Once upon a time in the west and over many years multiple genres have been explored in various industries to suit all tastes of indoor entertainment, whether it be in the form of books, movies, toys, board, dice or card games or trending in the news these days, video games. In this article I’ll be kicking open those saloon doors and focusing on the “old west” and the American frontier genre and looking towards a hazy horizon, through dust and true grit, seeing what, in Will Smith’s words, wild wild west video games are out there for looting… Or hanging.
Red Dead Redemption 2
On October 26th 2018 Rockstar Games released, not only the best game of 2018 in my opinion, but the best and most realistic, western themed and styled, action-adventure video game to date and the “creme de la creme” of all wild west video games. Currently released for the PlayStation 4 (PS4) and Xbox One video game consoles only, this game is the first I know of that hits the 100GB data file size during installation and boy did it take a while. Personally speaking and from my own experience of the title, I found myself finding mundane household tasks and chores to do, while it did its bit in the background. Watching the installation progress bar only made the wait seem endless, but it was a worthwhile wait as I’m sure a lot of good folk out there agree.
There was a lot of hype, rumors, speculation and leaks around the pre-release of the title, which is usually the case and its up to the individual if they want to get sucked into all of that and see and hear about possible spoilers or do they stay strict, stay away from media channels and keep it all a clean, fresh surprise on launch day. I aimed to be the latter myself, but got swept away by the strong current and trend, slightly drawn into reading articles and watching videos.
As you can imagine Rockstar Games broke several records and received numerous perfect scores and awards with this hugely anticipated title and made sales in the region of $725 million in the opening weekend and shipping out over 17 million copies over a two week period. It was acclaimed by many critics for its characters, story and immense level of detail in the open world American frontier. One of the big surprises to me and a reason why the game file was so large upon installation, was the fact that the majority of the open world map from Red Dead Redemption was added alongside a brand new sprawling map, bigger by the looks of things to its predecessor, it is huge and does realistically take some time to get across on horseback, but isn’t that the fun?
The game is set in 1899 in a fictionalized version of the Western United States, where times are changing and the days of cowboys, Indians and outlaws are fading out or they’re being hunted down and destroyed. The player takes control of Authur Morgan, a strong member of the Van Der Linde outlaw gang led by Dutch and also including familiar names like Bill Williamson and John Marston, the main protagonists from Rockstar Games’ earlier Red Dead Redemption title released in 2010. Due to a job gone wrong and money left behind in Blackwater the gang are forced to go on the run and stay in hiding, away from the law. With this being the case, the player starts his adventure in the snowy mountains and blizzard like conditions and playing from the perspectives of either a third or first person viewpoint.
Staying away from writing a fully blown review of this game, I will say that the game is absolutely brimming with details both large and small and massively improves over the first outing of Red Dead Redemption not just because of the advanced technology used that makes it stand out these days but because of the amount of added content to this vast living and breathing pixelated world. Arthur and his horse alone, for example, are totally customizable in how they appear with the likes of clothes, saddles, realistic hair growth, weight loss/gain, dirt, brushing and bathing all playing a factor within the game.
A player will never be stuck for an activity, there are so many things they can do in Red Dead Redemption 2 that steers away from the main story line and missions, things like challenges, exploring, gambling, hunting, fishing are to name but a few pastimes. As in the finale of the movie “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” starring Clint Eastwood, its like having 3 games in 1 squaring off in front of you, as you have the main character driven, detailed story line making use of missions and progression, a free roam game in itself doing everything and anything else, exploring the vast world and interacting with the NPC’s and animals plus there is the online beta version now making its presence known and opening up a completely different way of playing.
Red Dead Redemption: Game of the Year Edition
In May 2010 Rockstar Games released a blockbuster hit in the name of Red Dead Redemption, its second outing in the Red Dead series after 2004’s Red Dead Revolver. This was a breath of fresh air and open country to the urban chaos and pace that their Grand Theft Auto titles bring to the screen. The development of the game took about 5 years, was developed by Rockstar San Diego and published by Rockstar Games with a final release to the PlayStation 3 (PS3) and Xbox360 video game consoles.
Red Dead Redemption was one of the most expensive video games to develop and produce at the time, it was estimated that the entire budget made up from the development and marketing sides stood around $80 to $100 million, but once again Rockstar Games delivered a hugely successful title and shipped over 15 million copies by 2017.
Post release downloadable content packs were made available to players over time to add to the already large game and enrich a player’s experience in the open world. Extra characters, weapons, multiplayer maps, mini games and more were added between June 22nd 2010 and September 13th 2011 before all the content was bundled together in the Game of The Year Edition released in October 2011. One notable piece of downloadable content added a new single-player campaign game and story, featuring eerie, deserted ghost towns and haunted cemeteries and which former outlaw John Marston goes on the search for a cure to a zombie plague epidemic of the townsfolk and surrounding areas.
