In the world of storytelling, points in history and time have frequently served as rich fodder for stories. One such point in time is that of the Old West, that period of time of western expansion in the United States. Of course, for a long time it’s moreso been the legends of the Wild West that have captured the storytelling eye. Cultivated with cheap pulp novels and Wild West shows helmed by showmen like Buffalo Bill Cody, the legends have painted a mythic version of this 1800s expansion. The fiction conjures images of duels held at high noon, gunslingers and outlaws waging war in the desert, and rough and tumble towns that were a hotbed of lawlessness. It is no wonder that the fictions painted would captivate more than the truth. Plenty of TV shows and movies have been set in this time, but surprisingly video games have not mined the realm of the Wild West as much. This is a shame, considering the setting and tropes of Wild West stories can offer interesting possibilities for the video game form. For instance, there is an independent video game called Westerado: Double Barreled which takes advantage of both the classic tropes and realistic details to create a fun little mystery.
One day, your mother wants you to help out your brother with some farm work on the homestead. Specifically, he needs your help in managing some of the buffalo. One of them manages to get loose and you are forced to get it back. When you return, however, disaster has struck: the homestead is burning to the ground, your mother and brother dead. Finding refuge with your uncle, he gives you a pistol and a clue as to the outlaw that had murdered your family. He sends you off to Clintville, a small town home to a shieriff that might offer more info. Of course, plenty of townspeople can help you out, offering clues as to the murderer’s identity and pointing you out to other places in the territory to go. Of course, be mindful of the people around you. Among the many townsfolk that you encounter and see in the game, one of them is the murderer.
The game is a fun little mystery that takes good advantage of its world. The game works through taking on the quests and missions that the townspeople can offer you. Sometimes it can involve a more benevolent job like protecting a stagecoach, while others might need you to hunt down a person. Either way, these missions help to offer you more information on the identity of the murderer. However, if you should beat the game, that does not mean that you already know the murderer the next time that you play. In fact, the identity of the murderer is randomly generated each time you start up a new game. As such, there is built-in replayability due to that variable. There are also additional characters that you can unlock, granting you different gameplay elements. For instance, normally your character uses hats as their health, losing a hat each time they are shot. One unlockable character is one who does not wear any hats, meaning the game become a one-hit instant KO challenge. Now, for me, one particularly striking bit of gameplay comes from the Western setting: namely, the use of guns.
Shoot-outs and gun battles are a classic element of Western stories, and this game certainly does not lack. However, it is interesting to see where it combines fictional components with a more realistic feel. For instance, the ammo for your guns is infinite. However, when it comes time to reload, you must reload one bullet at a time. In other words, it pays to be mindful of how quickly you work through your bullets. In addition, the player does not simply pull out their gun and start shooting. Instead, you must first pull out your gun, then cock it before you can shoot. This added bit of realism not only adds a bit more work to a gunfight, but it can also factor into whenever a dialogue scene is unfolding. For instance, a townsperson who seems to be keeping a secret might be more open when he stares down the barrel of your gun. That said, you also risk the other person shutting up on you if you read the moment incorrectly and go for your gun. Likewise, if you haphazardly pull out your gun in a crowded place, then everyone else will get their guns at the ready if need be. Thus, the classic thrill of a Western shoot-out is tempered with more realistic gunplay. Putting that choice in the player’s hand, of whether to watch the scene or attempt to go guns blazing, offers a more seasoned take on a familiar part of a Western adventure.
Though it has been thoroughly explored in plenty of genres, the Western has been a bit more neglected in video games. It is rather surprising, considering how a game like Westerado: Double Barreled demonstrates how the tropes of that genre can be enforced or tweaked when mixed with clever gameplay mechanics.