I admittedly didn't have a lot of faith in Westerado: Double Barreled when it was given to me for review. Made by newcomers Ostrich Banditos, their backlog includes the quirky Flash game High Vaultage, and nothing else. I thought, based on that, there was no chance of this game being anything more than a glorified web game selling for full price. Oh, how wrong I was.
Westerado: Double Barreled begins with an unassuming scene: you play as a nameless cowboy on the family ranch, and, like many great games before it, the action starts in your bedroom. Your mother asks you to herd buffalo with your brother, and you do – it's a classic 'calm before the storm' introduction where you're shown the hero's comfortable life before everything is ruined. Your life at home is quiet and easy; that is, until it gets burned to the ground by an unseen marauder, taking your family with it. This takes our hero on a whirlwind tour of revenge, as he tries to piece together the clues of the arson attack, the identity of his mother and brother's killer, while also helping a few others along the way.
In keeping with the epic western-style story, Westerado is a wide-open sandbox game; you have the aforementioned main story to negotiate, but that isn't all: the game is bursting with side-quests, land to explore, and you can even play 5-card draw. For a little game on Steam released by a new company like Ostrich Banditos, this is absolutely staggering. What's more is that not only does Westerado aim high; it hits the mark like saliva in a Saloon’s spittoon. The main story is a blast to play through, and helping random civilians throughout the land is actually gratifying. In other games, the side quests prove to be a massive pain in the neck, but here, the little side characters are so charming – such as mad old Rancher Cobb and Miss Tress – that we are motivated to finish their missions just to see them get the closure they deserve.
Visually, Westerado is a complete revelation. The game is rendered in faux-8-bit style – think NES, but much cleaner and sharper looking. This has obviously been done before by many other games, but this is only half of the story. Where Westerado really comes into its own is with colour. This game evokes the Old West so sensuously with a blend of deep oranges, browns, pinks, and yellows; the game just explodes from the screen, and the setting comes alive more vibrantly than any other game of its type. The cutscenes also deserve a special mention, as they're framed using a film reel effect, in homage to old spaghetti westerns. An open-world game set in the Wild West will inevitably draw some harsh comparisons to the Red Dead series, but, when it comes to art direction, Red Dead Redemption wishes it looked as good as Westerado.
Like all cowboys, from Jesse James to Revolver Ocelot; you carry a six-shooter, and you can pull your gun on anyone. Seriously: from the town sheriffs to random civilians to your own uncle, you can whip out your gun as a means of intimidation, or you can shoot them dead and take their money, even going as far as doing a bank job. This is a neat addition to the game, but strictly pointless as there's really no reason to play the villain; especially since the game positions you as the hero after the ranch fire. Of course, there isn’t a ‘right way’ to play the game, but if you play it villainously, you won’t feel like you’re getting all you can from your experience.
However, using the gun proves to be a little difficult in the early going, and takes a bit of time to get used to. In other games, the operation of a gun is drastically simplified – all you have to do is aim and fire, and the computer automates reloading and cocking for you. Here in Westerado, you have to do it all yourself; pull out the gun (or holster it), cock it, pull it, then reload manually. On one hand, the system is effective as it encourages players to not just spray bullets, instead to be economical; but on the other hand, this system can be quite stiff to use and difficult to pull off quickly, especially in the middle of heated gun battles where your reactions must be swift.
Ostrich Banditos perfectly evoked the atmosphere of the Old West with Westerado's soundtrack. As you'd expect, it leans heavily on fiddle and harmonica compositions, but, surprisingly, they haven't done it on the cheap – the music has actual depth. For instance, the strains of the opening theme are genuinely memorable, as is the 'sad reprise' of it used when you die, and its re-purposing as the overworld music, which makes exploring a much more peaceful and enjoyable affair. Also of note on the soundtrack are Riverside House and the Fort Motors theme; especially Fort Motors, which, like the majority of the soundtrack, stands on its own not just as a video game theme but as a piece of music – Westerado's soundtrack hits a certain audio sweet spot that will thoroughly enchant its players.
It’s all the little touches that make Westerado so special. You can carry a range of guns; not just a pistol, but a rifle, and a shotgun too; all useful for different missions or however you'd prefer to play the game. You're able to customise your cowboy with a range of different outfits and bandanas until he looks right for you. If you're tired of the main game, you can even go rogue and become an outlaw; draw your gun, kill everyone, rob a bank, and walk away into the sunset; it's all possible. This is all wrapped together with the game's wry sense of humour; for instance, a major town is called Clintwood after the mayor, East, and, as previously mentioned, you can kill your uncle – doing so leaves behind a bag of money, and...his ghost, who you can continue to talk with normally. If you're a complete sadist, you can shoot the ghost of your uncle, which leaves holes in his floating presence. It's always the little things which make a game brilliant, and Ostrich Banditos has achieved that in spades.
Westerado: Double Barreled (Reviewed on Windows)
Excellent. Look out for this one.
Westerado is presented gorgeously and proves itself as a great sandbox game. There is tons of fun to be had here, especially in the quest to find your family’s murderer. Remember the name 'Ostrich Banditos'; if they keep making titles as good as Westerado: Double Barreled, we will be in for some cracking games for years to come.