Hard West Review

There are many elements that defines a successful turn-based strategy game. First and foremost, its settings need to be an interesting one, whether it be an era of fantasy, sci-fi or a wartime scenario. Next has to be the combat itself, combining interesting battlefields, enemy types and weapon deployments. However, to solidify all of its components, a decent story also needs run in the background, as well as the ability to upgrade and enhance your own units. It’s one of the reasons why X-COM is a standout title within its genre and although there are many other games that are similar or have come close to the formula of success, there’s usually one small part that doesn’t quite match up; something that is especially true with the abundance of turn-based strategy games that have been released upon the Nintendo Switch.

However, there’s a new kid on the block that packs a six-gun that is sure to blow the competition away, as not only does it contain all of the above ingredients, it’s also a game that matches the playability of X-COM. That game is Hard West, a turn-based strategy title that is based in the wildest parts of the gun-slinging west that is galloping a release upon Nintendo’s hybrid machine. Developed by CreativeForge Games and published through Forever Entertainment, this is a title that plays through a variety of mechanics, helping to keep things moving along at a nice pace, as well as present some interesting challenges and elements within its turn-based features.

Although primarily a strategy game that runs along the same path as X-COM or Cthulhu Tactics, at least in terms of gameplay, this title also contains a story with a hint of the occult, a decision and money-making element and a series of interactive properties that determines success or failure on the battlefield. Set in the era of the Wild West and without giving away any of the story, you follow a narratively-driven story that contains a series of consequential decision-making, as well as the ability to plunder a series of mines in order to try and accrue enough gold to fund your adventure. There are two distinct elements at play here, along with a sketch-driven story that helps move the plot along. For the first part, you read a series of texts and choose from a multiple choice of responses that can have a bearing on the game as it pans out. From here, you are presented with a map of the land that contains a number of locations that can lead to further narrative choices or elements of combat within the field.

One of the main reasons for this is, to not only push the story along, but also as a way of generating funds to purchase a variety of weaponry and ammunition. This is attained through the mining of gold, which is presented in a narrative-driven format. You can choose to spend any earned gold on perfecting your mining skills or learning new techniques. It produces a unknowingness in how the events of your mining will evolve. It’s almost a gamble, as you spend gold in order to try and accrue more, richer finds. However, your chosen mines may be devoid of any worth, or worse still, house any sort environmental challenge. There’s definitely a fine-line here between success and failure.

This section of the gameplay comes with a limited amount of moves, or choices with which mines you plunder or what decisions you make. Once all your moves have been used up, you can then proceed to the local store and spend your hard-earned fortune on upgrading or purchasing any new weaponry that you may fancy getting your hands on. There are a number of elements at play here, each of them having a direct bearing on later events of the game, or in how you or your posse perform in the second element of the game, the turn-based combat. For instance, should someone befall an injury through an event, then their performance on the battlefield can be severely reduced; thus impacting on their effectiveness.

There’s an interesting partnership between these narrative breaks and the combat; one that keeps you mindful of your actions and choices that you make. Once your options have been exhausted, you are often led to a combat scenario which follows the usual tactical blueprint, although some interesting additions also come into play that forces you to be just as mindful on the battlefield as you have been with your own decision-making. Presented through a series of isometric viewpoints, the combat scenarios offer some challenging gameplay that provides enough tactical gun-play and balance to keep newcomers invested and even the most battle-hardened turn-based vets happy.

There’s a lot here that is instantly familiar if you’ve played a turn-based strategy game before. However, there are also a few surprises that helps to keep things interesting along the way. Elements of skill and luck come into play, with higher skill values producing cleaner shots and luck playing a role in the evasion of gun-fire or damage taken. With each bullet that misses, you’re luck reduces. However, with each shot that hits you, the higher its value. It’s a clever mechanic that reduces the need for random elements; focussing more on tactical gameplay that forces you to out-think and outsmart your opponents. Much of the scenery is interactive too, such as opening cellar doors and tipping up tables to create extra cover as you traverse around the series of skirmishes that you come across.

It adds some nice features to how you plan and strategise your movements around the battlefield. However, there are also some other nice little features that produces a nice experience and helps elevate this title from the standard affair of turn-based strategy. Different forms of cover provide a series of variables in their effectiveness. For instance, you can shoot through canvas coverings or wooden walls. This is something that is especially useful if you should spot an enemy in hiding. This can be achieved in a number of ways, such as spotting movement through a window or, very cleverly, through the casting of shadows from the angle of the sun. It’s these little details that make the game wholly enjoyable and produces a more-life-like experience that simply makes the combat elements of the game all the more enjoyable. A variety in objectives also adds to the mix, often with accruing extra items or finding certains items within a move limit, adding further to the challenge of the gameplay.

This is all further enhanced with a high presentational value for all of its elements. The cut-scenes are all presented in a rough-hand-sketched format that matches the settings of the game and the narrative, decision-making is suitably bite-sized and easy to follow. However, the real beauty lies in the aesthetical presentation of the battlefields themselves. Everything is cel-shaded, giving the game a very Borderlands-feel that, again, matches the settings in which it takes place. The level of detail is astounding, as are the options available to you in the tactical element of the gunplay, not just in the turn-based elements of the game, but also in its narratively-driven segments.

It all adds to produce a successful formula for a game within its genre. Everything here is done to a satisfactory level. From the gameplay elements to the balance of its challenge; it all just feels right and sits in place as neatly as a completed puzzle. That’s not to say that the game is without a couple of niggles though, some of the AI can be questionable and a distinct lack of quick-save within combat can be a frustration at times, but overall, these are only minor quirks within the bigger picture of the game. If you’re looking for a game on the Switch that matches the playability of the X-COM titles, then take a good look at Hard West. With the bundled inclusion of its DLC too, The Scars of Freedom, there’s plenty of gun-toting, wild west mayhem here to keep you entertained over the long-term.

REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to editor@bonusstage.co.uk.

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Hard West Review
  • Gameplay - 8/10
  • Graphics - 8/10
  • Sound - 8/10
  • Replay Value - 8/10
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A gun-toting, six-barrelled shot of a game that is as wild as the West ever was.