Mark Fuji takes us on a trip through the old west with the top ten western games not called Red Dead Redemption.
For some inexplicable reason, the untamed frontier of the Wild West is a territory seldom explored by video games. After all, with its penchant for anarchy, unchecked violence, duels on the street, prostitutes, gambling, and rampant alcoholism the Western setting seems like a perfect home for an industry that’s produced the likes of Grand Theft Auto and Saints Row.
That’s not to suggest that video games haven’t previously embraced the Western genre. Though developers still seem to favor bald space marines and laser guns over six-shooters and ten gallon hats, a number of Wild West-themed games have definitely made their mark over the years. Rockstar Games’ Red Dead Redemption (sequel to Red Dead Revolver) is redefining the public’s perception of Cowboys and Indians, and is arguably the very best in the genre, but make sure you catch up on the slew of excellent rootin’-tootin’ titles that came before it.
Grand Theft Auto clones are a dime-a-dozen, but Gun managed to stand out amongst the impersonators with its Wild West theme and a taste for outlandish depravity that would make even Tommy Vercetti blush in shame. Ridiculously violent and full of bloody shootouts, swearing and whores being stabbed in the back of the head with hatchets, Gun created a whole new sandbox world for gamers to explore and terrorize however they saw fit.
There probably weren’t vampires roaming about the deserts in the mid-1800s (as far as we know), but historical inaccuracies aside, Darkwatch’s supernatural take on the Wild West made for a unique hybrid of Western-era gunplay and magical powers. You could shoot demons with a repeater rifle or revolver, or when the occasion called for it, use an array of vampiric powers earned by either being a saint or being a callous, evil jackass.
Lead and Gold (2010)
Though technically little more than a Team Fortress 2 clone, only with revolvers and Gatling guns instead of rocket launchers and sentry guns, Lead and Gold is a solid multiplayer title. It looks fantastic, it’s fun to play, and it has the benefit of only costing fifteen bucks. It’s a simple game, but Wild West aficionados who are tired of spies sapping their sentries should definitely consider giving Lead and Gold a try.
Oregon Trail II
Oregon Trail II (1996)
With the possible exception of Treasure Mathstorm or Math Blasters, Oregon Trail II is the best educational game ever made. You could study geography as your wagon train trucks across the unexplored United States, manage your party and its inventory, and learn that Epson salt is the panacea for everything from gunshots to dysentery. Of course, most probably didn’t care about any of that at all. Let’s face it, Oregon Trail II was all about stocking up your wagon with shotguns, rifles, pistols and tons of ammunition to completely devastate the local wildlife with.
Star Wars: Dark Forces, the foundation on which Lucas Arts’ 1997 cult-classic was built upon, was a pretty awesome game. It wasn’t really a surprise that Outlaws proved to be an exceptional first-person shooter of its time. Using an enhanced version of the Jedi game engine, Outlaws not only contained a compelling, narrative-driven story about a father trying to rescue his kidnapped daughter, but also an action-packed (though somewhat imbalanced) multiplayer mode that was so popular that it still enjoys a small online following today.
Counter-Strike may be the Half-Life mod that everyone remembers, but Wanted, a Wild West-themed mod also developed for Valve’s classic first-person shooter, was so ambitious that it warrants an inclusion on this list. In addition to featuring both single player and multiplayer options (complete with custom made maps), Wanted authentically recreated a variety of period-specific weapons. Revolvers, shotguns, sniper rifles, dynamite and even a portable Gatling gun could be used to wage war against other gamers. It may not be the prettiest or most in-depth game ever designed, but considering that Wanted was an independent project made by gamers who clearly loved The Wild West as much as they loved Half-Life, the mod remains incredibly impressive.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (2009)
I’m not sure which is more surprising: that Ubisoft actually decided to publish a sequel to a horrifically bad first-person shooter or that the sequel actually ended up being pretty good. A tale of three brothers caught in the bloody aftermath of Civil War, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood did a great job of balancing character development with all the staples of a good Western flick, namely duels, horse chases, Native American warriors and lots and lots of gunfights.
Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive (2001)
Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive is often referred to as a Commandos clone, and for good reason. It utilizes the same isometric camera, places the same emphasis on teamwork, and is challenging as hell for the uninitiated. Less about running in guns-blazing and more about stealth and strategically using the individual strengths and abilities of your team, Desperados was an immensely enjoyable game once you invested time into mastering its intricacies.
Wild Arms 3 (2003)
Set in a fantasy world populated by ancient tribes, cutthroat thieves and reckless gunslingers, Wild Arms 3 embodied the characteristics of a Wild West experience perfectly. Gone were swords and shields, replaced with revolvers and shotguns. Horses and trains were used for transportation in lieu of magical mounts. But what really defined Wild Arms 3 as a Wild West video game was its soundtrack. It presnted a collection of epic songs inspired by music found in Spaghetti Westerns, and was comfortably this Japanese role-playnig game’s biggest highlight.
Sunset Riders (1991)
It’s no secret that Konami was king of making arcade, side scrolling beat-em ups. However, while most fans are more familiar with their work on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men and The Simpsons, one of Konami’s best action games allowed players to hunt down outlaws as a team of four bounty hunters. The action was as chaotic as it was exhilarating, and anyone who ever played a Konami action game (whether at the arcade or on the SNES or Genesis) felt immediately at home shooting renegade cowboys or Native American savages in the face. Do yourself a favor: before you die, make sure you hunt down an arcade cabinet of Sunset Riders and make sure you beat it at least once.