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Friday, August 5, 2022

Hard West 2 in the test: The gritty western challenges XCOM 2 to a duel

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Beautiful setting, but unwieldy gameplay: After the first part failed to defeat XCOM, Hard West now returns with a sequel that has it all!

Cold-blooded gangsters, smoking guns, duels at sunset – oh, how we have missed games with a Wild West feeling! And to take it to a new badass level, we add zombies and witches. What do we get? Hard West 2. Seven years ago, the turn-based tactics game competed against genre king XCOM and convinced with its setting, but took a lot of criticism for its gameplay.

With a new developer, new improvements and new mechanics, Hard West 2 now demands revenge against XCOM 2. And what can we say? Hard West 2 delivers surprisingly hard tactical head nuts that repeatedly lead to nerve-racking shoot-outs à la Django Unchained. Especially rewarding: Hard West 2 wants you to fight as dirty as possible.

When gunslingers cheat at chess

Just as Gin Carter and his gang are robbing a train in Wild West fashion, the locomotive turns out to be the devil”s personal soul hunter. And who”s surprised, they can”t get off! When the scoundrels try to save their souls by playing poker, one thing leads to another: An explosion, the world enters a second ice age and the gang gets separated.

(Western meets horror: Hard West 2 kicks open the saloon door to hell.)
(Western meets horror: Hard West 2 kicks open the saloon door to hell.)

The player must now assemble a team of the toughest dogs, fight their way through a gruesome fantasy horror world and shoot hundreds of gangsters, witches and zombies to kingdom come in order to finally get even with the devil.

As in the first part, in Hard West 2 you read first and then shoot. Besides pretty comic interludes, the story is told most of the time via text boxes, pictures and voiceovers. What sounds dull at first creates a good atmosphere with the music. Especially when you are reading about how your gang is uncovering the dark secrets of an abandoned mine, the head cinema gives you nice shivers of ice.

Really everything in Hard West 2 is evil, dead or worse. Even though all the Wild West clichés are of course trotted out here, the horror gives the whole thing a whole new flavour. Fortunately, the annoying scenario dividers from the predecessor have been removed.

(A very typical train robbery turns into a fight against the devil.)
(A very typical train robbery turns into a fight against the devil.)

Shootouts like in XCOM

But enough about the story, let”s finally do some evil! For your bloody revenge/world rescue campaign, you ride with your gang on a map from location to location, explore everything, talk to everyone and always solve smaller text adventures with decisions and rewards. The side quests provide additional motivation to investigate and take on the extra miles. If you then enter a battlefield, Hard West switches to tactics mode, which genre connoisseurs should already be familiar with from XCOM 2 and other turn-based games.

In this mode, you spend action points turn by turn to move your heroes around the grid or have enemies attack. It is extremely important not to waste any points, to plan ahead and to always take cover. If you don”t do this, the AI opponent will be even happier when it”s his turn and he can take out your heroes one by one.

(In between missions, you control your gang across the world map and explore different locations.)
(In between missions, you control your gang across the world map and explore different locations.)

We note: Hard West 2”s normal difficulty level is already called “Difficult”. Not only do the enemies outnumber you, but they don”t hesitate to aggressively shoot at you, curse you with malis and throw sticks of dynamite at you. And oh yes, zombies have full life energy again after every round.

A gang with bravado

Which brings us to your heroes, who of course are not sent completely defenceless into a fantasy horror battle. The key is combination. In addition to the normal shooting and melee attacks, you can bounce bullets off objects to perform special trick shots. But the real fun begins with each character”s special abilities.

For example, Witch Flynn can use teleportation to switch places with an opponent to give herself a better position and in turn make the opponent easy prey. Carter is proficient with the bullet blast, Laughing Deer with a sprint attack and Bill, the old undead, who can summon hell. Plenty of room for experimentation!

The new core feature of Hard West 2 then forms the crowning conclusion. For every enemy you kill, you get Bravado, a bonus that rewards brave players by replenishing all of a hero”s action points. So if you play cleverly, you can keep extending your own turn and thus eliminate entire armies before they could even make a single move.

(Don''t play cautiously! Go tactical, but send as many fiends to the afterlife as possible in the process.)
(Don”t play cautiously! Go tactical, but send as many fiends to the afterlife as possible in the process.)

On the other hand, if you miscalculate or have bad luck, you suddenly find yourself free and won”t survive the next turn. However, there”s nothing quite like arriving at the final showdown in a barn, half-dead without healing or dynamite, and emerging victorious with a single brilliant manoeuvre.

XCOM, watch out

Hard West 2 still can”t match the staging, enemy variety and depth of XCOM2, but it definitely gives the genre a new and action-packed face that puts its focus on a fresh western horror atmosphere and fast-paced gameplay style. Hard West 2 pushes us to reload levels over and over again and aim for the ultimate badass factor. It”s a lot of fun, cowboy hats off!

Editorial conclusion

When it comes to turn-based tactics games, for a long time it was true for me: There are many that are quite okay, and there is XCOM 2. Nevertheless, I find it a pity when a genre king is simply left to take the crown without competition. That”s why I was pleased when I heard about the return of Hard West, and even more pleased to now know of a good XCOM alternative – and in one of the most original atmospheric crossovers of the year, somewhere between Frostpunk and Red Dead Redemption: Undead Nightmare. This world is endearingly callous, everyone looks hell in the face unimpressed and says: Yeah, come on then!

Why is Hard West 2 so good? Mainly because the developers listened and fixed the biggest criticisms of the first part. And where otherwise many turn-based tactics games are slowed down by their attachment to action points, Hard West 2”s bravado bonus brings new fire into the gameplay. This aggressiveness is refreshing and also fits the setting very well. I”m a scoundrel, so I play like one. Likewise, I value my gang members, both for their humanity and for their lethality. Don”t you dare get me killed again!

Age: 24 Origin: Germany Hobbies: gaming, football, table tennis Profession: Online editor, student


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