A Fistful of Westerns
Howdy, folks! Y’all will surely know we’re big fans of westerns here at HPP (even mind-bending meta-westerns like Westworld). I saw that there limey Kieren Hawken making a list of 10 classic westerns from way back, and I thought it was a powerful shame we didn’t have a list for titles in this setting north of 1995. So I thought: who better to compliment a list on Westerns written by an Englishman than an even posher Englishman? There’s still plenty of great games roaming around the dusty plains needing to be lassoed and corralled into a nice, orderly listicle. So saddle up and drink your milk, pilgrim, while we count down the greatest gaming westerns of the modern era!
If you was reckonin’ them folks at Lucasarts only did comedic point n’ clickers, then you was reckonin’ wrong. Outlaws was a standout title for Lucasarts in that it took the high production values of the classic studio and applied them to a First Person Shooter. In the first beautifully animated cutscene, you see a greedy tycoon instructing a group of guns-for-hire to secure him a stretch of land by any means necessary. You’re a former Marshall who has since retired to set up a ranch and raise a family. You’re one of the only hold-outs who refuses to sell your property to the aforementioned evil entrepeneur, so his men savagely murder your wife and burn your ranch to the ground, kidnapping your infant daughter in the process. Of course, this just isn’t cricket (uhh, I mean horseshoes), so you decide to gun down every one of the colourful cast of land-appropriatin’ villians on a quest to avenge your wife and rescue your daughter.
Outlaws was one of the last FPS titles to have sprite-based enemies, before the genre embraced polygons in all their lovely jagged glory. It’s got all the trimmings of a late nineties FPS: there’s outhouses you can blow up with dynamite, leading to power-up laden secret passages; collecting olde west medpacks that have been left strewn around (probably containing elixirs made of horse piss and whiskey); there’s even awkward platforming segments in dusty canyons – because if there’s one thing a hard-bitten revenge-focused cowpoke loves doing, it’s parkourin’ around by pushing the space bar!
Outlaws is a stand-out title for its gorgeously animated, well-voice-acted cutscenes, telling a typically cinematic Lucasarts story. It’s a pain in the keister to get this old gem working on a modern computer, but if you’re up for some tinkerin’ then it’s one hell of a ride.
If a wild-eyed, grizzled prospector was to walk into a saloon and tell everyone there was a long-running Real Time Strategy series based entirely in the old west, you might think he was telling tall tales. But it’s true! Desperados is viewed from an isometric perspective and features gorgeous, painterly, pre-rendered backgrounds. Desperados stars wordly gunslinger John Cooper – on a quest to round up some of his old partners to claim the bounty on the (originally named) “El Diablo”, a prolific train-robber. Conveniently, each of the motley crew of six he manages to recruit have different specialties. Light-hearted Sam Williams is an explosives enthusiast who can also toss a sack-with-a-snake-in-it towards curious enemies – with predictably poisonous results! There’s Doc McCoy, who is considerably more violent than his Star Trek namesake, with a long-ranged sniper rifle and knock-out gas bombs to send groups of baddies to slumberland. Lively Irishwoman Kate O’Hara can flash her garter-belt at leering goons, luring them over so she can incapacitate them with a shot from her concealed derringer (thank God men in videogames are horny and stupid).
You’re really allowed to be methodical in how you complete the many missions on offer. Desperados features a sophisticated stealth system, with a range of different-coloured sight cones to tell you whether your adversaries are calm, suspicious or alert, giving you plenty of info about how to proceed. You can also program your posse’s behaviour. For example you can customize leading man Cooper’s “quick shot” ability to spread his fire over a group of baddies without having to target each one individually, which was really a godsend given the often cumbersome RTS games of the era. Desperados is worth a look for being a thinkin’ man’s Western where you’ll have to combine a diverse range of abilities to suceed.
Back in the olden times of 2005, we didn’t need no stinkin’ waist high walls in our third person shooters! We was lucky if we could crouch behind a terrain object. We were circle strafin’ around like real men! GUN casts you as Colton White, a trapper of Apache Indian heritage whose adoptive father has been killed by an insane preacher’s renegade army. Naturally, this adoptive father waited until the last few moments of his life to give Colton a cryptic clue about his true heritage and his mysterious past! So as Colton, you’re embarking on an epic quest. Either that or you can just randomly shoot people in frontier towns like a complete psychopath until they decide to hunt you down. GUN gives you a huge amount of freedom. GUN was the first Western game with genuine, bonafide open world aspirations. You can play poker at the saloon, gallop over the open plains and even engage in cattle-herding contests.
In the words of a recent, critically-panned Seth McFarlane movie, there are a million ways to die in the west, and GUN is absoloutely determined to prove this truism. You can slash charging wolves with a bowie knife, trample cantankerous cowpokes under the hooves of your hoss and even use people as a human shield, letting them be your fleshy, bullet-ridden armour as you gun down waves of sasparella-soddled scumbags.
With an award-winning storyline thick with betrayal, intrigue and a steamboat-load of killing, GUN should be mounted on the on the wall in the ranch of any western-loving gamer.