As a fan of the Marvel Comics character Ghost Rider, Mike Mignola’s artwork, and Ron Perlman due to his stellar voice performance as Slade from the Teen Titans cartoon series (among other credits), West of Dead was one of the titles that stood out the most to me during the Guerilla Collective presentation series. Now that I’ve had some time with it, I’d like to talk about what it is, why I love it, as well as the areas where it could still improve.
Developed by Upstream Arcade and published by Raw Fury, West of Dead, puts you in the spurs of William Mason, a dead outlaw with a flaming skull head, an inner monologue, and a mysterious past. Mason is currently in purgatory, due to a corrupt preacher upsetting the balance of things in the afterlife. The only way he can pass on is if he restores balance by defeating said preacher as well as whoever else stands in his way.
Mason starts his journey in a bar at the center of purgatory, where the barkeep mostly keeps to himself but is willing to dole out a little bit of cryptic advice when he feels like it, or will just say the same thing over and over again in each run. After going out of the bar, there are two different guns for Mason to pick up, with each one being controlled by a trigger on the controller, with more being available throughout the game. While traversing through different enemy filled rooms, Mason has to utilize the environment around him by using cover as well as lighting lanterns to temporarily stun the enemies around him. Some guns aren’t quite as accurate as others, so it’s best to make sure to aim carefully so you aren’t constantly wasting bullets and waiting for ammo to refill. I found it best to use two pistols rather than just one in combination with a shotgun, as they may not do as much damage at first but in addition to better accuracy they typically have more ammo and shorter reload times than various shotguns. Mason also does a cool pistol flip after clearing out a room whenever a pistol is equipped, so that’s just a bonus. You can also run from battles and try to avoid enemies when in desperate need of recovery, but you have to be quick for this to work.
In addition to different types of guns, there are also several different types of throwing weapons including throwing knives, axes, and explosives. These weapons are immensely useful when waiting for ammo to recharge, and some do a hefty amount of damage. These weapons have their own cooldown though and have limited use until they are upgraded, so despite their usefulness, you still have to be more quick and strategic than just running into a fight head first.
Besides boxes you can find to upgrade stats, there are also a couple of different shopkeepers in purgatory. In some rooms, you can find the trader, who will give you useful weapons in exchange for iron. Between stages, you can always find the witch, who absolves you of your sin and provides various new weapons and upgrades. Spending sin isn’t optional, and you have to absolve yourself of it before you can move on to the next stage. This is beneficial though since some weapons and upgrades cost a hefty amount and the sin you spend on them accumulates over time through each run until you’ve spent enough. Remnants you pick up throughout the world can also have their true potential unlocked by the witch for a hefty fee, and will also restore some of Mason’s memories.
Although the base gameplay is great, West of Dead still does have a few issues. Any stat upgrades obtained in a run are reset once Mason has fallen in battle. This wouldn’t be so bad if these particular upgrades provided smaller increases, but even then since you don’t keep what you’ve earned, it doesn’t feel like you’re improving as much as you could be. Additionally, by the second stage, some enemies do so much damage in comparison to the upgrades that it can seem pointless if you haven’t taken the time to try to find all of the upgrade boxes in each stage.
Once you start a new run, you also start from the beginning, rather than starting at the latest stage you got to. Because of rogue-lite elements, this is understandable, but going through the first stage over and over again gets annoying when you haven’t obtained that many upgrades yet.
Difficulty levels would also be a welcome additional feature, as some of the enemies in the second stage are harder to deal with and much stronger than those in the first. It would likely really help the game be more balanced, rather than the slightly lopsided way it feels with its different systems.
While West of Dead could use a few improvements, it’s on its way to becoming one of my favorite indie games of 2020 due to its premise and fun yet challenging gameplay loop. Now if only the improvements and tweaks I mentioned earlier would arrive, and hopefully, they will in the near future.
West of Dead is available on PC and Xbox One. It’s also available on Xbox Game Pass. It is planned to launch on PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch on August 5, 2020.
A code was provided by the publisher