Next to the post-apocalypse, it's hard to think of a better setting for video games than the Old West. Its mix of lawlessness and uncharted frontiers fits nicely with the overall goal of most things we play: exploration and killing stuff.
Westerado: Double Barreled—an upgraded version of a 2013 Adult Swim browser game—definitely taps into the most appealing factors of these uncivilized times. While, at first glance, it may look like a throwback to something from the Commodore 64 (albeit with a lot more colors in play), Ostrich Banditos' creation unfolds more like the first Legend of Zelda. After a mysterious man burns his family ranch to the ground, leaving his kinfolk for dead, Westerado's unnamed protagonist essentially has free reign of the Southwestern landscape surrounding his formerly simple life. Even if this world only amounts to a few dozen screens, there's an impressive amount of things to do in each one—leaving players free to figure out the best approach to find the killer.
Revenge stands as the overarching goal in Westerado, but you'll have to do a bit of legwork first to figure out just who did the deed. As you talk to villagers and undertake quests, you'll gradually gain more information about the culprit, whose identity is cleverly disguised by the low-res sprite graphics that communicate Westerado's visual information. After learning seven or eight details about the killer (like his hat style, jacket color, and general weight), you're free to corner him and begin the final showdown at his hideout. How you pick up these details, though, is entirely up to you.
While it offers a straightforward, narrative-driven goal, Westerado also features some open-ended, sandboxy qualities. And though you can cruise through the game as a lawful good, John Ford-style cowboy, your six-shooter offers plenty of other ways to solve problems. Whipping it out during a conversation—a possibility during every NPC interaction—for instance, can have some beneficial effects, but obviously, not everyone is going to cotton to this extremely direct approach. In such a harsh setting, everyone can't help but be on their guard—pull out a gun in the middle of a populated area, and you're bound to see surrounding townspeople do the same as a preventative measure. Completely understandable, seeing as it's possible to snuff out the entirety of Westerado's relatively bustling population.
Westerado's focus on freedom offers plenty of solutions to the problems at hand, even if, at first, its quests seem pretty straightforward. Exploring the frontier, I cleared a cave of bandits, then agreed to escort a merchant and his goods through some dangerous territory. As soon as we jumped on our horses, he remarked how quiet things were, and the quest wrapped up instantly. Later, I assembled a posse to take out an oil tycoon wreaking havoc on the area, and when they fell to a rain of bullets, I decided to go on my lonesome and offed him myself. Later in the game, I ran across an NPC who wanted me to deliver a treasure map to said tycoon; after learning of the tycoon's death, he rewarded me on the spot, thanking his lucky stars he was no longer in debt.
And these are just a few examples of how differently things can play out in Westerado. If you're the type of person who gets bent out of shape over the possibility of missing something in a video game, Ostrich Banditos' approach may not be for you. Scanning the list of achievements after finishing the game, I noticed I missed a lot of content, despite exploring every corner of the map. Westerado's definitely a game designed with replays in mind, which works well with its 3-5-hour running time—even shorter once you know where everything is.
Westerado's gunplay is how you'll solve the most pressing Old West problems, and the game makes firing these ancient firearms as clumsy as it should be. You can only fire them horizontally, and each shot takes two button presses—one to cock the thing, and the other to fire. And, since your gun can only hold six bullets, you'd better hope your aim is true; otherwise, you'll need to reload in the heat of the moment. Luckily, your character can take three hits—symbolized by the UI's hat icons—and taking out opponents in a non-lethal manner stands as an effective way of regaining health: Knock off one of their hats, and they'll surrender automatically, leaving their hat behind for your own use. Westerado features a handful of offensive options, but for the most part, sticking with the standard revolver will serve you well—most of the other guns suffer from too much recovery time, which can leave you a sitting duck as bandits let the bullets fly.
I walked into Westerado with zero expectations, and this compact take on The Legend of Zelda definitely won me over by the end. It's not perfect by any means—gunfights are easy to cheese by quickly entering and leaving screens full of enemies, and the final battle only offers one poorly placed checkpoint—but the sheer amount of things to do definitely make up for Westerado's shortcomings. And, with its short running time, Westerado doesn't outstay its welcome, giving players an incentive to jump back in and explore avenues they didn't in past playthroughs. Even if we PC gamers never get that craved-after port of Red Dead Redemption, Westerado's double-barreled, open-world action makes for a fine substitution.
True to its browser game roots, Westerado's interface is simple and efficient—but still plays well with controllers.
Westerado's focus on freedom makes replays incredibly attractive, seeing as you'll never witness all the possible outcomes in one go.
One look at Westerado should let you know what it sounds like—still, its Morricone-inspired ditties definitely add to the Old West atmosphere.
Westerado's sprite graphics may look lo-fi at first glance, but there's a lot of detail (and some rare moments of beauty) on display here.
Don't let its browser game roots mislead you: Westerado is a rich and creative game that opens itself up to plenty of different approaches. If you need something to pass the time in our current gaming drought, consider picking up this Old West experience told through chunky pixels.