Gaming’s Coolest New Subgenre Makes the Old West Strange
With the absolute onslaught of annual game releases big and small, it has become increasingly difficult for developers, especially indie game developers, to stand out from the competition. Making a game feel truly unique in such a maelstrom is truly an achievement, and one of the best ways to do that these days is to present a great mix of genres players are already familiar with, combining them in a new experience. By doing this, developers can create a new version of each, resulting in something really special.
A recent example of this is the emergence of a new subgenre in gaming, dubbed the “Weird West”. This idea takes familiar western tropes and combines them with a distinct emphasis on horror/fantasy storytelling to produce a game that can satisfy fans of both genres while simultaneously creating a new kind of experience. Although the Weird West as a genre has been around for years in the world of fiction and traditional tabletop RPGs, it’s only just beginning to creep into the world of video games, and for many it’s a an exciting new proposition. Here’s why the Weird West is one of the most interesting new game genres.
Over the past two decades, horror games have continued to grow in popularity. With titles like Survive to, Amnesia: The Dark Descentand the independent phenomenon that is Five nights at Freddy’s captivating a new generation of fans. However, Western games, apart from series like Red Dead Redemption, continue to be an underserved genre despite their appeal. The brilliance of the Weird West genre is that it takes the world of lawmen, bandits, damsels and tumbleweed and combines it with vampires, occult magic and all sorts of horror styles. This combination not only plays on the mysteries of “wild western” mythos, but uses this framework to inject tales of demons, secret societies, and even heroic gunmen dispatching criminals with monsters.
Weird West’s introduction to gaming arguably came in the form of the 2005 PlayStation 2 and the original Xbox first-person shooter. Darkwatch: Curse of the West, a classic and underrated shooter. The game stars Jericho Cross, an outlaw who, after being bitten by a vampire, uses his newfound powers for good as part of the Darkwatch organization, which combats supernatural threats in the Old West. Darkguard combined solid steampunk western gameplay with a horror setting and made many gamers fall in love with its unique setup and tone.
However, after Darkguard failed to impress in terms of sales, few companies would attempt another Weird West-style release for over a decade until very recently when a host of similar games appeared. Indie games like the aptly named top-down immersive simulation Weird Westdeveloped by the former Dishonored Developers Wolfeye Studios have created a western world full of evil cults, dodging hybrid pig monstrosities and heroic bounty hunters. Meanwhile, others love the throwback shooter West Blood created a sort of homage to Darkguard with the story of a resurrected desperado brought back to life by Native American mysticism. Even bigger studios, like shadow warrior developer Flying Wild Hog, is getting into the genre with its upcoming third-person shooter bad west.
The Weird West genre works because it tells new stories, ones that only a mashup of this magnitude can provide. In the above Weird West, players can control five different characters, all connected by an unseen entity that inhabits them all. Players take on the role of a bounty hunter searching for her kidnapped family, a monstrous pig searching for her humanity after a transformation due to occult magic, and even a werewolf trying to escape. awaken the power of the Blood Moon in her battle against a coven of witches.
All of these are surrounded by bounty hunting missions, gun duels, and all sorts of western tropes that make its experience both refreshing and familiar. The brilliance of Weird West is that it takes two genres that are somewhat niche in themselves and combines the best of both worlds into something special.
Hopefully, the new emergence of this genre in gaming will meet with some success, allowing more developers to delve into this complementary mashup of styles with increasing frequency in the future. Until then, players can immerse themselves in some of the titles mentioned above for a truly memorable experience inside the Western fantasy horror that is the Weird West.
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