Westerado: Double Barreled is one of the criminally underrated games of 2015. Few managed to capture the same level of humor, sense of style and tongue-in-cheek charm, which is a feat the game pulls off as effortlessly as I put on pants in the morning. And I’ve been putting on pants for at least a decade. Not only that, but it might be the best western I’ve ever played (I’m looking at you Red Dead Redemption).
Above all else, Ostrich Banditos, the studio behind the game, managed to create a world where choice genuinely matters. Sure, the game is as short as 30 minutes or as long as six hours, but that’s one playthrough. It’s a game that’s meant to be played more than once—a game where players constantly test the limits of the world’s rules and the outcomes of the numerous quests. In fact, the brevity of the game is what lends itself to all the weird experimentation. A massive adventure like Mass Effect has too much at stake to allow drastic divulging paths along each choice. One playthrough of BioWare’s space opera trilogy reveals the strings behind the scenes. Westerado kept surprising me by tangling the strings, cutting them along the way and even showing me the puppet master after poking too much. This hilarious little revenge tale deserves a look back.
[Caption: The sun is setting on the western frontier—symbolism or something.]
Like many good westerns, you are looking to get revenge on the man who wronged you. In this case, he burned down your barn and killed your family. Thanks to a number of randomized elements, like hat types, clothes colors and such, the antagonist will look different every time as players wander the towns. To discover this secret identity, the player will do various tasks for people and uncover clues, slowly piecing together the man’s appearance. While this is the main story, a number of side stories unravel during this quest. There’s helping the oil tycoon gather up rancher lands or helping the natives take over the town. Or maybe you help the ranchers protect their sovereignty and rid them of the Indian menace. Or maybe you just murder everyone because everyone is killable.
[Caption: In the West, everyone is armed.]
There aren’t many rules to follow, which results in a game that seems full of possibilities rather than filled with limitations. You can pull your gun out mid-conversation, often leading to random comedy or tragedy since everyone has some sort of reaction to a gun in the face. While it often feels like a tool for jokes, the mechanic can actually be useful in finishing objectives. But sometimes you’ll just get a bar brawl that doesn’t end well instead. That’s the beauty of the chance to experiment.
Ostrich Banditos isn’t afraid to close doors either. Certain quest outcomes can lock out other paths, and actions can prevent players from picking up new clues. A particularly thorough murder-fest can prevent players from finishing the game altogether. There’s an oddly refreshing sense to being told no by a video game and being forced to wallow in consequences.
[Caption: It can be a rough world out there.]
Westerado is not without faults, though. The fixed angle over the sprite-filled world only lets the character shoot horizontally to the left or right. It can be fussy at first to get the hang of aiming with the starter six-shooter gun. Later weapons like the shotgun allow for a close range spread, and the rifle leaves a dotted line to map out the whole path of the bullet, but they only make a bad problem workable.
I eventually came to love the combat, dipping into its clumsy fun while trying to shoot off hats (Never go into a fight without some spares), but it took some growing pains to get to that point. The world also contains pockets with little more than bandit shooting galleries. Other spots have an abundance of stuff to do. It’s a little unbalanced and can make swaths of land between points of interest a slog until unlocking the fast-travel points.
But Westerado is great despite those problems. Not many games give their players this level of freedom and manage to keep surprising them. I was able to rob people on the outskirts of town, become a bounty hunter, help a ghost in the depths of the mines and witness bandits open a burger franchise thanks to me. Choice matters out in the West.