Westerado: Double Barreled gives PC owners a taste of the American frontier, Spaghetti Western-style. It's a colorful open-world adventure that mixes exploration, investigation, puzzles and, of course, good ol' gunplay.
Developer Ostrich Banditos originally created Westerado as an Adult Swim browser title back in 2013, with the PC version hitting Steam earlier this month. Its color palette, music and style is heavily influenced by the work of Sergio Leone.
"The Spaghetti Westerns were a very romantic, stylized version of the west that really inspired us," says game designer John Gottschalk, speaking to Polygon. "The heroism, the heat, the anonymity, the back-stabbing, the tension, the scale of the landcscapes. Serge Leone really captured that with his incredible anamorphic widescreen, he even let his movies run longer to accommodate the tension in the music. We loved all of that, it had a romantic gravitas that we don't often see in games, and we wanted to bring all of that into ours."
The heroism, the heat, the landscapes
The game is nonetheless a mishmash of references to Westerns of all stripes, from the heroic straight shooters of the heroic era to the goofball comedies of the '80s.
"One of the most powerful things about Westerns is the line the heroes walk," says Gottschalk. "They have a huge weight on their shoulders in a harsh environment where everyone is just trying to survive and sometimes do bad things for it. In Spaghetti Westerns that's especially at the forefront. Clint Eastwood in the Dollar Trilogy often does morally questionable things, but he still honors his promises even if no-one's looking, maybe especially when no-one's looking."
Its themes are those long associated with Westerns: vengeance and moral ambiguity. Westerado is about a man who's been wronged. His family's been slaughtered, and he must find the culprit. Interviews with townsfolk lead to quests. Quests lead to clues and to money, which funds better health and weapons. Finally, the identity of the killer becomes clear.
"The classic Westerns are really what inspired the more dramatic moments in the game," says Gottschalk. "The horror of coming home to a burning ranch or the final words of a friend shot during the fight."
But the game is also an open world where the player can do pretty much anything they like. It is entirely possible to wander around shooting everyone, and generally being the baddest dude in town.
Comparisons have been drawn with that other Western tribute, Red Dead Redemption, but Gottschalk believes that's just because the two games draw from the same well.
We looked at how Spaghetti Westerns were put together
"We didn't intentionally mimic anything in Red Dead," he says. "I think only one of us on the team has played Red Dead game at length. So when we started hearing the comparisons after the release of the Flash version, we assumed it was just the most prominent open-world Western to draw a comparison to. When it comes right down to it, there just ain't that many of ‘em.
"Structurally we weren't even thinking in game genres. We were just looking at how Spaghetti Westerns were put together. They are often a series of little vignettes and side stories with a core plot that pops up just often enough to tie them together into one epic adventure. You might just stumble into a bandit raid, an army fort in need of reinforcements, a poker game, a cattle drive or any number of other plots. What holds it together is the main-character, and in a game the player is always front and centre to tie the experience together."
The two games certainly set out with different design goals. Westerado was originally envisioned as a procedurally generated shooter. "We were thinking about how a roguelike could work with a more open-world," recalls Gottschalk. "Around that time, I had been watching a bunch of Westerns. The harshness of the desert, counting of bullets, and the lack of a black and white morality seemed like it could fit a roguelike set-up pretty well."
Shooting in the game involves three actions: drawing, cocking and firing. The player-character must also be lined up against his opponent, while avoiding enemy gunfire. Health and cash-drops add to the strategy.
"In the end the game became something very different from the original idea," adds Gottschalk. "We got diverted by separating out the gun mechanic into individual actions, the tension that came from that when AI reacted to it, and then finally incorporating it into conversations. At some point we incorporated the 'Guess Who?' style murder mystery."
The world and its characters react to the player's actions. Some will become compliant when faced with a loaded gun. Others will become outraged. A few can call upon a large posse of comrades.
"The gameplay is based around the exploration of the west, the tension of having to draw before every shot, counting your bullets in a gunfight and questioning the integrity of every man and woman in front of you."
The horror of coming home to a burning ranch
Westerado's real joy is going back again and again to explore the world and play it differently each time. Ostrich Banditos has created a world that seeks to accommodate all players, and a whole lot of potential stories.
"We provide a lot of freedom to the player, and we try to always have options leading forward for whatever your play style is," says Gottschalk. "If you need money fast and think robbing the bank is a good idea you can give that a shot. If you just want to explore the world and find all the secrets, you can do that too.
"Or you can author your very own Spaghetti Western and choose which plots to include and which to drop."