Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t the only cowboy game out there.
Wild West games have long stood as one the sturdiest pillars in the video game industry. The freedom of the open road, lone ranger beats all politic of the genre, and the fact that life in the American Wild West seems to have been full of video game mechanics anyway (a quick draw standoff is as close to a life or death QTE as we’ll get) means that a blockbuster Western is always round the corner. One of the industry’s biggest draws to the Wild West lies in the diversity of experiences the genre can offer. So you can rest assured that even if Red Dead Redemption 2 isn’t your vibe, there’s still plenty to get your thumbs on.
7. Hard West
Hard West combines a tried and tested Western genre with supernatural hijinks ranging from the odd zombie encounter to full on satanic rituals. The narrative draws these two concepts together with a protagonist hunting down physical manifestations of the evils that have crossed his path and, in turn, kicking some undead ass. I say in turn because unlike the fast-paced, run’n’gun shooter lifestyle of the typical Western video game, Hard West takes a more meditative turn-based strategy approach.
There’s an even split between this turn-based combat and wider exploration of the mountainous world the player finds themselves in. As with all Wild West universes, there’s plenty to explore and more than enough historical fudging to revel in. The world of the ‘Weird West’, as described in this particular title, is at times a perfectly average replication of the typical Western tropes we’ve come to expect. It’s all in there including; robbing, gunslinging, and chasing that sweet, sweet gold. That is, however until death comes knocking. Actual Death; a metaphysical being in Hard West that drives home the supernatural elements of the game.
Surrounding this concept are a town full of playable characters, each with their own stories to tell, and each with a surprising amount of impact on the final scenes of your own narrative. Alongside this intricately woven tale of Wild West superstition runs a combat system of equal depth offering its own unique surprises and satisfying resolutions.
Turmoil fills a rather niche genre, perhaps being the only simulation game set in the 19th-century oil rush in North America. As with many management games, you start off dirt-poor and work your way to becoming oil-rich. Make enough dodgy deals with the townsfolk and you may even become mayor.
Turmoil has a fun, light-hearted appearance, and while there’s nothing flashy, the majority of the gameplay tasks you with building pipelines underground with the aim of collecting as much oil as possible and generating as fat a wallet as you can in one year of game time. While the game can appear simple at first, there’s plenty of challenge as the game progresses, with a wide variety of upgrade options to carefully consider in order to maximise your profits and sell more of the liquid gold than your competitors.
With millions of procedurally generated levels available in the single game mode, there’s plenty of replayability to keep even the most environmentally-friendly players entertained.
5. West of Loathing
Many Westerns take themselves pretty seriously, Red Dead being amongst that number. But one look at West of Loathing’s stick figure visuals and it’s clear that this is not one of them. An RPG in which you choose between a ‘Cowpuncher,’ ‘Beanslinger’ or ‘Snake-Oiler,’ you’ll travel the Old West in search of great fortunes – and see and do a lot of wacky shit along the way.
West of Loathing is more than just a joke game, however – though it does have a lot of great jokes. It’s actually a well-polished RPG, albeit one with a runtime much shorter than most in the genre (potentially a plus, depending on how much spare time you have the luxury of). Through turn-based combat, you’ll battle anything from ghosts to demonic cows and cowboy hat-wearing skeletons. And there’s a surprising amount of places to explore, and side quests to stick your teeth into – some of which require solving clever puzzles in order to complete.
But the jewel in West of Loathing’s Stetson is undoubtedly the humour, relentlessly poking fun at its genre, its Wild West theme and itself. This is a Wild West comedy you don’t want to miss.
4. Gunman Clive
The faded orange pastels of Gunman Clive create an atmosphere perfect for the hot, smokey Western we’ve come to accept. They do far more than elevating what could be considered a generic platformer title into a distinctive genre piece, however. The art style of this side-scrolling shooter creates a sense of graphical minimalism that allows players space to simply enjoy a great game.
This simplicity is carried through to the actual combat as well. You have three options when facing a threat; jump, hide or shoot. It makes for thumb-tinglingly addictive gameplay with a refreshing focus on using core mechanics to stretch the imagination and ability of the player. It’s obvious that the gameplay design of Gunman Clive has taken a precedent over its narrative. While a storyline about a captured mayor’s daughter and a young hero sent to retrieve her isn’t going to win any Man Bookers, it’s not supposed to. Gunman Clive is a pure ludic thrill, and one guaranteed to have you twitching at your holster.
3. 12 is Better Than 6
Every wondered what Hotline Miami would be like if it was set in the Wild West? Well, that’s 12 Is Better Than 6, a fast-paced top-down shooter that thrusts you into the shoes of an escaped slave fleeing to the United States in 1873. The Wild West is a dangerous place, and our escapee knows this all too well as he blazes his way through the lawless States eager to break free. That freedom comes at a price, racked up in the corpses you leave behind as he carves a bloody path to redemption. Don’t worry though, you have an impressive arsenal of era-themed weaponry with which to dispatch those who stand in your way including Winchesters, double-barreled shotguns, revolvers, Gatling guns and, of course, what Western would be complete without dynamite.
It doesn’t have to be all blood and guts though as there are stealth options giving you the time to soak in the gorgeous art style. Drawn entirely by hand with pen and paper it invokes a striking image to see the red blood streaked across the white backgrounds of the deserts and towns you explore. This visceral and punchy story really breaks down the harsh realities of the Wild West to tell the story of a slave determined to break the bonds of oppression one bullet at a time. Plus, Hotline Miami might have masks, but this has got hats, and they’re customisable too, do you need to hear any more?
2. Westerado: Double Barreled
Everyone enjoys a good Spaghetti Western, and who doesn’t love pixel graphics? Westerado: Double Barreled combines the two, creating a glorious open world that looks fantastic and is backed up by a deep story, allowing the player plenty of freedom in the choices they make throughout the game.
In Westerado: Double Barreled, you can shoot whoever you want. Tired of a conversation? Itchy trigger finger? Blow them away with your bullets rather than your words. The narrative throughout the game can take several paths depending on how you play, creating a unique story with each play through. On the hunt for the villain that killed your family, you’re free to explore the expansive open world at your own leisure. The shooting mechanics can take a little getting used to, as you are limited in the directions you can fire, but this only makes gunfights more deliberate and precise.
The large open world, endless player choice and freedom to shoot as you see fit and multiple playable characters and genuinely funny moments provide all the pixelated cowboy fun you could ask for.
1. SteamWorld Dig
Remember Mr Driller? Not a lot of franchises have capitalised on that satisfying subterranean formula in recent years. But SteamWorld Dig takes similar drilling mechanics, adds extra platforming elements and dresses it all up in a delightful Steampunk Wild West setting.
As Rusty the robot, you’ll explore the depths of Tumbleton’s mine, find valuable resources and uncover the secrets within. Though much of your time will be spent below ground, every so often you’ll emerge once more in the sleepy Western town, a breath of fresh air from the claustrophobic mines. Here you’ll get to chat to the charming steambot townsfolk, like bright-eyed Dorothy and the aptly nicknamed Cranky – the latter of which you can flog your resources to in order to afford new upgrades.
SteamWorld Dig won’t take you too long to wrap up, but it’s a perfectly portioned few hours of fun. And once you’re done, check out Dig 2 for another underground Western romp that’s bigger and even better.
From robotic miners to stick figures, oil drills to Winchesters, the Wild West has it all. There’s something uniquely gratifying about the freedom of those smokey days of dysentery and money grabbing and all the gunslinging badassery that comes along with them. And hey, we’re pretty sure Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t have demonic cows. So, saddle up and soak in the sunset, who knows we might just make a cowboy of you yet.