History of Western Games Part 2

As the age of the arcade died and the PC made its resurgence, the Western genre continued to flourish in video gaming, and the best titles were yet to come. OnlySP continues its Red Dead Redemption Week coverage with the second and final part of the history of Western games.

The age of PC gaming in the late 1990s brought several Western titles with it. Dust: A Tale of the Wired West (1995), developed by Cyberflix and published by GTE Entertainment, is a point-and-click adventure game set in 1882 where the player traverses an old desert town in the New Mexico desert; the game features several minigames, including blackjack, poker, and a shooting range. Millennium Interactive’s Silverload, also released in 1995, focuses on a Wild West cowboy who ventures into a haunted house to save a lost child; the game was ported to the PlayStation in 1996. LucasArts—famous for Monkey Island and Full Throttle—developed the first-person shooter Outlaws in 1997, which follows retired U.S. Marshal James Anderson as he seeks revenge on the criminals who killed his wife and kidnapped his daughter; one of few first-person shooters set in the Wild West, the game has since received a cult following. Also released in 1997 was Monolith Productions’s Blood, a first-person shooter following Caleb, an undead early 20th century gunslinger, as he seeks his revenge against the dark god Tchernobog.

In 1996, Japanese studio Media.Vision developed the Western RPG Wild Arms. One of the first RPGs on the PlayStation, the game follows Dream Chasers, a group of adventurers who seek fortune throughout the world. The player controls Rudy—a young boy who can operate powerful, forbidden weapons—as he and his friends work to stop an alien threat from destroying the world. The game was well received and sparked a sequel on the PlayStation—Wild Arms 2 in 1999—followed by three more games for the PlayStation 2 in 2002, 2005, and 2006. The series also resulted in a handheld title and a series of mobile games, as well as manga and anime series.

Wild Arms 3

Wild Arms 3

The new millennium brought with it a new Western series: Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive, a real-time tactics game, was developed by Spellbound Entertainment in 2001 for PC, Mac, and Linux. The game follows gunslinger John Cooper on his quest to capture the train robber El Diablo. Well-received by critics, the game received a sequel, Desperados 2: Coopers Revenge, in 2006, following Cooper in his attempt to avenge his brother. Publisher Atari reportedly missed payment to the developer, forcing the game to release earlier than planned. Unable to gain the rights to the Desperados name, Spellbound completed the story with Helldorado in 2009. A fourth game in the series, Desperados III, is currently in development by Mimimi Productions and scheduled for release next year.

Ubi Soft joined the fray with its own Western game in 2001, Gunfighter: The Legend of Jesse James for the PlayStation. As the title suggests, the game follows American outlaw Jesse James as he fights his way past all onscreen enemies. A sequel, Gunfighter II: Revenge of Jesse James, was released in 2003 for the PlayStation 2.

One of the few games to feature non-white playable characters was America (also known as America: No Peace Beyond the Line), in which the player can choose to play as Native Americans, Mexicans, Outlaws, or Settlers in their journey to settle the Western frontier. Developed by Related Designs Software in 2001, America is a real-time strategy game with similar gameplay to Age of Empires. The game was voted Game of the Month by German computer magazine Computer Bild Spiele in March 2001.

Red Dead Revolver

Red Dead Revolver, the predecessor to Red Dead Redemption.

Angel Studios, under the funding of Capcom, began working on a Western title in 2000. In November 2002, Take-Two Interactive acquired Angel Studios and renamed it Rockstar San Diego, moving it under the Rockstar Games umbrella alongside studios such as Grand Theft Auto developer Rockstar North and The Warriors developer Rockstar Toronto. In August 2003, disappointed by the troubled development, Capcom cancelled the game; however, Rockstar soon acquired the rights and completed development, and Red Dead Revolver was released in May 2004 to favourable reviews.

Capcom went on to publish a Western-type game in 2005: High Moon Studios’s Darkwatch: Curse of the West, for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Blending the genres of steampunk, horror, and western, Darkwatch tells the story of a 19th century outlaw gunfighter-turned-vampire who is forced to fight supernatural forces. The game was intended to spark a media franchise, but its sequel was cancelled in 2007 and a planned film adaptation became stuck in development hell.

With the new generation of consoles came new Western games. Neversoft’s Gun—published by Activision for PC, PS2, Xbox, GameCube, PSP, and as a launch title for the Xbox 360—is one of the best-selling Western games, with over 1.4 million units sold. A third-person, open world shooter, Gun is set in the American Old West in 1880 and follows Cole White as he avenges his father. The game received criticism for its depiction of American Indians but was well-received by critics overall.

Acquire developed the action-adventure game Samurai Western in 2005 for the PlayStation 2. The game follows samurai Gojiro Kiryu, who travels to the Wild West to find and kill his brother. The game received mixed reviews and Acquire returned to develop samurai games set in Japan in the future. A similar samurai western game, Red Steel 2, was published by Ubisoft in 2010 for the Wii.

Call of Juarez Gunslinger

One of the most successful western-themed game series began in 2006 with the PC game Call of Juarez. Developed by Techland, the game follows Ray McCall, a gunslinger-turned-preacher, who believes that Billy ‘Candle’, also a playable character, is responsible for the death of the latter’s mother and stepfather. Three more installments have been released: Bound in Blood (2009), a prequel following the story of McCall and his brother at the end of the Civil War; The Cartel (2011), set in modern-day Los Angeles and Mexico and following three law enforcement agents; and Gunslinger (2013), in which legendary bounty hunter Silas Greaves tells the stories of his travels.

The years to come would primarily feature smaller handheld or PC titles: Wild West Guns, a WiiWare and IOS shooting game, was published by Gameloft in 2008 to mixed reviews; The Gunstringer, a third-person rail shooter by Twisted Pixel Games, was published by Microsoft Studios as a Kinect title for the Xbox 360; Dillon’s Rolling Western, developed by Vanpool, is a tower defence title for the Nintendo 3DS; and Gunman Clive, an indie action game, was developed and published by Hörberg Productions for mobile, PC, and 3DS in 2012.

Some developers have also attempted multiplayer-only Wild West experiences. Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West, developed by Fatshark and published by Paradox Interactive, was released for PC and PlayStation 3 in 2010. A third-person shooter, the game has often been compared as a Wild West version of Team Fortress 2, receiving mixed reviews. Smokin’ Guns, a first-person shooter inspired by spaghetti Western films, was published for PC, Mac, and Linux using an upgrade of the original Quake III engine. A more recent attempt was Wild West Online, a persistent open world action game; unfortunately, the game received largely negative reviews.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 will release this Friday.

Of course, the most successful Western title is Red Dead Redemption, a sequel to Rockstar’s Red Dead Revolver. The game follows John Marston as he tracks down his former gang members in order to see his family again. Recently named one of OnlySP’s favourite games, Red Dead Redemption received immense critical acclaim upon its release for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2010. A standalone expansion pack, Undead Nightmare, adds a zombie horror-themed campaign to the game. The highly-anticipated sequel, Red Dead Redemption 2, launches on Friday for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

OnlySP’s Red Dead Redemption Week coverage continues tomorrow with a look at some of the best Western games. In the meantime, be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on FacebookTwitter, and YouTube.

Rhain Radford-Burns
Rhain discovered a long time ago that mixing one of his passions (video games) with the other (writing) might be a good idea, and now he’s been stuck in the industry for over six years with no means of escaping. His favourite games are those with deep and captivating narratives: while it would take far too long to list them all, some include L.A. Noire, Red Dead Redemption (and its sequel), Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Last of Us, and the Uncharted series.

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