In the starting introduction of the game John Marston is being escorted by some federal agents towards a train station, John stays quiet during this set-up of the story with only the conversations of others going on around him. John is provoked to board the train and arrives at Armadillo station, its from here the adventure begins. There are main story missions to complete that unfold the story, John gets to meet many characters, can have an array of weaponry over time and can claim various outfits depending on the player’s abilities during the game. There is a single player story campaign and a multiplayer mode that engages up to 16 players in cooperative or competitive play. The game is played in a third-person perspective, something which Rockstar Games amended for Red Dead Redemption 2.
The open world map is large and rich in detail and filled with all manner of things “old west” related from buildings, forna, animals and environments to ranches, mountains, bandits and saloons. Nothing has been missed out. As well as the main story, players can explore the map via foot, horse or train, accept bounties and try bring criminals to justice, find hidden treasure, complete favors for people, meet strangers, hunt and scavenge and come up on random events and that’s not everything. Side missions and challenges help to gain more “honor”, money, outfits, improvements and upgrades.
In October 2018 a prequel to this title was released and gained great acclaim and awards. John Marston and other names from Red Dead Redemption are featured in Red Dead Redemption 2, but everything is seen and played from a different angle, through Authur Morgan’s eyes and around the outlaw gang that John used to be and ride with. So, as Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel, in this title John is put into action basically speaking and forced to bring his former gang members to justice, starting with a visit to Bill Williamson.
Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
Founded in 1991 and originally a distributor of software in Poland, Techland started to branch out internationally since 2000 and have created some well-known titles including the Call of Juarez western themed shooters. Many installments were made in the series, this section will solely focus on the one title above, chosen of the few but I still wanted to give credit to and make you aware of the other western themed titles included and describe a few lines to wet your appetites and get your trigger finger twitching.
Call of Juarez
This game was released on various formats between 5th September 2006 and 29th June 2007 and the basic plot goes a little like this. Over 2 years in Juarez searching for the legendary “Gold of Juarez” Billy Candle returns to his home town and farm to discover a terrible turn of events. After his parents are murdered Billy, on the run and hunted is determined to find out what happened, who killed them and why? The news travels fast and his step-uncle, the Reverend Ray McCall, a former gunslinger assumes Billy is the killer and leaves his preaching in order to chase him down and avenge the deaths, believing that he’s on a mission from God and is Billy’s judge, jury and executioner.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood
This game was released on various formats between 30th June 2009 and 3rd July 2009 and the basic plot goes a little like this. This title is a prequel to Call of Juarez and is set 20 years before the events in the first game. Its August 1864 and the McCall Brothers, Ray and Thomas have been labeled deserters after going AWOL, abandoning their post in an attempt to save the family home. Once they arrive its not a pretty sight and so they go on the run, taking their younger Brother William with them. They first encounter the “Gold of Juarez” legend while hiding out in Mexico and meeting up with a Bandit and his Girlfriend by the names of Juan Mendoza and Marisa. With limited options at the time and their commander on the hunt for them, they enter into an untrustworthy alliance with the powerful bandit and an Apache tribe in order to seek out the legend.
Call of Juarez: The Cartel
This game was released on various formats between 19th July 2011 and 16th September 2011 and the basic plot goes a little like this. The Call of Juarez franchise takes on a surprising twist in this title and is set in a modern-day Los Angeles and Mexico. LAPD detective Ben McCall is assigned to find the terrorists behind the bombing of the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) offices with the assistance from FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) agent Kimberly Evans and DEA agent Eddie Guerra. A Cartel had been under investigation by the late Patrick Stone, this is where the team pick up the thread and continue, starting with the protection of Stone’s daughter, Jessica. During the investigation they find out that the Cartel has been purchasing military-grade goods from an unknown source, interestingly though what they don’t know is that each of them are fiddling the investigation for their own personal needs or gains.
. . . Continuing on with regard to Call of Juarez: Gunslinger
After the unwelcoming angle of story, reviewed by critics and used in Call of Juarez: The Cartel, it was refreshing to see that Techland took a look at the drawing board, refreshed, then brought back the linear, western themed, first-person shooter and doing away with the McCall family name. This game was released on various formats between 21st May 2013 and 23rd May 2013 and the basic plot goes a little like this.
Its 1910 and we’re in a saloon in Abilene, Kansas. A man leans across a bar, drink in hand and enjoying the peace from the outside world and yet the atmosphere of the saloon. The man is the old legendary bounty hunter, Silas Greaves, a name familiar to the Call of Juarez game series. The patrons of the saloon listen to the drone of Silas’ travel accounts infused by liquor, retelling the stories of his adventures over time surprising and impressing his audience. This feeling soon starts to wear thin as Silas starts mixing things up and his stories lack consistency, he takes credit for the killing of legendary outlaws and eventually, after irritating and enraging the saloon patrons, points a finger at the bartender who is Roscoe “Bob” Bryant and claiming he was one of the three bandits that killed his Brother. Players are put in the position and given the choice what to do and whether to duel. In doing so Silas will be fulfilled in his long awaited vendetta or he can let go of all his hatred, anger and violence that made him what he was over the years and let Roscoe simply go.
