Red Dead Redemption goes retro.
The game starts off as just another day in the west, helping your brother round up some buffaloes before returning home beneath the burning sun. Upon returning home you find your homestead destroyed and your brother struggling for his life. Managing to get to your barely alive sibling, you ask him who did this and with his dying breath he gives a vague description of the bandits. You’re then left with a brutal decision; do you put your own brother out of misery by shooting him dead or do you leave him to his own drawn out death? The choice is yours…
It’s a great start to the game from developers Ostritch Banditos. Immediately the story is set and you feel immersed into the experience, determined to seek revenge for your brother’s honour. Such a tough decision so early sets the theme of being able to make your own decisions with resulting consequences. What Westerado doesn’t do so well is explain how to play the game or what you need to do next. Your revenge story all hinges on your choices and actions and is very much about finding your own path and learning how to play along the way. Awaking at your Uncles house, you’re left on your own. Confused and emotionally angry you could choose to speak to your Uncle in the hope of getting some answers to set you on your way or you could take a ride to the nearest town and start asking questions.
There is a wealth of options due to the relatively large map for a game of this size; exploration takes you across deserts, towns, mines and Indian territory. There is optional fast travel to make it a little less daunting, not that anyone told me until I had travelled everywhere by foot for a while. The game menu does well to track your progress on the map and will indicate with an exclamation mark any clues yet to be unlocked. Although it’s not as easy as it sounds due to the many non-playable characters (NPC’s) you find, many of which look quite similar, it’s difficult to pin down just who you need to speak to or keep track of who you have spoken with. The result can be endless minutes/hours lost roaming from NPC to NPC in the hope at least one of them has some clues for you. Westerado does a great job of keeping track of your clues in the menu drawing a picture of the murderer. If the clues so far have indicated the murderer has a red hat, a blue coat and brown belt, the clues page will display a NPC with that description whilst everything else currently unknown i.e. trousers, shoes etc. will cycle through all the possibilities until a clue is found. It’s a nice touch although once you know who killed your brother it can still be a pain to then find them across the huge map filled with pixilated characters.
Dialogue between you and the worlds NPC is presented with two pixilated characters close up on screen with text beneath in the absence of any spoken audio, I would liken it to playing Pokémon on a classic Gameboy. Written in a stereotypical Western dialect it’s hard not to read out aloud with your own Wild West vibe so the lack of spoken audio didn’t affect my immersion. As the conversation between the characters progresses you’re often presented with multiple choice responses to the NPC. Sometimes it could be niceties to keep the conversation going or it could lead to further clues on your brother’s murderer, interestingly you’re always given the option of accusing said person and cutting straight to the chase. Approach with caution, although some of the wrongly accused will just laugh it off, you are also risking the chance of showdown. With so many NPC’s across the map it would be incredibly difficult using the process of elimination unless you get lucky of course. Then as you murder more people, less clues will be available pertaining to your brothers murderer which makes your mission more difficult.
Shooting is satisfying although the accuracy can be frustrating. Using primarily a six shooter (other guns are available later down the line if you so choose) you draw by using the bumper button, shout using the right trigger and then individually reload bullets using the left trigger. As odd as this may sound it felt as close to using a six shooter as you could get using a controller. It’s a shame that controlling your gun felt so authentic compared to the poor aiming mechanic. Your gun can only be shot in a straight line vertically across the screen. Simple enough however there were times it looked like I lined up an enemy, yet my shot would sail past without any damage and to add insult to injury the enemies shot would be on target despite neither of us moving. The health system is not explained at all. In the top left corner of the HUD a display shows you how many lives you have left in the form of hats. Each time you’re shot you lose a hat and have to view a short but annoying animation of your character replacing their hat until all lives have been used and its game over returning to the main menu. After loading up my game, my heart sank as I was put back at Uncles house and my immediate thoughts were I had to start over as I hadn’t saved, fear not, my progress had been saved and I was right back where I was before. More proof of how little is explained.
I’m not a huge fan of retro graphics and having lived through the early 90’s I’ve never felt the want to play a game again with such graphical style. I’m unconvinced the pixilated art style does Westerado any favours. When your hunting a specific NPC across the map it can be difficult to pin point exactly who you are looking for due to the pixilation. That’s not to say it’s not beautifully done and looks like something straight off a Commodore 64 (just much briefer loading times). Backgrounds are bright, towns are animated with people actively moving around or talking with one another, even the deserts are busy with dangerous snakes and eagles ready to feed off the dead. The soundtrack feels authentic, although a little basic, you do feel as though you are in a Western. Roaming about in towns you get the classic style music, venture out in the desert and the music becomes ominous, enter a mine and the tunes take on an eerie tone. The sound of gun shots are the only other sound effects you’ll hear during your play through.
Westerdo is a typical caricature of a spaghetti western. A tale of revenge, a trusty six shooter, horses, bandits, a mine, an oil tycoon, Indians… It has it all. Okay it’s not quite Red Dead Redemption, but it’s does wet your appetite for the sequel. Despite its basic pixel graphics there is deep gameplay to be had and no two playthroughs are likely to be the same. After successfully beating the game you unlock more characters and each come with their own twist. On my first completion I unlocked someone (I will leave nameless to avoid any spoilers) who couldn’t carry any hats and therefore it was one shot death to make things even more challenging and make you extra cautious. If you want even more challenge there is the iron man mode where your save is deleted on death. Yes the gun fights could have been done slightly better and yes more could have been done to explain how everything works, but these are minor criticisms for what is largely an enjoyable game. One you can truly play how you want and well worth buckling up for, Yee haw cowboy!
Westerado: Double Barreled was reviewed with a download code of the Xbox One edition, provided by Xbox.