26/10/2017

☆ Review: West of Loathing "A game that will ‘stick’ with me for a long time" ☆ #IndieGame #GameDev

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West Of Loathing - PC

I’m not going to sugar-coat it, West of Loathing is my single-player game of the year.

I have never played any of Asymmetric Publications’ previous games but I will absolutely be front of the queue for their next release. 

West of Loathing is a joyous, hilarious and occasionally touching gem of a game that conjured up feelings that I haven’t had whilst playing a game since The Secret of Monkey Island.

 
The premise of WOL is that you are a young cowboy/girl raised in the small village of Boring Springs and have decided to head West to…well…do whatever you fancy, really. The game is played in a 2.5D side-on perspective and can be controlled by either mouse, keyboard or a mixture of both (I opted for the latter as it gave an old-school Sierra vibe).

You can design the protagonist character at the start and choose your gender etc. which doesn’t have any impact on the game, the only difference beyond aesthetics comes from choosing your preferred combat style (more on this later) which can be configured throughout the game as you pick up different weapons and items.

Boring Springs serves as a tutorial and sets the tone of WOL, a tone which I immediately clicked with. The graphics are purely black and white ‘stick drawings’ which are smoothly animated and have a clarity to them that belies their initial simplicity. From the road apples, trees, mines, abandoned pickle factories and the dozens of characters you will meet on your journey across the Western Frontier, each is perfectly drawn and detailed in a way that dovetails with the sharpness of the dialogue. 

Ah… the dialogue and narration which completely and utterly make the game such a joy to play. Whether you are being talked out of searching a spittoon by the narrator, who worries about both your mental well-being (Why would you want to shove your arm into a dirty, hot, sticky spittoon? What do you expect to find?) and physical (Seriously…the liquid is bubbling and toxic, please, please don’t put your hand in there, it’ll shear the skin to the bone) or the descriptions of  your horse (You calmly look the horse in the eyes. One of them is fixed in a glassy thousand-yard stare, and the other is revolving madly in its socket like he’s trying to escape in every direction simultaneously). 


For its entire running time, which is around 10-15 hours, WOL doesn’t ever flag in its quality or desire to make you laugh by thrusting you into such a bonkers world (Coincidentally, ‘Bonkers’  was the name I gave to my horse. In one of the games’ best visual gags, I was still laughing at his eyes even as I approached the end of the game, some nine hours in).

Accompanying the idiosyncratic happenings in WOL is a sparse acoustic guitar-led soundtrack which also features typical western film music and, naturally, the occasional burst of disco. Although I was still enjoying the music by the end of the game, it is very linear and could have done with some variation, especially during the battle scenes.

The games combat system is very straightforward and simple to grasp. Battles are a turn-based affair with you and whichever ‘pardner’ you’ve chosen making the usual decisions on whether to attack or use items and skills within a certain amount of action points.  As you travel on horseback around the West, you’ll pick up numerous items which have various effects. Food and drink gives stat bonuses to your moxie, mystical-level, armour etc. whereas items can be used multiple times without using your action points (this means, if you have 99 dynamite, you can just throw it all at the enemy, essentially killing in one ‘move’) each weapon also has different forms of attack, such a spooky, physical, fire, stench and so on. 

The inventory is relatively easily managed as you can group items into separate areas so it doesn’t  get too overwhelming. There’s also no limit so micro-managing or storing isn’t necessary, this all adds to the swift pacing of the game.
Oh, and there are hats…lots of hats.


The combat is quite easy in WOL. I love RPG games but do tend to occasionally drop the difficulty as opposed to re-treading the same fights over and over if I’m struggling, as I tend to lean towards narrative over challeng but I coasted through WOL only dying a handful of times, if you are expecting a die-hard challenge, the game probably won’t provide it for you, but if this isn’t a concern, be prepared to fight everything from demonic bovines to scary rodeo clowns and goblins (unconvincingly) dressed as mayors.
As you move around the map, you will discover a myriad of locations and also come across regular (and quite an astonishing amount) of random encounters, these can vary from finding some knapsacks filled with goodies to battling groups of enemies, talking to goblins, trading with travelling vendors and sometimes just funny, ridiculous  situations. I played the game for over ten hours and I was still coming across fresh random encounters, the variety in the game is mind-boggling.

WOL features a main quest and side-quests, some of these require a specific item that you can pick up as you move through the game and can sometimes be bested quickly by having enough of a certain character stat. If you don’t reach this stat (and don’t have the resources to temporarily buff it enough) there are usually other ways around it. 

Other sections, such as the abandoned pickle factory, have more in-depth multi-layered puzzles but there are enough hints scattered around to have an idea of what you are supposed to do, I never had to refer to a guide as the game is never too vague about what you are supposed to do next. Your pardner follows you and can always be talked to, reminding you of outstanding quests and where to head next to progress the main mission.


Summary
West of Loathing is so much fun to play because of the enjoyment that was clearly had during its development. It takes the best and breeziest parts of various genres and mashes them up with a strong dose of warm humour that I gelled with from the tutorial at Boring Springs.

It’s a game I have recommended to everyone I’ve spoken to, the only drawback I can see is if you are looking for a rock-hard RPG to grind through or perhaps if the humour in the game just doesn’t click with you (which I can’t imagine would be the case as it’s so tightly-written and will a clear love for its subject matter). 

Asymmetric have gone in the space of a single laugh-filled weekend to being one of my favourite developers, this is the only game in the last two years, along with The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt that I’ve felt compelled to play beyond the completion of the story just out of sheer enjoyment at the world that was created. What a game.

Come on Bonkers, time to ride into the sunset…no….the one over there……stop walking backwards, Bonkers...

(I implore you to turn on ‘Stupid Walks’ as soon as you unlock it, same goes for ‘nostalgia mode’)

"A Games Freezer GOTY Contender!"
RATING:ICE COOL

Ratings Explained
ICE COOL (Great Game Recommended)
MELTING (Just Falls Short Of Greatness)
MELTED (Not A Recommended Purchase)

Game Link: Steam
Dev Link: Asymmetric

 Review By Britt