Dangit Steam. I'm trying to save money for other things, and then someone had to go and make an awesome weird west game! So yeah, I forked over the cash because I seem to be physically unable to resist these sorts of purchases. This is Hard West!
Hard West is a turn based combat game with superb cell-shading and a solid combat system. It's clear that it's a lower budget indy game since there are no cut scenes or lots of voice acting, but blast it they utilize what they have to its fullest potential. Most cut scenes are done in the form of hand drawings with a bell-toned narrator that does a good job of setting the mood, or more often we get text pieces telling the results of actions in what feels very much like an RPG. You probably wouldn't expect that from a game like this, but there are an insane number of choices you have to make throughout the game. These aren't the predictable ones either, where you can choose to obviously walk the good path or obviously evil. No, different actions will really affect you in ways that you wouldn't normally expect. This makes every choice, while usually minor, feel like you have to take your time to consider it. This is great for replay value too.
The cell-shading is top notch and makes the maps a visual feast whether you're an artist or not. And the different environments have awesome art direction. At times you'll be in a rough and tumble frontier town, others you'll be in a Mezo-American jungle. The cell-shading really makes these places seem eerie and even magical at points. I often found myself just going over levels to take in the grotesque beauty of these places. It's like looking at Gothic mansions with ghost history to them. Spooky but beautiful. The character portraits are top notch too. Whoever the artist was for these knew how to dabble with facial expressions which adds an extra layer of humanity to the characters you're playing with.
The stories here are gritty, dark and overall pretty awesome. There are a handful of campaigns where you're either an optimistic Mexican noble looking for a lost city, a cursed man seeking for solace in this harsh world, a young man out for revenge against the world, a scientist looking to cure a spread of bizarre madness, an evil Inquisitor looking to murder the scientist and his followers, and a beautiful clairvoyant looking to survive and rid herself of her gift. All of these stories are awesome and connected. Each also has mini-games unique to them. They don't feel tacked on either. They all make sense and add an interesting flavor to keep you on your toes. This is also one of those games that is very dark. And not stupid trying too hard dark, but legit grim-dark with deals being made with the devil, demon slaying. evil men, corruption, and madness spreading from other-worldly forces.
You have cool travel mechanics for different locations and of course can go shopping at different places, and I am most enthused to say that I drooled at the selection of western weapons they give you. They give you guns that no other western game has bothered to throw in. You can use pepperbox revolvers, four barreled shotguns, harmonica guns, volley guns, muskets, four-barreled Deringers, flintlocks, a frigging Lefouche 18-shot revolver and a wealth of others. They even go the extra mile and make some mythic-level looking guns that have tiny stories of their own. I can confidently say that when it comes to weapons of the era, Hard West is the best game out there. Upon completion of certain missions or encounters you'll get playing cards with special abilities that your characters can use. Depending on which you equip you can get special hand bonuses, and it took me a heck of a time to figure that out.
Oh, and all your posse members you collect are cool. All feel like they have histories and personalities so they shine pretty darned well. Most are expendable, but because I want to survive I do my best to keep them all alive through fights. The mechanics for combat are very simple. You hide behind stuff, try to maneuver to good positions, shoot the other guys. The simplicity is kind of deceptive though. See, you think you can just hide behind a wall and trade shots until the other guys bleed out, but there is a luck system in place here that actually does not suck. I usually hate games with luck involved because Murphy's First Law of Combat applies triple to me. But in reality it's almost all skill and forethought here. See, every time someone shoots at you some of your luck meter goes down until eventually it runs out and you take a hit. But when you do get hit your luck recharges. It sounds odd at first, but in reality it works out very well.
This game encourages you to pick good positions. When in full cover you can still get hit, it's just that it's way harder and you'll take minimum damage. If you're in the open you take a crap-ton of damage upon being hit. So if you want to deal lots of killing shots you need to find ways to flank your enemies or get behind them. Thankfully this game spoils you with different types of things to hide behind. I'd love to airsoft in maps like they give you, which are all gorgeous by the way. The maps feel really gritty and dirty. You'll want to take a shower after finishing some of these maps. Sometimes you have to be careful getting close to enemies, because if you get too close while moving they'll take a shot at you even though it isn't their turn and it'll hurt. I still haven't figured out why some of these guys have that and others don't, but it made me pretty mad the first few times it happened. But once I got really comfortable with the mechanics and got some real guns I was able to lay slaughter to these peons. Hooray!
You have action points here as well, although it's a bit too simple in many cases. In combat you always have two action points. You can use these to move, shoot or reload. And thankfully it doesn't charge you action points for opening doors or switching weapons. I hate that crap. What strikes me as odd though is that whenever you shoot it uses both action points. So if you're in a good spot and want to shoot someone and then take his position, it doesn't work that way. You shoot and your turn is over. But if you move and shoot, or reload and shoot, it only takes up one point. Iunno. It's not a huge deal but it did make me raise a brow.
You also want to exercise caution when running around in areas with lots of cover because guys in hiding won't always be obvious. Sometimes you'll round a corner and see a guy waiting there and you've run out of action points, leaving yourself open and giving him an invitation to put a slug between your eyes. For all my complaining the combat is really rock solid though. Only a few times during the first few fights did I ever get mad and insult it. If I can only get annoyed a few times during the learning phase and be fine throughout the rest then you're looking at a great combat game. Even in those times most of it was my fault as I was still learning the ropes.
With the Delear scientist story we get some juicy steampunk themes and ideas that border on Lovecraftian horror what with the landing of a meteor, the rising of cults and madness spreading in ways no one can explain. By gosh that was fun! When playing as Cervantes, an evil Inquisitor, you do some frigging evil stuff but it feels natural for him. Oddly enough more than any other campaign that one lets you choose to not slaughter innocents without negative repercussions.
If that isn't enough for you, you can murder demons with a harem of women and lots of gold. That's always a plus, right? This is also one of those games that encourages you to be evil. It's actually very much the theme. I'm always a goody two-shoes in games because I like being a hero. Here? A force of evil is screwing with every aspect of your life for certain characters and you go on a sharp decent into savagery and aggression. With the main character in particular you want revenge against the world and an evil entity has given you strange powers to help you on the warpath. Very dark stuff. Heck, at times you get rewarded for doing evil things like digging up graves for loot, slaughtering innocents or stealing. It's a real decent from being hopeful in a harsh world to losing everything and embodying everything hateful and loathsome. Nor is this an accident.
In the finale when you finally learn Satan's evil plan for destroying Purgatory his motives are chillingly logical and even reasonable. Basically Satan is spreading chaos and evil so that heroes can rise up. There can be no light without darkness, no heroes without villains, and he's just providing the yin to the yang. It certainly worked with your main character. This is way more philosophy and thought provocation than I usually get in a game about shooting things, so the story is a monumental plus.
So yeah, Hard West is an amazing weird west video game and one I wholly embrace and support. It's dark, brutal, has superb storytelling and a wealth of characters, the writing is stellar and worthy of a novel, the game mechanics are solid and really gives a sense of size and scale for each campaign. Go buy, support and play Hard West now!