In honor of the imminent launch of Red Dead Redemption 2, we take a look a what makes the Western genre so compelling and what games have come to define the genre as a whole. From gun slinging heroes to the dust bowls of the uncharted frontier by way of outlaws and lawmen, here are four genre defining Western-themed games.
Call of Juarez
Often cited as the most direct competitor to Red Dead Redemption, the Call of Juarez series is a much lighter take on the going ons of the final frontier with a more arcade first person shooter feel. That isn’t to say the games lack a convincing Western tone, on the contrary they manage to capture the grittiness of a world beset by rampant violence. As much as Red Dead is about weaving a story of politics, personal motivation, and the shifting sands of an era, Call of Juarez is about quick fire arcade gun play bolstered by a robust storytelling undertow. Weapon specialization was also a great feature where players could carry over their mastery of a particular gun to a different play through or even the arcade mode. Every great game needs a competitor to foster innovation and Call of Juarez more than fulfilled this role. The series culminated in Call of Juarez: Gunslingers which released in 2013 to critical acclaim.
The Oregon Trail
Mainstay of every school computer back in the 90s, The Oregon Trail was praised as much for the inherent educational value on offer and historically fidelity, as the innovative and entertaining gameplay. The Oregon Trail was also a hard game where myriad hurdles had to be overcome to reach the fated Oregon. The game in many ways set the tone for linear journey games and management sims that were to follow. While the other titles on our list are all about the life of a gun toting hero and violence, The Oregon Trail was an expose on the struggles of everyday folk eager to make their fortune by reaching the Western frontier. The hardships of life in wild, lawless lands where individualism reigned supreme, disease was rampant, and enemies a plenty were exemplified to great effect and paved the way for how future Western games tackled the subject of the population making up created Western worlds.
Red Dead Redemption
If you ask most gamers what cowboy game they would recommend, the answer is invariably Red Dead Redemption. Rockstar’s open world opus about one man’s quest to save his family during the final years of the last frontier charts highly among the best video game narratives ever concocted. It’s beautiful, it’s gripping, and urges players to get personally invested in a world where the days of the outlaws are numbered and civilization is careening at full speed towards a world once left to its own devices. Add to that a genuinely expansive world packed full of odd characters, events, and activities and Red Dead manages to incorporate nearly all elements needed for a truly immersive Wild West experience.
Lucas Arts’s 1997 Outlaws is now the stuff of legends and holds a special place in the hearts of those who were old enough to experience its bountiful offerings. Arguably one of the first FPS shooters to tackle the subject of the Wild West, Outlaws was praised for the quality of the shooting mechanics, realistic damage stats requiring players to use tactics and cover intelligently, and the introduction of a reload feature which has now become ubiquitous in the genre. The suitably atmospheric Morricone-inspired soundtrack, difficult boss fights, and a rich story completed what was at the time the most well-rounded Western game available. The game still has a loyal fan base to this day.