The Old West is a historical era rife with mystery, mythology, and action. Hard West taps into all three of these areas to produce a turn-based strategy game with a dash of RPG style character management that sends players on a rough and tumble adventure. Along the way, you’ll dispense justice, hustle card players, and even rescue a damsel or two.
Hard West’s story takes place over eight scenarios throughout its campaign mode. You start off playing Warren, a roaming gambler with no one but his lovely lady to keep him company. Unfortunately, you just happen to take the money of a particularly sore loser who decides that having you killed is the best way to mend his ego. As you and your lady lie dying, you accept the offer of a mysterious stranger for a chance at revenge. Of course, just like any deal with the Devil, there’s a catch. You still have to die, so you can be raised as the undead. Only then can you exact your revenge. The story doesn’t just stick to Warren however, introducing you to several other characters, all with their own ties to the supernatural.
Use doorways and other obstacles to protect yourself or take your enemy by surprise
Each of these characters has their own unique abilities and attributes, so you have to learn how to use each one most effectively. Some characters are very strong with lots of health, able to take a couple bullets before going down. Others prefer long range weapons that let them snipe enemies from a distance. Then there are those with unholy gifts such as regeneration or the ability to see the future, making it harder for enemies to hit them. None of your characters are immortal though, so letting the enemy get enough shots in will end their lives. If a major story character passes away, you lose the fight and have to try again. For those interested in a real challenge, there is even an Ironman mode, where losing a story character at any point in the scenario means you have to start it over from scratch.
The majority of gameplay takes place in ¾ overhead tactical maps. Usually, you and your team start out on one end and have to work your way through the area, killing anyone that gets in your way. As with most turn-based games, you have a certain number of action points for each character. Once a character has used their action points, they must wait until the enemy turn is over to get more. Combat continues on this fashion until you reach your goal or a story character dies. You also don’t have access to all enemy locations immediately either, so if you charge in guns blazing, it’s not likely to end well. Each map has obstacles to hide behind, and it’s important to keep your characters behind cover; a shotgun blast to the face is not a pretty way to go.
Use all your skills to defeat evil demons sent to kill you from the Nightmare
Your characters do have access to several tools that give them an edge however. Between most combat maps, there is an overworld map that can be explored. The overworld functions similar to an RPG, where you travel from town to town or other places of interest. In town, you can buy helpful items and even new guns to augment your arsenal. There are dangerous ruins to explore as well where you can find loot. One of the most important types of loot to find is cards. Equipping a character with a card will give them access to special abilities, like being able to ricochet bullets at hiding enemies, being able to go on a killing spree, or even being invisible to enemies under certain conditions. All these different RPG elements add a wonderful dimension to the strategy gameplay, allowing you to customize your characters so they feel unique to your style of play. The only downside is that some of the overworld exploration can drag on a bit between actual gunfights.
The character screen lets you equip guns, cards, and items, allowing you to customize each member of your party
In addition to solid gameplay, the game features crisp, stylized graphics that fit the feel of the game quite well. The maps are filled with scenes from what you would expect to see in a western, like stagecoaches, cemeteries, and saloons. You can examine things like cash registers for loot and open doors or kick over tables for some makeshift cover. You even see the glass particles fly when you shoot through a window, but the window is still whole after the explosion and the buildings don’t show bullet holes from missed shots. The characters are well animated for the most part as well, moving around doorways for clean shots and doubling over when hit. There is some stutter stepping when passing close to objects though, especially stairs. The music is nice but is more of a backdrop than anything. The sound effects are mostly generic blasts and grunts, but they are still synchronized well and make the world seem alive.
HARD WEST VERDICT
With a solid blend of strategy and RPG elements, this game does a good job of putting you in your character’s shoes. It’s refreshing to find a strategy game with this much customization, allowing you to upgrade each character the way you want to, not simply unlocking a new, more powerful unit. The missions are also well done, with several choices to make along the way beside just who to shoot next. There are a few missteps, like a lackluster tutorial stage and no real explanation of certain mechanics (I had to watch a YouTube video before I learned how to “Subdue” enemies), but the game is fun to play even if you fail a mission or two while learning. The graphics and music are solid, but nothing that will blow your mind.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Collecting and using Cards. Because Cards unlock all the cool abilities and bonuses, managing the card collection required a lot of thought and strategy, making it a lot of fun.
Blending a turn-based strategy game with RPG like exploration and story makes for a very satisfying experience.
The character customization allows you to create unique characters and unlock multiple ways of completing missions.
A steep learning curve and unexplained game mechanics may frustrate some players.
There was room for improvement in sounds effects and destructible environments.