I don’t have the facts to back this up, but it is unlikely Westerado had the same budget and team size as Red Dead Redemption 2. Not to go all Digital Foundry on you, but I estimate that there are more graphics in one of Rockstar’s physics-enabled horse gonads then there are in the entirety of Ostrich Banditos’ virtual frontier. And yet, for my money, the combat in Westerado is better.
In Westerado, guns have to be cocked manually. You press J to draw, K to cock and K to fire. I’m not going to pretend that a keyboard stroke or gamepad squeeze in any way simulates the heft of a weapon, but there’s something in the fussiness of the action that feels tactile to my fingers. An awful lot can happen in a millisecond: bandits can shift from your line of fire, you can shift into a bandit’s line of fire and… okay, that’s about all that can happen. But that’s enough to inject drama into the moment. If you miss, you’re two buttons away from a second attempt, and that’s a lifetime when lead is flying around.
Factor in an isometric view that makes shots tricky to line up as it is, and every gunfight devolves into a chaotic blur of zig-zagging cowboys, stray bullets knocking off hats and the keyboard clack of you hammering R to thumb bullets back into the chambers one by one. Both the cocking and the reloading freezes cowboys on the spot adding huge windows of vulnerability/opportunity, depending on who has one in the chamber at any given time. The final result reminds me of that scene in No Country For Old Men where Thanos scrambles to get his gun working so he can do a dog murder.
There’s a lot more to Westerado than shootouts. Believe it or not, the game is actually a detective game with a procedurally generated villain – a quest for revenge that plays like the face-flipping Guess Who? as you gather physical descriptions of your foe. Of course, Guess Who? doesn’t end with the last face getting a bullet between the eyes.
In his Westerado: Double Barreled review, Alec called it an “enormously satisfying consolation prize” at a time when PC didn’t have a Red Dead to call its own. Now that we do have one, this remains a damn fine companion piece.