Monday, April 11, 2022
Weird West is the latest game from Raphaël Colantonio, the co-creator of Dishonored , and, much like that game, it’s best described as an “immersive sim”. But what exactly is an immersive sim? Video game genres have gathered some daft and less-than-useful names over the years, from the hugely nonspecific moniker of “action”, to the SoulsBornes and Metroidvanias of the world, with names that require a short history lesson of video game releases in order to understand. Immersive sims, for the uninitiated, might bring to mind one of those dull but oddly calming simulation games, immersing you in the world of a long-haul trucker, or a lonely farmer, via a chunky VR headset.
In reality, however, immersive sims offer something a little bit different to almost any other genre. The simulation tends toward the fantastical - the rat-infested whaling city of Dishonored, where technology and magic mingle; or, in the case of Weird West, a gothic horror reimagining of the American frontier. The immersion, then, comes from an interlocking series of systems, which sees the player’s actions result in consequences that not only follow the rules set out by the game, but also make sense using either real-world knowledge or an in-universe logic - fire spreading across spilled oil, or guards not seeing a player concealed in shadow. As a result, players will have several choices in how to tackle each objective, with events playing out according to the rules hardcoded into the game, rather than a predetermined script.
It’s not difficult to understand the appeal. When compared to high quality but linear games like DOOM, Ratchet & Clank, or Gears of War, it’s easy to see why having such a wide range of choices in how you approach any situation would be considered a positive, a unique selling point in an ever growing video game market. It’s the temptation of this freedom that, like the frontiersmen themselves, drew me into the wild world of Weird West in the first place. Like so many immersive sims before it, the trailers and clips allured with the promise of realism, of choice, and of just a smidge of unexpected chaos. And then I played it myself, and I remembered why I've bounced off of every immersive sim I've played.
Choice, it turns out, is a double-edged sword. Should I sneak around, slowly taking out each enemy one by one? Or do I distract a large group of foes with a well-placed explosive, before punting a vat of oil at another and setting them ablaze? With each mission I was tasked with taking on, each enemy encampment I had to infiltrate, the options in front of me were enticing. And then, once I’d made my choice, each and every time I’d be shocked, as the realisation suddenly hit me that my choices actually had consequences. Maybe that barrel of oil I’d given a good kick didn’t quite reach its target, and rather than being on fire the outlaws are firing at me. Sneaking around to take out one target, I’d accidentally miss a spare lookout, bringing the entire camp down on my location. I’d revel in the fucking around, before being swiftly hit with the ‘find out’ part of that particular equation. I’m sorry, you’re telling me I have to reap what I sow? What the hell?
This is, of course, a me problem, and I have no problem admitting that. My patience for down time in games is short, which also means I don’t exactly excel in the stealth genre either, often breaking cover out of boredom before waiting for a guard to complete their patrol. But while the immersive sim qualities of a game like Dishonored didn’t quite click with me, I still managed to make it through to the end. Despite my best laid plans nearly always going awry, I found a way to muddle through, out of a weird sense of duty to complete it. Weird West, however, can feel particularly punishing, despite all of its good qualities - of which there are many, even if they don’t appeal to me.
In Weird West, trying to come up with clever or unique ways to deal with each mission can take a lot of setup time, and once it all went wrong (and it often did) I was back to square one. A quick-save system is included, in an attempt to remedy this challenge, encouraging experimentation by letting you create a manual save to quickly reload from. But it’s far too easy to forget to create a save point in the early stages of a mission, when the plan feels like it’s coming together, only to realise you have to start all over again. And in the moments where I did make liberal use of the save system, the all-important ‘immersion’ part of the immersive sim broke down. Suddenly, I wasn’t a cool bounty hunter scraping through a firefight by the skin of my teeth. I was a grumpy guy in their late twenties who couldn’t move their thumbs fast enough to avoid yet another death at the end of a bolt-action rifle.
I pushed on through Weird West for far more hours than I actually enjoyed, desperately panning for a nugget of the joy that so many players find in the immersive sim genre, but came up empty. Over the past few years, I’ve had to learn to better understand the sorts of games that appeal to me, and those that don’t, in order to best make use of not only my limited budget, but limited time. I’ve discovered that I find myself more drawn to highly curated titles - tightly designed games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps or Bloodborne, that limit your options to a few key weapons and the occasional optional path. I have so much respect for the immersive sim, and the players who love them, but I think I need to accept that they are, very simply, not for me. Perhaps the next time I see a trailer for a shiny new game in the genre, promising a plethora of player choice and interlocking systems galore, I’ll remember the consequences that come after.
Monday, April 11, 2022 @ 03:23 PM
Monday, April 11, 2022 @ 07:32 PM
Tuesday, April 12, 2022 @ 05:16 AM