THERE’S A SNAKE IN MY BOOT!
Do you like the X-COM series, but you wish it took place in the Wild West? Do you like the Red Dead Redemption series but you wish it was isometric and the combat was turn-based? Do you like stories about damnation, vengeance, and redemption?
Look no further, pardner – we’ve got you sorted!
Hard West: A Brief Overview
Hard West is a single-player turn-based tactical game developed by the indie gaming company CreativeForge Games. It was released in 2015 for various platforms, and then once more in 2019 for Nintendo Switch.
The player starts on a mining map, where they can mine the Wild West for gold. This section is essentially a management simulator which happens through dialogue choices: Do you want to mine here yourself (and risk injuring yourself, making the combat harder) or hire some workers (which might be very expensive)?
The map is also where you buy and sell items, and where you follow the campaign storyline. Instead of having one long campaign, there are a bunch of smaller campaigns which focus on different characters in the story. Most of the campaigns must be unlocked by completing the earlier campaigns.
Of course, being in the Wild West, the player will eventually need to shoot a gun or two.
The combat takes place on an isometric map, and consists of the two teams (the player and the computer) taking turns to position themselves and/or shoot at each other. Each character has two action points, to use for movement and/or combat. Firing most weapons will end the turn, but there are a few weapons which allow you to take two shots per turn.
The closer you are to a foe, the higher your hit percentage will be. Naturally, this also means they’ll have a higher change to hit you as well.
Hard West: Combat Systems
There are certain special abilities (such as Ricochet) but in most cases the combat is fairly straight-forward.
Well, I say it’s ‘straight-forward’ but it might also be worth mentioning that, ironically, this means that most of your combat takes place around corners and from behind cover. Although your player has unlimited ammunition, they still need to reload.
This means that the combat can be tedious for unadventurous players – why put yourself in danger if you have a 33% chance to hit your enemy, for instance? Unfortunately for such players, many of the missions are timed, or at least have a limited-time bonus opportunity (e.g. you can get an extra party member but only if you reach them within 5 combat turns).
Any X-COM players will feel right at home – until they realise Hard West has no Overwatch button, that is. For all the non-X-COM readers out there, Overwatch allows you to guard an area – if the enemy moves in that area, you get a free shot.
Worse, the enemies get to use Overwatch mode, but the player doesn’t.
At first, this might seem unfair – at least until you hear about the skills and the cards.
Hard West has unique skills available to the player. Some of these skills are actively used, such as Ricochet. Others, such as Shadow Cloak (which allows the player to automatically hide if they’re not in direct sunlight) are passive and happen by themselves.
These skills are available via cards. These cards are earnt by completing quests or combat scenarios. They all have a suit and number/face. For instance, the Ricochet card might be 10 of Hearts, and Shadow Cloak might be 10 of Clubs. If you equip both of those cards on the same character, they’ll get the benefit of each skill. This is, of course, perfectly obvious.
The genius of this game design element comes into play when you realise that you can get extra buffs based on Poker hands.
So, in the above example, you’d get Ricochet and Shadow Cloak, but you’d also get an extra buff (such as extra health) for having a pair of 10s. The higher the Poker hand (three of a kind, full house etc.) the better a bonus you’ll get.
Hard West: An Apt name indeed
It’s not the combat itself which is hard – the slick design and wealth of information at your disposal allows you to make valuable choices about where to be and what to do. You can change between any party member at any time during your turn, which allows you to set up some fairly intricate strategies.
It’s not even the mining map which makes the game hard. Although it can be punishing, especially with regards to certain story beats (the women in this game are tough as nails, but they don’t often live long), it’s not overly difficult as much as it’s decent enough filler to break up the combat.
No, what makes the game hard is the save system: You can’t manually save the game.
Once you enter combat you have to finish it. Your only other options are to restart the campaign or stop playing the game.
Made a mistake on the minimap?
I hope it only just happened – or else you’re stuck with it.
Made a mistake during the combat?
Hopefully, you can overcome it, but if not – don’t worry, you’ll probably get to try the whole battle again real soon!
Would you like to reload from before the battle?
Ultimately, Hard West is a good enough game. The very minor flaws are outweighed by the addictive combat and the genuinely interesting story. Being able to play through any unlocked campaign is a nice bonus, too.
Speaking of the story: Let’s just say that certain spiritual entities have their part to play as well, and leave it at that.