Article written from the Beta Phase 3 build, available through Steam on March 31st, 2020.
There are many philosophies and theories as to what happens after we die. Heaven and Hell for the saints and sinners, while Purgatory awaits the few that seek judgment or retribution. What lies beyond this mortal realm is said to be shaped in the decisions and consequences of the mind’s journey, where one will fight to free itself from the clasps of the unknown. Sometimes, it can be a room, or a building, or it can transform itself into an entire city.
Welcome to Purgatory, Wyoming. A dark, brooding, ever shifting town that inhabits the dreams and nightmares of the souls that pass through. These souls leave their imprint on the late 1800s town, whether they take refuge and help rebuild the dilapidated underbelly or take shelter in the darkness to pray on the unsuspecting and unarmed. On a dark day in 1888 Purgatory introduced its recondite wilderness to William Mason, a man ripped from his world and left amnesic to his demise, only to succumb to a figure in black prematurely closing the final chapter of his story. Seeking answers to his turmoil, William grabs the only instrument he knows to write another chapter in his tale: a combination of fire and gunpowder that will help William not only escape Purgatory but reveal why he has been sent here, and what he has to do to complete his revenge.
West of Dead, like the town’s setting it precedes in, combines pieces of multiple genres to form what stands before me today. Blended together are the twin stick shooting of Nuclear Throne and Smash TV, the cover system of Gears of War and The Division, and the isometric styles of Diablo and Torchlight. Purgatory’s Wild West like environment is girdled in a pitch black crust, with the core’s internal colors highly saturated to bleed life into the dwellers and demons of this Tartarean town.
With each stage being procedurally generated: items, weapons, and Purgatory’s various landmarks are constantly circulated to give each encounter a fresh feel. Weapons in the beta can either be found sparingly through stages, purchased through a wandering bazaar catty-cornered in the dark crevasses in the wilderness, or rewarded through abolished Sin via the unknown witch back in town. William can carry one gun in each hand, ranging from shotguns, pistols, and rifles relevant to the time period. These guns, like the items, are leveled up by finding the newest model, so no resource is needed to upgrade (unless you want to purchase the new model at the bazaar with your accumulated iron). Reloading is done automatically when guns aren’t being fired, which allows for more fluid combat and smoother tactical responses having the frame of mind to know your guns will be loaded for your next move. Items cover William in close quarters with knives, long range damage sources with dynamite, or helping provide cover in time of need with smoke bombs. These items are clocked with cooldowns and are used to help William escape rough situations.
Traversing through each area are totems that allow your Soul to grow in various areas. Upgrading your toughness gives William more health and melee damage. Heightening your perception increases firearm damage, and improving your Resourcefulness allows Items to recharge faster and hit harder.
Put together all these resources and enter a room filled with gun-touting ghouls and demon dogs ready to steal the Sin of another soul, and you’ve got a solid recipe for some entertaining gun-play. William will hide under cover automatically when he reaches cover, allowing for precise aiming without worrying about toggling in and out from cover. Cover does William can also dodge roll, with close calls zooming in the camera and slowing down time. The UI is minimal and sharp, showing flashes of red when enemies are due to attack, and while there are no “laser” like sights to where you’re aiming, having sight of the enemy and correctly aiming in their direction will highlight a target that shows you will connect your shot.
After William (voiced by the sultry smooth Ron Perlman) lets the bullets fly and eliminates all his foes, he gathers the Iron stripped from his enemies and the Sin amassed from his actions and heads back into town. Here, William must abolish his Sin with the Witch. In exchange for your Sin, the Witch bestows items like a one-use potion that is refillable in town (think Estus Flask ala Dark Souls), or heavier weapons to bring into your fight. These weapons are rather expensive, and I was unable to try them in this build, but they look rather impressive, with some touting special abilities that could be very useful in battle: such has faster reloads, or extra critical damage on specific bullets.
When William’s Sin is cast away he is free to replenish his health and prepare himself for the next battle. Beta Phase 3 only had two levels to traverse which amassed to about 30 minutes of game time (which I gave another run to try out the shake-up of each level), but the time spent here delivered a very tight and exciting experience. Not much has been teased in terms of story, but I’m excited to see more when West of Dead releases on all major consoles later this year.