Cowboy XCOM-like Hard West Out Now; Some Thoughts

“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.

It’s out on Steam and GoG now if you want to take a punt in the meantime, and here’s a launch trailer too:

48 Comments

    • karthink says:

      RPS keeps forgetting that GOG exists when linking to stores in their news posts. Must be the fifth time I’ve seen this happening this month. (The top 25 stealth games write-up only remembered GOG if the game in question was old.)

      • lordcooper says:

        They rarely mention whether its in stock at Tesco either :(

        • slerbal says:

          Tesco doesn’t sell PC games. GOG does and is probably the second biggest retailer for digital PC games after Steam. Steam is doing just fine for publicity, but by only mentioning it RPS may as well be sponsored by Steam.

  1. Kefren says:

    The start of the trailer makes me think of John.
    “Your Mum.”
    “No, your Dad.”

  2. Premium User Badge

    Risingson says:

    The world of gaming needs a good western rpg, like western western. And if it is possible, one that understands the genre, not just following a checklist like Firefly did (I really like the series, but Joss Whedon never understood the classic genres).

    One that takes the western thing of communities, landscapes, “why do you have your sheep around here”, long hazardous caravan travels. Just not another one that takes yet another superficial look at Leone (as if Deadwood never happened). Something more Fallout3 than Fallout New Vegas.

    • JB says:

      I’d pay good money for Blood Meridian: The RPG

    • Blastaz says:

      I so want a proper Wild West rpg set in 1870 or so. With some big meaty cultural themes. I’ve practically written the plot for one in my head…

      I don’t really understand why there are so few games set in the Wild West, given its previous cultural importance to America. The frontier is also a brilliant gamey device.

    • Sin Vega says:

      Seriously. It’s remarkable how few Western games there are, especially considering the recent fads for Big Open World and Survival games. The setting is surely one of the most game-friendly ones in existence, but there are barely any games that use it. And one of the few good ones isn’t available on PC because of an outbreak of some advanced strain of moron disease.

      • klops says:

        1. Selling theme. “They” have decided that western setting is not cool enough. Unlike fantasy, sci-fi, military/criminal violence or ww2. Maybe after couple of years and Tarantino encouraged movies wild west will be the new ww, but I doubt it. Because:

        2. Open world survivals tend (?) to be in separate realities for the main audience (Americans). Like fantasy lands, post-apocalyptic sci-fi settings and isolated islands or mountain regions.

        3. Those and other games tend to concentrate on action (violence). You can’t have as many enemies as easily in American (U.S.) West as in fantasy civil war setting. Killing 500 bandits, indians (!!!), cougars and buffalos in wild west Far Cry wouldn’t be as safe as killing 500 natives, mercenaries, tigers and ostriches in FC3. Or orcs or something else that isn’t on American soil.

        4. Indians. Too politically incorrect. Can’t touch this! They are still quite expected.

        Of course, there are exceptions lie RDR, Deadwood, that Call of Juarez game, perhaps this game, perhaps the colonial Assassin’s Creed but I think there are too many not-too easy things to keep the theme from becoming popular.

        Shooter, perhaps.
        CRPG? I strongly doubt it.
        Then again, I strongly doubted X-Com-like western game as well, and now this is coming so I’m happy to be wrong.

        • MisterFurious says:

          “4. Indians. Too politically incorrect. Can’t touch this! They are still quite expected. ”

          On behalf of all of my Native American friends, I’d like to say “You’re an asshole.”

          • klops says:

            Sorry. Did not mean to insult anyone. I mainly meant that we cannot have 50s western-type evil hordes of injuns attacking brave John Waynes and thus taking the role of for example Far Cry’s mercenaries.

          • klops says:

            …which is not what I want. Overall my post was badly written but I’m sincerely sorry if it seemed like “this PC-crap is bullshit since we cannot even kill Native Americans”. I did not mean that.

            And if (it most likely was …) the Indian-term was insulting, I apologize that too. For me, that’s about as neutral term as Asian or American, although I understand why it’s disliked Native Americans don’t like it. In my language we actually mostly speak about Indians instead of Native Americans. Won’t use that anymore.

          • NephilimNexus says:

            On behalf of my Native American friends, I say nothing. They don’t need some paleface trying to leech coolpoints off them. They can speak for themselves… if they gave enough of a crap to do so.

          • klops says:

            Paleface? Cool points? Nice.

