, or cut to the chase by targeting their enemies. Even if you kill a main character - or all of them - you can continue playing the game unimpeded. And unlike some open-world games out there, going on a rampage on one end of the map could have consequences when you try to form alliances elsewhere.

This is possible because Westerado's story is so general that no one character fills an essential gameplay role. But that's not to say the story doesn't have weight. Just as the killer changes every game, the motivation for killing changes based on your in-game actions. A faction you form an alliance with could very well end up being the one who hired the killer after all - making for surprisingly appropriate twist endings in some cases.

As you might expect from any game produced by Adult Swim, Westerado is technically a parody. The central settlement is called Clintville, your health bar is measured in hats, and every single NPC draws a weapon the second they notice you've already done so. But it's a lovingly-crafted parody, created by designers who deeply appreciate the western genre. It delightfully references every tired plot trope from bumbling sheriffs to quests for revenge, but does so with such obvious sincerity that this minimalist game feels like a rich world.

Nowhere is this better reflected than combat itself. Six-shooters can't just fire and reload smoothly - you must draw your gun, cock the hammer, and only then pull the trigger. On top of that, bullets are reloaded manually, one at a time and you need precise aim to hit targets - especially when you're shooting hats off to claim live bounties. Defeating a single enemy in Westerado is a challenge that carries weight, yet can still become downright frantic when facing multiple bandits at once.

Westerado is a very limited world by most sandbox standards, but there's no shortage of things to do. You can protect delivery runs between settlements, find potential workers for local shops, explore the mines for hidden treasure, escort live bounties to the sheriff's office, negotiate a peace treaty with Indians, and more. It's worth mentioning that unlike most Triple-A sandboxes, Westerado doesn't have any directional system or checkmarks floating over objectives to help players find their way - you take clues from your journal or map and explore from there. The sheer amount of content you can stumble across makes Westerado highly replayable, even once you've tired of hunting your family's killer.

And that's not getting into the countless little details that help the game shine. Like how, if you have a gunfight in the saloon, the music keeps playing until the piano player dies. Or how, if you clear out a certain bandit hideout, they stop attacking your delivery run. Every time I play I find something new, and I'm not even tired of the old stuff to begin with. If that intrigues you at all - and it really should - then Westerado will be right up your alley.

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