Of Trains, Banks and Farms
Puzzles in The Westerner are fair and logical. Only a couple of them found me wondering what the heck they were thinking. I wish I could tell you more, but I vowed to never spoil a game on a review. Now, the thing that really bothered me was when Fenimore dies at the end because you -- oops.
As I told you, Fenimore has to sort three major obstacles, namely: get one more man to defend the farms, stop the train where Starek's men are traveling and buy a farm defense kit. These big puzzles are actually comprised of several puzzles each one of them. It's a tried and tired formula but it still works well. I probably don't need to mention how non-linear the game is, but I just did. Overall, The Westerner is pretty straightforward puzzle-wise. They're mostly on the easy side, but there are many of them to keep you busy. Some puzzles become rather tricky because of the lack of customized responses. For instance, I wanted to open a chest but Fenimore told me “I can't do that”. Why? Is it locked? Do I have to care for it? Whenever I tried using an item in a way that made perfect sense to me, I also got similar responses, like “Better not”. Whether it's laziness or a conscious decision, this lack of customized feedback, not only makes puzzles more difficult in the wrong way, it takes away some of the charm Fenimore has. Well, look at the bright side of it; at least you don't have to push any crates around (guess which game I did NOT like).
I was very happy to have optional stuff to do, especially one puzzle that can make you save a lot money. Yes, you read that well: money. You need money to buy stuff and sort out a couple of particular situations. Generally, the only way to get it is looking around in drawers. If you do things right, like doing that optional stuff I said, you should get plenty of it. If you don't, you'll be in trouble because there isn't much scattered around. In case you spend all of it, you'll have to visit locations again and pray for more dollars to show up.
One very nice detail is a set of hints, nearly puzzle solutions I should say, cleverly integrated in the game in the form of newspapers. In those you can read about past news that incidentally resemble the exact things you have to do to overcome the three major obstacles. They almost blatantly tell you the final step to solve them, so I'd advise to stay clear of those newspapers unless you're hopelessly stuck. You have to pay for them anyway -- nothing's free!
Whether a blatant rip-off or praiseworthy homage, the insult dueling is the most annoying puzzle to be found in the game. Not because it's difficult, but because you don't understand its mechanics except with trial and error and expending many dollars. Taking into account the problem I mentioned with them, well, you get my point. While in Monkey Island you met several opponents whom gradually gave you more and more responses, in The Westerner there is only more man aside from the one you have to defeat, one of Starek's boys. He gives you new responses at a very slow rate and, only after you lose a match with the Starek's henchman, he's replaced with another one who has new responses. It's never quite clear how to accomplish this and that's the major problem with this obstacle. One of the opponents actually shows up after completing another different puzzle!
I'm not sure whether they're annoying or not, but some gamers won't appreciate the inclusion of arcade sequences. One of them actually works as a mini-game you can use to raise more money, but still has to be solved in order to finish the game. It consists in shooting moving targets in a fair game. That one was nice if a bit long because you have to lose it once in order to figure out what to do next. A second one is the one that will make some players whine, as a very good aim and timing are necessary. You have to defeat four opponents by shooting at their weak points -- problem is, it isn't clear which ones they are!
The last one doesn't really qualify as an arcade sequence and I found it to be quite clever. You can't lose, or at least you have plenty of time to work it out and I never reached the limit, and it's really fun. It involves defending the farm and switching between many of the (good) characters you met during your adventuring and shooting at the opponent they're fighting each one them with a different kind of weapon. But good observation is required as they're hiding behind somewhere, and you don't have to necessarily shoot thembut a special place in order to win this sequence, which is a perfect climax of an overall fine puzzle design.
They're Invading Us!
First of all, I should tell you that I'm a very tolerant gamer. Bugs, weird puzzle solutions, inhuman difficulty level and such doesn't really bother me. If a game is good and keeps my interest up, I don't care about those problems. As a matter of fact, don't tell anyone, but I'm going to make a little confession -- I don't like to mention bugs on my reviews. I do this on purpose because it could harm sales of an otherwise fine product and 100% bug-free games are rarely seen these days. Obviously, I do this as long as those problems stay within some safe parameters -- I have to watch for the sanity of our readers!