What’s unique and interesting about Call of Juarez: Gunslinger is the twist in game play as players make their choices in the story, while in the present day Silas drinks more and his narrations and storytelling to the people of the saloon become more fuzzy. With this in mind, as the story progresses and unfolds whole inventories, weapon load outs, environments and enemies change to match Silas’ narration and telling of events as he revises what he says on the fly due to his audience challenging him on the inconsistencies and lies in his details. It’s the player that’s got to deal with the changes though! A fun and interesting concept and idea.
There is obviously a Story mode fitted out with game play elements from previous titles like bullet-time, duels and quick time events. There is an Arcade mode concentrating on the fighting off of waves of enemies coming at you and there features a Duel mode too, which focuses on authentic western-style showdown duels. Experience points can be earned in order to level up skill trees and specializing in duel wielding pistols, shotguns and rifles. Importantly a player can unravel the historical truths of Silas’ accounts by finding “Nuggets of Truth”, collectibles that are hidden and scattered through the environment. In March 2018 Steam, Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network, had to remove this title as well as Call of Juarez: The Cartel, from its storefronts due to a publishing dispute with Ubisoft. This was now settled in April 2018 with Techland as the sole publisher.
Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West
I thought I’d include something a little different here in this section and focus on a multiplayer, team-based, third-person shooter but still sticking to the genre and style of the usual wild west video games. Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West was released in 2010 between 8th April and 4th May on the Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 3 platforms, a version was going to be revealed on the Xbox Live Arcade platform but was later cancelled. It was developed by Fatshark and published under Paradox Interactive, a Swedish company based in Stockholm.
As this title is solely a multiplayer game and experience it is void of any single player campaign or engaging story line as with the previous titles in the article. Instead, Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West offers, not one but six featured game modes to choose from, giving players a variety of choices and styles of play yet keeping within the western themed environment boundaries.
- Shootout – This is a standard, multiplayer team death match that we’ve all come to know.
- Conquest – Conquer way point markers in order, starting from a home area and working towards the enemy team’s zone. The other team are doing just the same.
- Powder Keg – The objective in this game mode for one team is to destroy objectives using powder kegs, while the other team defend these hot spots. There are two rounds in order for both teams to take turns on the offensive and defensive.
- Gold Fever – This game mode is all about the gold, sacks of it, if you can grab them during waves of enemies coming at you. This mode can be played as a single player or cooperatively with a second player.
- Robbery – Similar to the objective in the Powder Keg mode, teams take turns on the offensive or defensive but this time the fight is over a bank vault. The attackers must blow up the vault and steal three bags of gold, the other teams role is to guard it.
- Greed – Once again sacks of gold play a vital part in this game mode as two teams scramble for as many as they can after they spawn and appear on the map, bringing them back and placing them in their drop zone for points.
The American old west frontier is the backdrop to all the action and as well as the above six game modes, players can choose their avatar from four unique and diverse characters, each with their own weapons load out, skills and boosters of which can be used to enhance team members around the player and within range. These characters are “The Blaster”, “The Deputy”, “The Gunslinger” and “The Trapper.”
Into the Sunset
Video games, their contents, characters and their environments can be an open playground to developers out there who have the ideas to create a world for us to get lost in and that are getting more realistic and immersive year-on-year. From a present day, modern era and into the future of video games, stories and adventures, developers and artists can explore a lot of possibilities and design for characters, weapons, technology, vehicles, environments and story lines with only their own imaginations being limited.
What I’m getting at and trying to make a point about is that any developer who wants to re-visit an old west genre of game are limited, in a way to the era, what was about and how things were in the time. There won’t be any flash cars with nitro as only horses were used back then, weapons won’t be tactical, infra-red, grenade launching monsters but the simple of rust buckets. Characters will be wearing simple ranch pants, hats and sporting a lot of leather accessories compared to current trend clothing, variations in styles, carbon fibre armour plating, wired headsets, mobile phones and special HUD (Heads Up Display) visors.
I’m not saying its impossible for a team to create and develop a decent western themed game, in fact its a very refreshing change of style and pace compared to other current titles. It’s a just brave move to create one as the competition are singing from the same hymn sheet too, with their wild west game also most likely featuring, saloons, wooden barrels and planks, erected buildings, trains, horses, primitive weapons, banks, gunslingers and outlaws etc. As the evidence shows from the above examples, there are titles out there and they’re getting noticed if done correctly, pulling a player or players into the American frontier and away from urban chaos.