How the West was once again: the renaissance of cowboy games

, | Features

We’re a year and some change from the 20 year anniversary of Lucasarts’ Outlaws. It’s been over five years since Red Dead Redemption. Call of Juarez: Gunslinger was two years ago. Are videogame Westerns a thing of the past? Or are there any Western games we’ll look back at fondly in the years to come?

After the jump, saddle up!

Secret Ponchos


Remember Lead & Gold? No? Well, you probably won’t have remembered Secret Ponchos in five years either. Like Lead & Gold, a multiplayer-only shooter that withered quickly for its lack of multiple players, here’s a multiplayer-only shooter with stylized Western characters. If you’re interested in yet another MOBA, get in while there’s still a player base! If it’s not already too late. I’ll never understand why indie developers make games that will last only as long as what little popularity they can scrape together. And at this time of year? Unless you compromise your design with some sort of free-to-play shenanigans, a multiplayer-only design that isn’t published by Electronic Arts or Activision has a sadly limited shelf life. It’s like buying bananas.


Hard West


A slick XCOM clone that knows how to copy the latest trends in tactical combat. Unfortunately, the campaign is a set of entirely static missions with very little wiggle room. Come for the turn-based tactics, stay for, uh, I guess the turn-based tactics? Because unlike the best tactical combat games, it won’t satisfy your RPG or strategy cravings.


Bounty Train


This is still in early access, and the current build is awfully rough in several ways. Perhaps it will come together for its expected release early next year. If so, you’ll get a cool game that’s a bit like FTL, but on rails. Literally. Drive your train around the Old West (and East, since you start on the East Coast), delivering goods, defending yourself from train robbers in real-time combat sequences, and upgrading your train. There’s not much reason to play it now, but stand by for it to be actually finished.




Well, this one is certainly unique. Players put banditos on the board one at a time, pointing their guns at banks and other banditos. Shooting a bank will steal its money. Shooting another bandito will steal any money he’s stolen. Eventually, all the banditos are on the board and the shooting starts. As befits a Mexican standoff, everyone dies. The team left holding the most money wins. Cute, but once you’ve played it a couple of times, you’ve seen all it has to offer. And for some strange reason, it doesn’t let you play with a friend in the same room. For a game that plays like a lite boardgame diversion, Fuego is a bit of a misfire.


12 Is Better Than 6


What’s black and white and red all over? This monochrome take on Hotline Miami, with a similarly spirited approach to simple top down graphics, catchy music, and quick death lurking just offscreen and through every doorway. With an emphasis on interactive gun and ammo management — you have to cock your pistol before you fire it! — it’s a combination of frequent deaths and cleverly executed kills. You even get a presumably controversial angle since you’re a Mexican murdering racist white guys. I recommend 12 is better than 6.


A Fistful of Gun


With its retro graphics– Wait, wait, don’t go! I know you’re sick of the pixelated retro look. So am I. Along with “2D platformer”, “massively multiplayer”, “free-to-play”, and “early access”, that’s the quickest way to get me to click “Not Interested” in my Steam queue. But Fistful of Gun is one of those games that’s great in spite of its retro graphics. At last someone has made a game that acknowledges you can’t support a gamepad and mouse-and-keyboard equally; your controls will skew one way or the other. So Fistful of Gun divides its rogues gallery among different types of control schemes. Some for a gamepad, some for mouse-and-keyboard. Furthermore, no two characters have the same controls. What a satisfying diversity, with so many different ways to play, to boot. Be sure not to miss the dynamic story mode, in which you work your way across the Old West one screen at a time, gathering gold, powerups, and high scores. I highly recommend a Fistful of Gun!


Skyshine’s Bedlam


If you can call space opera Firefly a Western, you can call Skyshine’s Bedlam a Western. Technically, the aesthetic is more indebted to Borderlands, which is itself indebted to Firefly. But however you trace its influences, it’s among the latest tactical combat games tending towards the tidier days of their tabletop roots; put it in the same category as Massive Chalice and Invisible Inc. You won’t be fussing much with specific characters’ stats, inventory, or upgrades, because this game doesn’t have time for all that busywork. There’s another battle coming up and no need to bog things down along the way. Just kick back and enjoy the ride across a sci-fi frontier wasteland peppered with chess-like tactical combat. So long as you concede not all tactical combat games have to be XCOM, I heartily recommend Skyshine’s Bedlam, especially now that the campaign shell has gotten an overhaul.