Hard West

I’m mostly still playing small, indie games at the moment. Hopefully I can get back to AAA-productions after I buy a new computer next month. This one is a turn-based tactical game with a significant narrative component that tells its overarching story with text on an overworld map. The most unusual thing about is its Weird West theme, something I don’t believe I’ve ever experienced in game form.

Instead of the usual approach where you have a single campaign and you manage a single party through it, here there are a number of different scenarios, all of which come together to tell the story from multiple perspectives and using multiple characters. The rough idea is that a travelling family suffers misfortune and forced to take desperate measures to survive. It turns out that the Devil is manipulating events to bring about hell on Earth. At the same time, a meteor is causing madness in the area and one faction seeks to contain this evil influence while another, again working for the Devil, aims to unleash chaos. You generally don’t get to save character progression or items between scenarios, but accomplishing certain actions can unlock items in another one.

The turn-based mode has surprisingly decent graphics and most of it works just as you’d expect with the usual mechanics including cover. One interesting bit is that there’s apparently no randomness. Instead characters have a Luck statistic that acts as a sort of armor. Shots that have less than 100% chance to hit ablates Luck so that eventually a hit will succeed. Once a character is actually hit, Luck is restored. At the same time, it’s also a resource that is used to pay for activated abilities. I actually ended up using these abilities very sparingly since Luck is automatically spent to avoid being hit so I’m not sure how useful many of them are. A cheap ability like ricochet is great for bouncing a bullet off of an object to strike around cover but I’ve honestly never used the more expensive ones.

Instead of the more common exp-based character advancement systems, Hard West lets you collect playing cards and assemble hands of cards to assign to your characters. Each card alone grants a passive or active ability plus a small bonus, however a proper poker hand of cards also give other bonuses. Of course, there are also the usual equipment slots for each character. There is no melee combat in this game so every weapon is some flavor of gun, from revolvers to shotguns to rifles and all manner of weird jury-rigged contraptions. Finally each scenario has some sort of unique mechanic. In one, you need to recruit and provide food for a large number of workmen as part of an expedition to find treasure. In another scenario, you’re an inventor who collects blueprints to invent devices.

The game is quite short and the tactical combat isn’t too rich in the way of options. It’s pretty much all about finding good cover and flanking enemies. The scenarios have flavor but I can’t say that your decisions on the overland map seem to matter all that much. There are some cool moments, such as when a character becomes a seemingly unstoppable demon, but on the whole the game is too short and too lightweight to really impress. I’m not even sure that the story explains everything. Where the heck did the Pinkertons come from? Are they a form of divine intervention?

I enjoyed it well enough and would like to see this world fleshed out a bit more. They could maybe tone down the fridging of family members, especially the women, in order to create a sense of tragedy. Still this is only an average game and is a poor substitute for a proper turn-based game like the X-Com series.

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