NEED TO KNOW
What is it? An open-world pixel-based western action adventure game
Copy Protection: Steam
Price: $15 / £11
Release date: April 16
Multiplayer: Local 2-player co-op
Link: Steam store page
If you're still miffed Red Dead Redemption never came to PC, Westerado: Double Barreled might help scratch that itch, albeit on a much smaller and simpler scale. It's an open-world pixel-based western adventure (the enhanced version of Adult Swim's free browser game) where you're a cowboy on the hunt for the man who murdered your family. While doing favors in exchange for clues to the killer's identity, you can interrogate, accuse, draw your gun on, and shoot anyone you want. Anyone! Even in the middle of a conversation. Finally, the thing I've always wanted in a game is a game.
Some of these favors you undertake are on the shooty side: protecting a stagecoach or wiping out bandit gangs. Some are more conversational, like recruiting employees to work a hat shop or convincing ranchers to join a buffalo franchise. They can be weird, too, such as when I helped the ghost of a miner locate his favorite pickaxe. Rewards can come in the form of money or gifts, and most importantly, clues about the murderer, which have to do with his appearance: what type of hat he wears, what color his coat is, what sort of belt buckle he has, and so on. Each clue you receive helps narrow down the list of suspects, and each time you play Westerado the bad guy's details are randomized.
Your health is represented by hats. You have a total of three, and each time you're shot you lose one. If you aim carefully, however, you can shoot the hats your off enemies and collect them, refilling your hat meter. You begin with a six-shooter and can later buy a rifle, shotgun, dual revolvers, even a tomahawk. The game world isn’t terribly big: you can walk it on foot in a couple minutes, and there’s horsey-based fast-travel between towns, but there are plenty of bandit camps, abandoned mines, and small settlements to discover as you hunt your target. A single game will probably take a couple of hours, and there’s a permadeath mode if you really want to make things hard on yourself (otherwise, when you die, you respawn back at home and your progress is saved).
Back to the thing I said about accusing or shooting anyone, anytime: you can! Being able to walk up to anyone you see and immediately bellow "It was you!" is endlessly amusing. However, shooting NPCs can have a downside (for you, I mean). I accidentally shot a friendly rancher, which meant I couldn't use him in a later quest. I deliberately shot an oil tycoon (he was a jerk) which meant I couldn't get information from him about the killer I was hunting. I shot the bank manager, and the entire town wanted me dead from then on. None of this meant I couldn't complete the game, it just made it considerably harder.
Drawing and cocking your gun during an unhelpful conversation may mean the person you're talking to gets more cooperative. May. They may also pull their own gun, they may shoot, they may flee. You never really know. The gunplay is mostly fun: press J to draw your weapon, press K to cock it, and K again to fire a round. (You can also use a controller.) Reloading happens one bullet at a time (by pressing R) which means gunfights can become frenzied key-pounding. This can veer sharply from frantic fun to fairly annoying, however.
The issue is that you can only fire horizontally, left or right. This means when you enter an area from the ‘south’ and find enemies swarming down on you from the ‘north,’ you can't shoot them until they're standing next to you, and often they wind up clustered together in a mass right on top of you. It's a tricky problem—allowing you to fire in any direction with an aiming reticule would probably make the game too easy, especially with the long-range rifle, but when mobbed from above, which happens fairly regularly, the gunplay can get downright frustrating, particularly near the end of the game.
Otherwise, Westerado is fun, a humorous and violent detective tale in the Old West. It's well written, the pixel art and animation are nicely done, and the fact that you can draw your gun whenever you want, and that you can shoot key characters dead and just keep on playing, gives it a great sense of freedom.