Some of the best films ever made are set during the Wild West, so this high level of quality should naturally transfer to the medium of video games. Having looked at the history of the genre in games, dating from the early arcade days to the later PC and console years, OnlySP continues its Red Dead Redemption Week coverage by counting down the seven best Western-themed video games.
7. Darkwatch: Curse of the West
In 2005, American studio High Moon Studios’s first game was released for PlayStation 2 and Xbox. Darkwatch: Curse of the West is a first-person shooter blending the genres of steampunk, horror, and western. The game follows the story of an outlaw gunfighter-turned-vampire who is forced to fight against supernatural forces in the late 19th century American frontier. The art style—considered part of the Weird West subgenre—is incredibly unique and really allowed the game to stand above its competition. Not enough, however, to spark the intended media franchise; a sequel to the game was cancelled in 2017 and a planned film adaptation became stuck in development hell.
In the early 1990s, American developer LucasArts worked on several successful graphic adventure games, featuring a variety of characters and settings: The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2 follow the adventurers of a wannabe pirate in a fictional version of the Caribbean; Day of the Tentacle is focused on a group of three characters as they travel throughout time to stop the Purple Tentacle; and Full Throttle follows the leader of a biker gang framed for the murder of a beloved motorcycle mogul. The next setting, naturally, was the Wild West.
In Outlaws, the player controls retired U.S. Marshal James Anderson as he seeks revenge on the criminals who killed his wife and kidnapped his daughter. Featuring acting veterans John de Lancie, Jack Angel, and Richard Moll, the game was praised for its unique story and Clint Bajakian’s orchestral soundtrack reminiscent of the work of Ennio Morricone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West). Like several other LucasArts games, Outlaws adopted a cult following despite its mediocre commercial success, and many hope that a remaster is on the horizon.
5. Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist
Sierra On-Line had published over 100 titles throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, including the King’s Quest and Quest for Glory series. However, while those series remain well-known to this day, Sierra developed a similar comic adventure game in 1993 that received far little attention. Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist puts players in the boots of the eponymous gunslinger-turned-pharmacist in the 1880s as he explores his town and completes several tasks. Designer Al Lowe, the creator of Leisure Suit Larry, claimed that Freddy Pharkas is one of his funniest games, giving credit for much of the comedy to co-writer John Mandel. One of the most underrated titles from Sierra, perhaps a remaster is in one day store for Freddy Pharkas…
4. Wild Arms series
Japanese studio Media.Vision developed one of the PlayStation’s first RPGs in 1996, Wild Arms. The game follows the Dream Chasers, a group of young adventurers who seek great fortune throughout the world. The player controls Rudy—a boy who can operate powerful, forbidden weapons—as he and his friends work to stop an alien threat from taking over and destroying the world. The game’s interesting setting and premise won it several awards in the late 1990s, and ultimately led to a sequel, Wild Arms 2, in 1999.
Although Wild Arms 2 received mediocre reception, it sparked three additional sequels for the PlayStation 2 from 2002 to 2006, as well as a series of flash-based games in 2006, a handheld title for the PlayStation Portable in 2007, and a new Japanese-exclusive mobile game in September 2018. The series also led to the creation of the 22-episode anime series Wild Arms: Twilight Venom from 1999 to 2000, and the manga series Wild Arms Flower Thieves in 2001. With over ten years since the last main entry in the series, perhaps now is the time for a sequel to arrive.
Throughout the early 2000s, American studio Neversoft had only worked on Tony Hawk games (with the exception of the acclaimed Spider-Man in 2000). Many were surprised, then, when the developer released the Western-themed action-adventure title Gun in November 2005. A third-person shooter set in an open world American Old West in 1880, Gun follows the story of Cole White as he sets out to avenge his adoptive father and learn the truth of his parentage.
The game received criticism for its depiction of American Indians; the Association for American Indian Development declared a boycott of the game for forcing the player to kill American Indians. Publisher Activision, in response, declared that the game “was designed to reflect the harshness of life on the American frontier at that time,” and the boycott failed to create further traction. The game, in the meantime, received positive reviews from critics and was praised for its soundtrack, performances, and open world setting, and its legacy remains clear to this day.
2. Call of Juarez series
One of the most successful and beloved Western-themed game series began in 2006 with the PC title Call of Juarez. Developed by Techland as “serious” Western-themed first-person shooter, Call of Juarez was an attempt avoid the overdominance of military and science fiction games; Call of Juarez features two playable protagonists: Billy “Candle” and Ray McCall. When Billy returns home to find his mother and stepfather murdered, gunslinger-turned-preacher McCall believes that he is the killer; as Billy seeks the true murderer, McCall sets out to avenge their deaths by killing Billy. The narrative effectively carries the game and reinforces gameplay elements. McCall’s levels are particularly enjoyable, featuring a number of intense gun duels, while Billy’s levels require a stealthier approach.
The game’s unique attempt to truly transport players to the American frontier was successful, leading to three additional instalments in the series: 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. With the rights of the franchise seemingly returned to Techland earlier this year, a new instalment may certainly be in the works.
1. Red Dead Redemption
After releasing the well-received Red Dead Revolver in 2004, developer Rockstar San Diego soon began work on a sequel: Red Dead Redemption. Released for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 in 2010, the game follows former outlaw John Marston as he tracks down his old gang members in order to see his family again. Red Dead Redemption is, in many ways, a masterpiece. The freedom granted to the player, accompanied by a beautiful musical cue and a relevance and reliance on an interesting story, is a technique that other developers can only learn from. The game was recently named one of OnlySP’s favourite games—find out why here.
Red Dead Redemption was followed up with a standalone expansion pack, Undead Nightmare, which adds a zombie horror-themed campaign to the game wherein Marston sets out to find the cause and cure for the zombie plague that has infected his family. Of course, a prequel to the main game, Red Dead Redemption 2, launches this Friday for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Disagree with these choices? Let us know down below. In the meantime, OnlySP’s Red Dead Redemption Week coverage continues tomorrow with a look at the importance of historical video games, so be sure to bookmark OnlySP and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.