What convinced me Weird West is a true immersive sim had nothing to do with the carefully prepared talking points from a recent 30-minute hands-off demo. While former Arkane founder Raphael Colantonio explains the finesse of the physics system, showing off by tossing a bottle and shooting it out of the air, a better, if slightly less elegant example comes along.
The dust devil skirts around the edge of our top-down view of a ramshackle barn and gunslinger protagonist, first picking up some wooden debris, then passing over a campfire. It then transforms into a raging cyclone of fire and despair, a swirling monstrosity carrying a dozen flaming planks which then light the adjacent farmhouse ablaze and send our demoist scrambling out of the way. "The power of systemic," says someone in the Discord.
My first look at Weird West was short and disjointed, but it was enough to assure me it could be as complex and chaotic an immersive sim as the best of them. I can't wait to see my own plans burn down.
Where a bigger team might run into production roadblocks, WolfEye Studio's smaller team, largely made up of former Arkane talent, and zoomed-out perspective allows for higher concept experimentation in the immersive sim space. For instance, in Weird West, you don't play one character, you play five of them. Each chapter features a new protagonist with a unique story that permanently affects the world state for the next one, until they all converge into a final chapter together.
Weird West's expressive verbs are its most exciting features though, fairly unique to this perspective. Players can pick up and throw just about any object. There's a dedicated kick button (at least for one of the playable characters), and your kicks do not discriminate—they'll hurt friend or foe, chicken or cow. Players can also climb around the scenery, stacking barrels to climb fences and general stores, leaping between rooftops and snooping through people's homes. But as Raph demonstrated, you can also just make your own fun, shooting bottles out of the air or kicking some empty cans around.
We see fragments of how it fits into action throughout the demo. Raph's gunslinger does a Max Payne-style bullet time dive between rooftops, shooting as he flies. From above, he sneaks around some enemies and kicks a flaming barrel towards them, shooting and igniting as it makes contact. He climbs a fence into enemy headquarters and uses some rope he finds to climb into a well—the western equivalent of ventilation shafts—to find an alternate route in. It's about as immersive sim as immersive sims get, but with more tornadoes and an unconventional isometric RPG wrapper.
Much like Fallout 2, you move through Weird West via a world map obscured in fog that lifts as you chart your way across it. Physical spaces are discrete, but embarking on journeys between them run a chance of triggering a random encounter, be it a coyote attack or an invitation to a coven's bloody ritual. Raph takes down a few coyotes, then explores the instance for treasure. Shovels are another important systemic tool in Weird West: you can dig your way out of tricky situations and bury anything, including your dead friends and family. Pray it doesn't end that way.
We'll get perks in relics and a ton of skills to choose from that build out all sorts of playstyles between characters, but I'm curious to see how it feels and what kind of unique combat and stealth encounters the isometric perspective provides. With Prey fresh in my mind, I have more reasons to believe WolfEye will pull it off than not.
Weird West might be a different looking game for a team composed of developers squarely aimed at acclaimed first-person immersive sims in the past, but it just might match up to its older siblings. It's out later this year.