I’ll be honest with you, for an “old” and archaeological gamer, I am actually not that much into the retro-style that is so pervasive among (indie) games today. For me a good retro-game does not have to look old, but has to be like that traditional bridal rhyme: it has to have something old and something new. Westerado: Double Barreled is such a game.
What it does new — at least new for me, I’d love to know if this has been done in other games — was something very simple: NPC death is just a draw and a gun cock away. Sure, there have been many games that allow you to kill NPCs, even if they are important to quests. Some of them even reluctantly let you “break the game” by allowing you to kill characters that are critical for the main quest. In Westerado: Double Barreled (W:DB) there is no such thing as an essential NPC. What’s more, you can decide to take out your gun and shoot anyone in the face in mid-sentence.
It’s such a small thing, and I actually only used this rarely during my first playthrough. Yet the idea that you can actually can rain down your righteous fury on your enemies, without first going through a dialogue tree that you have to end with a corny one-liner, is very liberating. (PSA for those who click the link above: I liked the Witcher 3 and its cookie-cutter protagonist not nearly as much as Jaromirr did).
You have plenty of reason to be furious in W:DB. The game, set in a generic version of a Wild West town and landscape, starts out with a mysterious person burning your ranch, killing your Ma’ and mortally wounding your brother. Your brother cannot give you a detailed description of the person who did this, but with his last breath manages to give you one detail of his appearance (“Cough, sputter… His belt had a silver buckle… Gurgle”).
The local population is not much more forthcoming with information about your family’s killer. In fact, everybody here seems to just be minding their own business and to have a lot on their plate. A precious few people are actually willing to exchange favours: a bit of help with one of the things they struggle with in exchange for a new detail of the killer’s appearance. Collect enough of these details and you are ready to start looking around in the towns and farms to see if you recognize your nemesis.
A game runs around 2 to 6 hours depending on the speed of your trigger finger and how far you want to take your involvement in this otherwise stereotypical representation of the Old West. The kicker is that every playthrough the bad guy will have a different appearance, so you can’t cheese your way out of this murderous game of hide and seek by turning to a strategy guide. If you accuse the wrong person they will be annoyed or laugh at you in your face, which made me feel refreshingly stupid.
Aside from your own vendetta, there are a lot of other things going on in this world. A bankrupt banker, an upcoming war between the cavalry and the local Native American tribe, a sheriff that lost his self esteem, a railroad that isn’t running, and a stand-off between the ranchers and an oil baron are just a few of the plot lines here. Even if you have seen all of that before, W:DB still makes it feel fresh somehow. And although the graphics and control scheme are NES-era, the controls are responsive and the world feels rich and alive. In addition, the soundtrack of the game is perfect for getting you in the mood for a Wild West shootout.
Recently, we wrote an In Depth post on Agency in games. The game we looked at in detail, AC:Syndicate, wasn’t very impressive in terms of allowing player’s their own way in impacting the world. I promise you that W:DB will allow you to fully indulge your drive to be an agent — and the game actually was very helpful to me in thinking about how agency can be done right. This also shows how you can take a somewhat tired and run-of-the-mill past period setting like a generic village in the old West and make it feel fresh.
In short, Westerado: Double Barreled is one of these games for which my only critique can be that I wish there was more of it. So get on it, Ostrich Banditos (W:DB’s Dutch developers)! A bigger world, more quests and character interactions, please. I played the Steam edition, but there is also a free version available from Adult Swim (which I did not play, so I do not know how they compare). I can heartily recommend this game as well as warn against doing what Bob Marley did. The sheriff is actually a really nice guy.