In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2022 (opens in new tab), each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
In 2022, the turn-based tactics genre landed a crit off a 10% chance to hit. By which I mean to say, it had a pretty great 12 months. Firaxis came back with Marvel's Midnight Suns, starring a cast of superheroes who all had varied abilities and everybody wanted to befriend. (I could listen to Magik tear open the fabric of space then nonchalantly mutter "Is portal" all day long.) Warhammer 40,000: Chaos Gate had a comeback as well, though Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters felt more like an extremely slick XCOM 2 mod than a sequel to the 1998 original.
I'd hate for Hard West 2 to go overlooked, though. Like Chaos Gate – Daemonhunters it's got a slightly misleading name, coming from different developers to the original Hard West and having only a little in common with it. A standalone game of cowboys and zombies, if anything it feels more like an adaptation of the Deadlands RPG (opens in new tab).
The setting is a version of the Wild West where hard-bitten gunslingers crawl back out of their graves to pursue agendas not even death can hinder, where ghost trains guarded by the undead beg to be robbed, and where demonic card sharps gamble for souls. As a gang of leather-tough killers including a witch who can swap places with people and a preacher who heals others by taking on their wounds, it's the perfect place for you to turn outlaw.
Hard West 2 builds on the bones of XCOM with swaggering style. The familiar shield icons for light and hard cover are there, but you can ignore any pile of rock or hastily raised coffin lid between you and your target by lining up a ricochet from a nearby object. Your posse unlocks abilities by looting magic playing cards and then assembling poker hands out of them, with better hands providing improved versions of their powers. And the system for earning extra actions on your turn, which encourages you to push just that little bit further out of your hard-cover comfort zone, has the extremely fitting name: bravado.
Several of the turn-based tactics games that went to school with the modern Firaxis XCOM tried to make it look like they didn't copy their homework by adding a mechanic that lets you take extra turns. Gears Tactics and Daemonhunters both give bonus action points for performing execution moves, but Hard West 2 is more generous. It lets any character who scores a kill have a whole 'nother go, and potentially another after that, ad infinitum.
Rather than being overpowered, these bravado moves turn out to be essential for clearing the crowded town squares and train cars of the Hard West, and characters like the axe-wielding badass Laughing Deer are designed to take advantage of it. That doesn't mean you can't over-reach of course, and many's the time I realized too late there was nothing to do but hit the end turn button with Laughing Deer out in the open after using his Wild Run ability. He survived the ensuing hail of bullets more often than not, but only because he's a real ornery son of a gun.
Which is exactly as it should be. Westerns are a perfect match for turn-based tactics—the movies are full of outlaws getting shot in a gulch somewhere because they strayed too far from cover after rushing out from behind a ridge, and what's a high noon showdown if not a turn-based duel where high initiative wins? Hard West 2 took the western theme and found a set of mechanics that go together with it as smoothly as whiskey goes with bad decisions.