“Wild West XCOM” is about as good an elevator pitch as you could wish for. After a short delay, as of today we can find out whether Hard West [official site] can possibly live up to its glorious high concept. I played an earlier build a few weeks back – some thoughts, plus a launch trailer, below.
The version I played wasn’t quite finished, but given the delay was primarily to try and step out of Fallout and COD’s long shadow, I’m betting the finished offering won’t differ wildly. I liked it, but it was rough around the edges – a bit buggy, very much has that ‘made in Unity’ look to it and falls into the original X-COM’s trap of sometimes descending into miserably scouring every last inch of scenery to find the one remaining enemy. I also felt it was trying to throw a few too many things at the wall and seeing what stuck. The supernatural element – which can mean abilities differ at night time, as well as justifying magic – felt unnecessary, and almost immediately overshadows any thematic fun to be had from the frontier setting. Attempts at Big Plot are perhaps a little too subdued to be as compelling as they’d like, too.
But there’s some lovely stuff too. Yer gravelly, laconic narration, a great, if slightly underused system whereby you can locate and target unseen enemies by looking for their shadows, and Sworcery-style choose your own adventure texty stuff in between missions. There isn’t a base as such, so the XCOM comparison essentially begins and ends at turn-based combat with disposable squad members, but you do get to go shopping, which entails not just weapons but also ‘Cards’ which grant new abilities to your characters. Canny distribution of said cards is vital, and it introduces a low-key collect’em up aspect to proceedings.
There’s also a permanent injuries system, turned on via an option whenever you start a new game. If one of your team suffers a serious wound, it will make them less effective in the short term, but eventually they’ll heal and become stronger for it. I’ve yet to do too much with this, but conceptually it’s more interesting and varied than XCOM’s system of just banging everyone into a hospital for a few days.
It’s trying to do a lot on what’s clearly a relatively low budget, but it’s full of ideas and there was an easy charm underneath the roughness. All too appropriate for a cowboy-themed game, perhaps. I’m a bit worried it might get repetitive and irritating – particularly, it often asks me to trudge around pulling levers and finding keys in the midst of battles, a bit like the bomb defusal XCOM missions – but there’s definitely something there. I’ll gun up the finished version in a couple of a days and see how it all works out. I’m quite looking forwards to something smaller and quieter after back-to-back Fallout and Battlefront.