          • Hex says:

            @MisterFurious: Why?

            @klops: Don’t worry about it man — among at least SOME (if not the majority) American Indians, the terms “American Indian/Indian” are preferred to “Native American.”

            I think your point was totally reasonable, and correct. (Though I would be ecstatic about a Western/Colonial-era game which explored Indians being badass horse-thieves, guerrilla-warfare experts, and all around awesome insurgents facing impossible odds.)

          • Pheriannath says:

            Just to point out that there are practical reasons to avoid using the term ‘Indians’ in reference to Native Americans, the primary one being to avoid confusion with the 1.2 billion odd citizens of India.

        • bstard says:

          Watch Deadwood and imo the western genre would get a revival.

        • Cederic says:

          Given that many of the greatest film Westerns have totally disregarded the Indian factor, I wouldn’t say that’s preventing use of the genre.

          Johnny Guitar
          The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
          Blazing Saddles
          Once Upon a Time in the West
          Unforgiven

          Ok, so The Outlaw Josey Wales did include Indians. So did Dead Man. Neither of them demeaned them, and not all Westerns need to include them: there’s no shortage of tropes and scenarios that don’t include them.

          • klops says:

            True. My favourites The Unforgiven and Goodbadugly don’t have native Americans. And my even bigger favourite Deadwood had one scene with them if I remember correctly.

            My post was was more about open world games and their tendency to action (violence). Main reason was number 1. Numbers 2 and 3 supported that. Number 4 was an addition supporting those.

            Western games are doable, yes.
            There are good western games too, yes.
            Are we likely to get much more? No. See reasons up.

    • Sulpher says:

      “One that takes the western thing of communities, landscapes, “why do you have your sheep around here”, long hazardous caravan travels. … Something more Fallout3 than Fallout New Vegas.”

      Could you expand on this last sentence? Because New Vegas is demonstrably closer to a Western than Fallout 3. I absolutely agree that Milch’s ‘Deadwood’ has much to offer games looking at this genre.

      • Premium User Badge

        Risingson says:

        Thanks, I like to use that one as bait :)

        For several reasons FNV did not thematically click with me. Its vision of the western is the checklist one: nods to the most superficial pop culture stuff like the guitars used, hats, dust and all. The cynism in the games, where you take advantage of all factions, tries to get from the Leone movies, but even there I see in Clint Eastwood some kind of strong moral code that I could not find in NV even playing as a really good guy. Yeah, that is something that I think is misunderstood about the Leone westerns: he really loved and respected the old classic ones. I mean, there is not a clear gap between Leone and Peckinpah, or Leone and Mann, or even Leone and the late Ford or Hawks. Well, there is: Kurosawa. Sorry, I went off very off topic.

        Anyway, back to this: Fallout 3 did achieve something I’ve been told here that was anti-Fallout but I loved and still love: the pioneer spirit. The apocalypse just had an apocalypse, but you, the star, and the different communities, will work hard to make that inhospitable place a home. For your insistence you repair the radio, you recovered the classical music, you actually did the caravan thing with refugees. I felt Shane when I was travelling through the green wasteland and found the dog. It’s not the same when in NV there are basically theme parks instead of towns.

        Now, I prefer NV as a game for a simple reason: rpg-wise is much much better designed.

        Rant off, thanks for asking, I feel like my father when I ask him about his military service.

        • klops says:

          Offtopic:

          Although taking advantage of all factions is a Sergio Leone thing, New Vegas’s setting always first reminded me of Fallout 2’s best part – New Reno. You dealt with 3 crime families there playing against/for them in very enjoyable way.

          • Hex says:

            More accurately a Kurosawa thing. I haven’t played these Fallouts, but in the movies, the Nameless Hero plays the evil factions against each-other in order to bring them all down — and free the innocent townspeople of their evil overlords.

            I think what Risingson is saying is that FNV was missing that “doing it all for the little guy” motivation.

          • Premium User Badge

            Risingson says:

            Yep :(

            I like to feel like a little hero in a big world full of nameless heroes.

    • lomaxgnome says:

      Boot Hill Heroes is a pretty solid little game and definitely a western.

    • gwathdring says:

      Don’t know quite what you mean; most Western media throughout time has been of the “checklist” sort. That’s a bit how genre rolls.

