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Hands on preview: West of Dead - Don't mess with the Perlman

Published: 18:35, 20 November 2019
Raw Fury
Key art for West of Dead
Ghost Rider wearing a poncho, voiced by Ron Perlman? All the yes.

West of Dead, revealed at Microsoft's X019 event in London last week, is a procedurally generated twin stick shooter with distinct cel shaded visuals, gradually escalating combat difficulty, and the almighty Ron Perlman. We went hands on with the open beta

You could be forgiven for thinking this was a Housemarque title; the distinct graphical style and top down view evokes classics like Dead Nation. However, Raw Fury have carved a name all for themselves in the indie scene, following huge success with the Kingdom games, and a diverse upcoming portfolio which includes Sable and Star Renegades. With West of Dead, they have doubled down on combat mechanics to produce a game that feels instantly familiar, and at the same time isn't afraid to embrace a unique visual identity and some hefty voice talent.

Ron Perlman (of Hellboy and Sons of Anarchy fame) lends his baritone chords to the protagonist, William Mason, a deceased gunslinger shooting his way through a procedural interpretation of purgatory. He regularly provides voiceover dialogue, reacting to his surroundings and offering little clues as to the purpose of his journey. The beta is limited to a single run through a constantly refreshed set of encounters, but it was enough to get an idea of what West of Dead is bringing to the table.

Everything is random, from enemy types to the level geometry and weapons available to use. The twin stick controls work well enough, and with automatic reloads, you're left to focus on movement and aiming over managing your tools of the trade. Once you graduate from the simple rush and slap melee creatures, and upgrade to more heavily armed goons, utilising cover and constantly being on the move becomes a necessity. Health drops are fairly infrequent, and one too many wrong moves will send you straight back to the main menu. 

Raw Fury Lead character William Mason (voiced by Ron Perlman) shooting enemies in West of Dead. Being light on your feet is key, with destructible cover and Dukes of Hazard style sliding.

Light is a powerful tool, with lanterns that can be used to stun enemies with an area of effect blast, but it's a risk / reward situation, as they typically spawn in open space away from cover. And even though said cover points reappear after being destroyed, you can quickly become overwhelmed if you haven't got your wits about you. Aiming is fine but doesn't feel consistently responsive, but this could be a symptom of West of Dead's current beta state. There's likely plenty of fine tuning left to do before the game is ready for release.

Blasting your way through various self contained rooms culminates in a boss fight, which really upped the ante and definitely showed off the game in a favourable way. Analysing the bosses behaviour (referred to as the "Wendigo"), and adapting your tactics, will be familiar tropes for even the most novice of players, but the attack patterns, animation, and sudden injection of momentum really came together as a thoroughly satisfying crescendo. 

There can be no denying that West of Dead's confident aesthetic, western inspired soundtrack, and classic twin stick gun play is a winning formula, and we can't wait to see how the game evolves in the run up to launch. There's oodles of potential here, and it's likely, based on our initial hands on time, that Raw Fury have got something special on their hands.

William Mason (played by Ron Perlman) in West of Dead. Don't mess with flaming skull Ron Perlman. Ever. Even though his character here is... already dead... Sorry...

West of Dead launches in 2020 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

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