As I said, I'm a tolerant gamer but I have my limits. The Westerner has certainly not met them though -- by a tiny little microscopical bit. I know I've been probably sounding like this is the second coming of adventure gaming (please bear with my sensibilities), and I truly enjoyed it, but this game has its share of problems. To tell the truth, it has a plethora of problems. Apart from minor design and technical quirks, The Westerner is horribly plagued by hordes of BUGS! And they don’t ship a fumigator along with the game [insert cricket sounds here]
Not long into the game I found myself getting stuck in a place and then having to restore, experienced nasty clipping problems, missing textures, looping sections of music like a scratched LP, missing animations and, on top of it all, an unwinable situation -- to overcome this I had to restart the game after installing the latest patch. I could go on mentioning all the problems I had when I first installed The Westerner. Unpatched, the game is a mess, plain and simple. Even patched it is not bug-free, which makes me wonder what's going to happen with the North-American release. However, Revistronic made a very clever move by adding some truly funny deleted scenes (“bloopers” actually) with the patch. Not only it fixes a great deal of errors, but those scenes, obviously intended to placate adventurers' fury, make the download a must.
Aside from being bug-infested, I noticed a few more things. First, there's a rather “strategic” element in the game, which I welcome, but wasn't well planned. As you know by now, Fenimore rides a horse to move around but you can't pretend it to do it without having some food. Just like a vehicle needs combustible fuel, you have to feed it. Well, the combustible here is in the form of carrots, which you can find scattered around or available for buying at the convenience store. To get them in big amounts without expending any money though, you have to grow them at either one of the two farms you'll visit during your adventures. To do this, you water them with the help of a bucket. The process is too slow and I found it taking me too much time to get just five carrots. You waste one carrot to move from location to location but, for instance, to get from one farm to the town, you have to waste three carrots because there's another intermediate location. Since you must travel quite a bit and, depending on the order you solve puzzles, go back and forth, this can get annoying. I know what you're wondering about but no, you can't get stuck because at least one carrot will randomly appear inside a drawer every time you visit a location that is not a farm. In case you run out of carrots during travel, you automatically return to the Bannister farm.
Which brings me to another point: drawers and closets. They hold either money or carrots and special items in some cases, but mostly money. Problem is, you find too many of them during the game and, since money is randomly generated, there will be many empty ones. These are minor quirks though but I realize the strategic element will bother some players.
Clearly, Revistronic's proprietary engine still needs a bit more work. There were path finding problems in some locations crowded with stuff and loading times can be a bit long. Also, the simple inventory system, which consists in scrolling through the items you possess, doesn't fit for the huge amount of stuff you carry around. I found myself scrolling for several seconds in order to find one the items I took early in the game. Anyway, I've seen this same problem in some adventures lately so I don't think it's that serious. Those are minor, almost non-existent issues if we take into account the abysmal condition this game was released.
Speak Your Last Words, Cowboy
I have some news for you: point n’ click is alive and kicking -- and it's better than ever! This is the thing that most surprised me from The Westerner: the ability to move around a lavishly rendered 3D world with just one hand. Give me this anytime over direct control. Sadly, this and perhaps the great characters and style are the only things I can rave about this game. The lack of a more involved plot, or perhaps more locations to visit, and gameplay issues prevent me of awarding it that magic A, not to mention the embarrassing bug problem.
I also have the feeling that The Westerner might be too “passé” for the nowadays adventures general audience. Whereas adventures are now aiming towards more adult-oriented stories and less challenging puzzles, The Westerner is all the opposite, a throwback to the old days with a simplistic story filled with puzzles. You know how the game's going to end right from the first minute -- it's how you get there the whole point of it. I believe that, if done well, a game like this could bring old-school adventuring back to the front but, as it is, it'll probably pass unnoticed except for the most dedicated fans. The novel interface and engine could be the only thing that grabs the attention of the more “mainstream” adventures audience.
Despite all the problems I found, it was only after watching the final sequence and the bloopers that I realized how much I had enjoyed this game. In the end, I didn’t care about the bugs, as much as annoying as they had been. Some moments were truly funny and I found myself laughing out loud in them. But, like I said before, that’s me and I’m aware some people might even feel cheated with a product like this. This is quite serious because, at some points, The Westerner looks like an early beta. To be fair, and because I really appreciate Revistronic's effort, I will use two separate grades.
So, as a final word, if you fancy an old-fashioned adventure with a truly modernized look, and don't mind a few hundred bugs, you simply can't go wrong with this game!
Final Grade: As a professional reviewer wannabe, D+
As an enthusiastic and good spirited gamer with a heart of gold, B+