While the game industry has seen a bumper crop of World War II-themed first-person shooters in the past couple of years, shooters set in the Old West have been few and far between. The last notable one was LucasArts' Outlaws, which was released more than six years ago. Groove Games and Jarhead Games have attempted to fill the void in Western-themed games with their own shooter, Western Outlaw. Unfortunately, the game suffers from terrible graphics, lackluster sound, and dated gameplay that will remind you more of a bad Quake II mod than a modern first-person shooter.
According to the manual, Western Outlaw's graphics engine is the Lithtech Talon system, which is the same one used in Aliens Versus Predator 2. Even knowing this makes it difficult to believe that the two games are related in any way, shape, or form. Western Outlaw's graphics are riddled with drab, blurry textures that are stretched on top of extremely low-detail, blocky character models. Hands don't consist of discrete, separate fingers. Rather, they look like oven mitts with lines drawn to delineate one finger from the next. Dinner plates and rolls of bandages, which should look round, instead look more like stop signs.
The bandits you fight in the game consist of just three or four different clones, with only slightly varying outfits. It's probably appropriate that all the enemies look the same. They all use the same cheap one-liners over and over again as well. If the game wasn't so short, we'd have gotten tired of hearing "Come on out, stranger!" and "Argh, you got me!"
Aside from being so poorly detailed, the game's characters are also animated rather badly. This is most evident during cutscenes, where you'll see every character in the game blatantly sliding along the ground as if he or she was an animatronic mannequin from a Disneyland ride. Western Outlaw also suffers from some particularly bad clipping problems, so dead enemies will fall right through walls before magically disappearing. In several instances, we actually witnessed the arms and legs of enemies as they clipped right through the wood of closed doors.
As you may have guessed from this anecdote, the enemies in Western Outlaw aren't particularly bright, though they will sometimes lean around corners to shoot. Unfortunately, we've also watched as enemies leaned around nothing before opening fire while standing in the middle of an open field. To add insult to injury, your enemies are usually pretty bad shots. In spite of the fact that the game includes a lean function that allows you to shoot from behind partial cover, you won't need to rely on the feature very much, as it's easy enough to run-and-gun your way right through most missions. Even if you do get shot up a bit, there are plenty of bandages lying around the levels to refresh your health, so you won't have to worry too much about dying.
Western Outlaw's story is pretty hackneyed, as you play a nameless stranger who gets mixed up in an evil land baron's attempt to buy out all of the smaller landowners in the area. A young lady you meet on a train is inexplicably kidnapped by the villains, so you set off to rescue this damsel in distress. Though the plot plays out over 10 missions spread across stereotypically Western settings--like a ghost town and an abandoned mine--it takes less than three hours to fight your way through all of it. With no multiplayer mode included, there really isn't much else to do with Western Outlaw once you've finished it. Increasing the difficulty level only changes how much damage the enemies do to you with each shot, so even at the "pale rider" setting, the AI is still as dumb as a brick.
Perhaps the only redeeming quality in Western Outlaw is how well the developers modeled the game's weapons. You start the game with a single-action revolver, and as you make your way through, you'll collect double-action .45 caliber revolvers, a shotgun, a Sharps buffalo rifle, and a Winchester repeating rifle. The animation for firing and reloading each of these weapons is pretty realistic, and the sound effects aren't quite as bad as the rest of the game, either. Since none of the weapons carry a lot of shots and reloading is very time consuming, you'll actually have to use a bit of strategy in the later levels when you face several enemies at once. Still, the game's interesting weapons aren't enough to carry the rest of the package, which is very poor overall.
Fans of cowboys and spaghetti Westerns will have to continue waiting for a good Old West-themed shooter. Western Outlaw's primitive production values, brain-dead AI, and shamefully brief campaign make it a game that everyone should definitely avoid.