      Are you looking for something that captures the historical period or something that captures the specific spirit of specific sub-genre? What films do you consider the epicenter of your personal concept of “Western?” I get the impression that epicenter might not be as universal as you seem to assume it is so I’m curious.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      Someone needs to play Red Dead Redemption. One of the best games ever, and definitely in tune with the classic Western novels and movies.

    • denizsi says:

      “Something more Fallout3 than Fallout New Vegas”

      An ironic thing to say while yearning for a “true” western experience. Fallout New Vegas is a much better (a “truer”?) Fallout game (in addition to being a better game overall) than Fallout 3.

      And it is no surprise considering some of the developers from Fallout 2 worked on New Vegas and a lot of the story bits and concepts for the long-cancelled Fallout 3 made it into New Vegas.

  3. klops says:

    “The supernatural element felt unnecessary” Yes. Fortunately after one longer introduction video the game seemed interesting. The lethality of bullets felt good. I’m hopeful.

  4. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    Game looks pretty entertaining with the style of gameplay and genre and I expect some roughness around the edges for a first time indie effort. Will definitely pick this up to enjoy & support them and hope the devs go onto to more – whether adding onto this one or their next project.

  5. April March says:

    I loves me some Weird West (or, as I like to call it, Dusty Steampunk). Any chance of us getting a WIT?

  6. Hex says:

    I can’t believe it’s taking so long for Xcom’s bones to be appropriated for something in a different setting.

    I’m desperately awaiting an Xcom-style Call of Cthulhu (pen & paper RPG) conversion.

    Pls!

    • iucounu says:

      There is a sort of XCOM Cthulhu game – Call of Cthulhu: The Wasted Land. It’s a World War 1-set XCOM with Deep Ones and shoggoths, basically, and it is quite diverting for a while. iPad initially, and got ported to PC (though I don’t know if the latter sorted out the shonky controls.)

  7. Raoul Duke says:

    Yeah, the elevator pitch sounds great but then they throw magic in for no apparent reason, which is a real shame.

    • gwathdring says:

      I haven’t played it, but presumably magic gives you access to mechanical concepts you wouldn’t have otherwise. Also a lot of people like magic (see: too many sources to name).

      Maybe it’s not well done here, but I don’t know what you mean by “for no real reason.” Are you supposed to have a “reason” for every single thematic trapping?

      • Nevard says:

        I am not interested in this particular game, but in general I would care more for a “Western, but with magic” than a “Western, but with Western”.

  8. Premium User Badge

    teije says:

    First impressions on this game after a few hours playtime, for those who are interested.
    – No XCOM feel for me at all, unless all TB squad games are now XCOM clones, like it invented the genre. Reminds me more of Silent Storm or JA2.
    – Great narration, story driven campaign, with grim western feel and CYOA elements. No base building, but mining for cash to get items
    – Supernatural horror elements, doesn’t feel “magicky”
    – Cards offering special abilities are well done & cleverly integrated, doesn’t feel tacked on
    – Combat is pretty simple – a little too much for me – with use of cover the most important thing. Being out of cover is sure to get your people killed. Bullets are deadly.
    – Only noticed a couple minor glitches so far and runs smoothly on high on my high end non-gaming laptop

    Overall enjoying this one, nice effort from the devs.

    • slerbal says:

      I was coming back to post the same. Totally agree with you. I’m reallyenjoying it so far. Much more Silent Storm or JA2 than XCOM.

      Also Alec’s disparaging comment of “very much has that ‘made in Unity’ look to it” felt a bit odd. Nothing about it looks particularly “unity” like to me.

      Huh I just noticed the URL for this article is “xcom-alternative”. Weak. Real weak.

      • Cosmo D says:

        Yeah what does the ‘made in unity’ comment even mean? I’d be curious to know what the ‘tropes’ of the engine are according to the author, aesthetically speaking.

        Also, is the ‘made in gamemaker’ comment thrown around as often as a diss?

        some scattered theories:

        Made in Unreal: shiny, slick, limited level design
        Made in Game Maker: pixel-y, smooth gameplay, 2d
        Made in Twine: so much text… so many pictures
        Made in GameBryo: huge draw distances, stilted animations, uncanny valley faces, no inside/outside transitions
        Made in Witcher3 engine: awesome sauce.
        Made in Unity: ?? (low poly? basic geometry? gamefeel off?)

        • MadMinstrel says:

          As a person who dabbles with Unreal, I’m actually very interested in what makes people immediately able to tell what the engine in use is (other than the startup logo). I certainly can’t tell Hard West is Unity.