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Westerado: Double Barreled (PC) artwork

Westerado: Double Barreled (PC) review

"A highly replayable open-world western for fans of the genre."

Adult Swim Games is an interesting gaming market anomaly. It started life as an evening of specific animated content aimed at adults, then evolved into a network of its own (albeit one that shares a channel with Cartoon Network), and now serves as an unlikely source for indie games. The bulk of its titles begin life as flash-based games, but the publishing label has done a great job of discovering talented indie developers and its success might be rivaled only by the folks at Devolver Digital.

Westerado: Double Barrelled is another example of that success, a retro-inspired, pixel-based game that definitely hits the mark. Not surprisingly, it's the proper release of yet another flash-based title.

You assume the role of the younger brother in a buffalo farming family. One day when you are out wrangling buffalo, one of the animals escapes. You manage to recapture it, but upon returning home, you find that your family has been murdered and the homestead burned to the ground. Now you must exact revenge by tracking down the killer, based on clues you gather in the open world environment. Therein lies the game's brilliance.

The developers, Ostrich Banditos, have finally resolved the biggest issue facing most open world games. Instead of encountering a main storyline quest that is supplemented by dull side quests that let you gain new items while padding the experience, you'll find that each new quest brings you one step closer to your primary goal. The villain's appearance is randomized on each playthrough, which prevents you from taking any shortcuts to the final showdown. Quests you complete reward you with information on the antagonist's current appearance, while also offering more standard rewards. This rather unconventional dynamic means you can play in the manner you like and still make progress.

As you progress, you'll find that there are many different conflicting groups with which you can side. As an example, there is an army encampment populated by soldiers who are preparing to go to war with a neighbouring tribe of Indians. You have the option of working with either side, or you can even try to make peace between them. Regardless of the approach you take, you gain progress. There's no need to follow a particular path just to further the story, but the world as you know it may be altered according to your choice. Not only do you get to complete the game in the manner that suits you, but your actions have meaningful consequences.

Gameplay itself takes the form of a top-down shooter, but with an interesting twist: to fire your gun, you first need to cock the hammer with one button, then press a second one to fire. You're also limited when it comes to how much ammo you can carry, and each weapon must be reloaded a bullet at a time. The various guns also offer slightly different shot dispersion. You can pull out a weapon whenever you like, even in the middle of a dialogue scene, which could start a fight or result in a character fleeing.

With only limited ammo at your disposal, and the inability to reload an entire magazine as you would in most games, gunplay becomes a much tenser experience. Not only must you do your best to make every bullet count, but you'll also find yourself frantically dodging shots when you need to reload. It truly gives you the feel of being in an old west shoot-out, where there are only the quick and the dead.

Another interesting touch is the way your life bar is presented: as a series of hats. Each hit takes away a hat from your bar. You can buy new hats if you like, but it's also possible to shoot the hats off your opponents' heads, then pick them up to replace any damage you yourself may have taken. And shooting off a hat might even cause your enemy to surrender.

This plays into another mechanic: the Wanted Poster system. Hunting down wanted men will eventually gain you information on your family's killer. But not all men are wanted "dead or alive." Sometimes, only the latter will suffice, and that's a tricky proposition when hats make such small targets. It's also interesting that to move your prisoner, you need to keep your weapon drawn or they will refuse to move along as requested.

The writing throughout the adventure keeps its tongue planted firmly in its cheek. There are numerous running gags, along with clever references to spaghetti westerns and even the game's own mechanics. When you approach your dying brother, he bemoans not having a hat to save him from the fatal bullet, a direct reference to the hats-as-health mechanic. The general plot may work in service to standard western tropes, but you'll still find plenty of interesting moments to enjoy as part of that process.

The fun doesn't stop with the dialogue, either. The developers have obviously considered carefully what gamers will do within the confines of the game. Since the villain is randomized, you might think just attacking a city at random would allow you to find you the killer. Instead, it triggers a horde mode. If you choose to romance the wife of the sheriff, you can wind up facing him as the final villain of the piece. Given how reactive the game is to your input, you will likely find yourself compelled to replay it, just to discover where the other paths lead. As if that's not enough, there's also a New Game+ mode, along with three unlockable characters. Each of these characters alter the game's dialogue and story to some degree. So they aren't just simple reskins, but true reasons to replay through and discover how they impact the world differently. Not only that, but a "hardcore" mode is available that will even go so far as to delete your save if your character dies.

Certainly, Westerado: Double Barrelled is not without the occasional minor issue. Until you grow accustomed to it, the art style can sometimes make it difficult to tell whether or not you can score a hit. You're also allowed only three save slots, which feels restrictive given the availability of four characters. Put aside those easily overlooked quirks, though, and it's difficult to find any fault in the game. It's amazingly well-crafted, available at a great price point, and a definite must if you're into retro-style fare.


Pawkeshup's avatar
Freelance review by Pawkeshup D'Amour (December 12, 2015)

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