The RPS Advent Calendar, Dec 6th – Westerado: Double Barreled

What is the best Western of 2015? The RPS Advent Calendar highlights our favourite games from throughout the year, and behind today’s door is…

Westerado: Double Barreled!

Alec: You know the look. You know why it’s been done. Retro 2D! Big pixels! Everyone loves a big pixel! Anyone who makes a game like that will be as rich as Tom Francis within 10 minutes! Westerado, you’d be forgiven for thinking, is of a type.

Actually, it’s all about tone. Because almost everything it does is in service of tone, Westerado is the best Western game we’ve had in a while.

Sure, there’s that none-more-cowboy soundtrack, the high noon colour set and the deft use of hats as health – the frontier isn’t a world of magic medicines, but simply of chutzpah and front – but in the deliberate removal of something usually vital.

No faces, you see. Partly that (presumably) made development easier, but more importantly it suits Westerado’s loose tale – out here, labouring away in the dust, everyone winds up looking pretty much the same. You’ll need to know the size of a man’s hat, not the colour of his eyes, if you want to track him down. Never mind the man with no name, it’s the man with no face. Just like you.

So you piece together an identity from hints – the colour of his shirt, the height of his ten-gallon, the buckle of his belt – and, never knowing entirely for sure, you take a risk when stumble across someone who matches that partial description. You might accuse a (comparatively) innocent man of murdering your family, you might stop a useful NPC from ever talking to you again – or you might find your mark.

It’s a smart, sharp interpretation of the vengeance quest which drives so many games, adding both investigation and uncertainty into it – and with it the driving, paranoid, twitchy trigger-fingered determination of the Eastwood archetype.

Westerado isn’t quite sombre – it’s too colourful, too responsive to deliberate acts of chaos or even silliness, and there are some misplaced attempts at outright humour – but it meaningfully feels like what we think we mean when we say ‘Western.’ It’s buttoned down in all the right ways, using tropes only in support of stuff you can actually do rather than as mere set-dressing.

It’s an open world too, but in a small way, under the restraints of budget and simple controls, but I think that works for it. It doesn’t have to pad itself with routine tasks or overly garrulous characters, so despite the freedom to roam absolutely everything is in service of its core revenge tale. This isn’t Batman getting distracted from saving Gotham from poisoning so he can collect some trophies to stick on his Bat-bathroom shelf, but a man looking for a few dollars more so he can protect his head with a hat or carry a bigger stick than his unknown enemy.

Westerado does so much with so little, and so I can’t help myself – I dream of a Westerado with a big budget, that offbeat, languorous tone paired with scale and more choice. And something that approaches both Western games and open world games with a mindset that isn’t pre-defined by Grand Theft Auto or Assassin’s Creed.

If you missed this, you missed out. It’s the Western game you keep complaining they don’t make enough of.

Graham: My love of Westerado is only tangentially related to its Western setting and theme. Really, I love it because it’s an open world that manages to make the go-anywhere, do-anything promise of open worlds more than just a front. This is a game in which you can draw your weapon during any conversation, accuse anyone and everyone you meet of being the person you’re hunting, and kill absolutely everyone.

In the latter instance, the game doesn’t break. It might become harder to find your man if there are no other people in the world for whom to do jobs and receive hints as to their appearance, but eventually you’ll pull the trigger on the right person and bag the murderer of your family.

Alec has covered the rest of its charms, but I appreciate any game that gives me these options even if I then choose not to use them in most instances. I appreciate a game even more that doesn’t then automatically reload an old save for me or pop up a message to tell me the world is broken. Imagine a game like this with a budget, yes, but it doesn’t have to be Western. Imagine a Far Cry game, say, where your Pagan Min is a randomly generated NPC somewhere out in the world, living his life and travelling as you do.

Or don’t imagine it: just play Westerado. It is what you want.

Go here for more of our picks for the best PC games of 2015.

22 Comments

  1. Turkey says:

    Actually you can’t really kill everyone. The game stops you after a while and you’ll have to reload a previous save.

    • BanditoJuan says:

      Well, there are alternate endings that trigger according to your actions, but the game never just boots you to the save screen after you caused too much havoc.

  2. kwyjibo says:

    I played this as a free flash game. How does the not-free version expand upon it?

    The free version is here – link to games.adultswim.com

  3. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    This has been quite a curious advent calendar so far for me. A lot of the games have made me think “why have RPS picked this when they didn’t really cover it at all before?” only to check the tags and find multiple articles about the game. But somehow I kept overlooking those articles, just scanning/scrolling past them.

    So, it’s good that the advent calender is highlighting hidden gems, (at least those good enough to be best in their category,) but it made me wonder if something like a “hidden gems of the month” feature (or something) could be an idea to catch other stuff that falls through the cracks. Sorry for being off-topic, was just a thought, thought I’d throw it out there.

    • kwyjibo says:

      The Hidden Gem of the Month for November was Life is Strange.

      They covered it once – link to rockpapershotgun.com

      • AngoraFish says:

        Life is Strange wasn’t a “hidden gem”, it was covered millions of times. You have completely missed the point of OP’s post.

        • kwyjibo says:

          Obviously, that was the joke. The joke was that Life is Strange was November’s Game of the Month.

          Whereas the actual game of the month was Fallout 4.

          • bill says:

            Yeah. The Game of the Month thing isn’t really working.

            I mean, it’s fine as a basic award for good games, but I thought it was supposed to mean lots of articles about that game. MGS got lots of articles, but the Games of the Month for November, October and July (and August?) got about one article each – the one announcing their status.

            Maybe they should award it retroactively at the end of each month.

          • Zenicetus says:

            I don’t think Game of the Month is working either. It’s too easy for another game to come out and override the coverage due to popular interest, or just that it’s so much easier to write about from different angles. Like Fallout 4 vs. Life is Strange.

            RPS should drop it. There is enough coverage here of games of all types, and it would allow more organic and less pressured coverage of the games both the staff and the audience here are interested in.

          • AngoraFish says:

            Interestingly, the November Game of the Month article was posted 2 November, yet Fallout 4 wasn’t released until 10 November. Which suggests that it is, in fact, awarded retroactively at the end of each month.

          • Kitsunin says:

            I found it hilarious how much complaining there was about Undertale being shoved down people’s throats when it got uh…two articles…during its time as Game of the Month.

      • Oozo says:

        Game of the Month as a format can work. What it needs is editorial planning and foresight. Look what the late, great The Dissolve did with its “Movie of The Week”: Each week had a set series of articles — there were two essays talking about various aspects and one talk between several contributors. It was great, and it had a lot of input by players as well, who knew in advance which movie would be talked about next week, so they could prepare themselves accordingly to join the conversation.

        What does not work, though, is just declaring a game randomly The Most Important of The Month, without actually giving too much though in advance on how and what to write about it. (Or, alternatively, do this kind of planning but then throw it overboard as soon as a bigger game comes along — which is doubly strange when those games eclipsing the “most important ones” are the juggernauts that were announced way in advance, anyway.)

        I get that Fallout 4 articles may get more page views than articles on Life Is Strange or UnderTale, but a lot of people do like, or at least used to like, RPS not for their extensive coverage of games everybody writes about, anyway, but for a more personal approach. And, well, having at least 3-4 articles in a given month for chosen game is not all that much to ask for, is it?

        Anyway, I still like the website, obviously, but there are formats that could be vastly improved upon.

        • Oozo says:

          Of course, in the paragraph about The Dissolve, it should read “readers”, not “players”.

          • Oozo says:

            Also, the calendar is a great example of RPS sticking to the underdogs. I have, as have a lot of others, overseen a good chunk of the games featured so far — and I love that they get a second chance to shine. (Especially because in a way, half of the spots will be taken by the former Games of The Month, anyway, won’t they?)

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          Graham Smith says:

          I’m coming to this late, but, yet again: Fallout 4 had nothing to do with Life Is Strange not getting much GotM coverage.

          LiS didn’t get much GotM coverage because it was an episodic game that got multiple large features during its various releases, and so most people felt they had nothing left to say. For example:

          link to rockpapershotgun.com
          link to rockpapershotgun.com
          link to rockpapershotgun.com
          link to rockpapershotgun.com
          link to rockpapershotgun.com
          link to rockpapershotgun.com
          link to rockpapershotgun.com
          link to rockpapershotgun.com

          Most of the time, when a game comes out, it’s our first change to properly play it – bar perhaps one of us having an hour with it at a press event. That isn’t the case with Life Is Strange’s final episode, obviously. We’d already written 8 features about it – or six features and two videos, if you like.

          We’re still learning how to make the series work its best, but I hate that the constant refrain is, “You didn’t write about this quirky game because the big AAA game got in the way,” when we wrote /tons/ about the quirky game and then, when we had little more to say, gave it an award anyway so that it would stand out more during the busiest release period of the year.

    • Turkey says:

      It’s a dumb thing, but I find it’s pretty easy to just scroll past game coverage that only has one or two comments. It’s hard to engage with something that nobody other than the RPS writers seem to care about.

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        Aerothorn says:

        Most people on the internet do not take the time to comment (and there is nothing wrong with that). Lack of comments doesn’t mean “nobody cares.” And isn’t the whole point of RPS learning things you didn’t already know? I find the best stuff is usually the least-commented, because we don’t really *need* more coverage of Fallout 4 etc.

      • Premium User Badge

        teije says:

        The number of comments are is a terribly inaccurate way to gauge readers’ interest in an article. I don’t comment on most articles, for any number of reasons – don’t have anything of value to add, someone has made my point already, don’t feel like typing, there are too many comments already, etc…

    • bill says:

      I’ve done the same thing. I keep thinking they’ve never/hardly mentioned it only to find out that they have but I missed it.

      Which is great. The RPS advent calendar always does a good job bringing some games to my attention that I might otherwise have missed. Which is much more interesting and useful than just a list of the big games of the year that everyone already knows about.

  4. Premium User Badge

    DelrueOfDetroit says:

    This game is really good except for that ending sequence. They’ve added in an extra checkpoint since I played it so maybe that eleviates some of the frustration.

    • cannedpeaches says:

      Dear God in heaven, that ending scared me off. Played most of this game on a late night beers-and-shooting kind of bender but after I tried the ending 12 times and got killed every time, sent back to the beginning of the cave to try again, I just couldn’t do it anymore. Hope the extra checkpoint alleviates the repetition a bit.

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    X_kot says:

    I never finished this one because a character took note of my character’s vengeful killings and said that I had become a cold person. Couldn’t keep going after that, very nice touch.