West of Dead Xbox One review: This Wild West roguelike falls short of greatness

West of Dead has good ideas, but several issues prevent it from being truly special.

West of Dead
(Image: © Upstream Arcade)

West of Dead, a new roguelike twin-stick shooter from developer Upstream Arcade, takes a genre typically set in fantasy universes and brings it to a Wild West-inspired purgatory where people who die are cursed with endless resurrection due to the machinations of a devious preacher. Your job? To stop him by gunslinging your way through the game's gauntlet of levels until you finally reach him and end the madness. Unfortunately, while the concept and style of the game is good fun, there are lots of issues with the game's execution that hold it back from greatness.

What you'll love about West of Dead

West of Dead

Source: Upstream Arcade (Image credit: Source: Upstream Arcade)

The core idea behind West of Dead is fantastic.

The core concept of West of Dead is what makes it stand out amongst other roguelikes. The game revolves around clearing rooms saloon shootout-style, diving behind cover, and using it to shoot at foes before return fire shreds it to pieces. You can run over to lanterns and light them up to illuminate dark areas, too, which stuns enemies previously in the dark and reveals new targets. The game has traditional roguelike systems, such as procedurally generated levels and loot as well as carrying over upgrades when you die. Still, this new approach to the formula helps the game feel like a fresh new take on the genre. There's a solid variety of enemies, too, and each one forces you to adapt your cover-hopping strategies to compensate for the unique threat they pose.

Secondly, the visual style of West of Dead is gorgeous. The cel-shaded graphics are a perfect fit for the game's moody and "Dark Western" atmosphere, and the game can be surprisingly detailed at times. The animations look excellent, too, which makes all the movements look fluid and clean.

Finally, Ron Perlman's voice-over for the player character, dubbed "The Marshal," is superb. West of Dead is light on story overall, but Perlman's voice does a lot to help ground you in the universe you're in. It's also relaxing to listen to, which offers a nice contrast to the frustration you'll be feeling from some of the game's issues.

What you'll love less about West of Dead

West of Dead

Source: Upstream Arcade (Image credit: Source: Upstream Arcade)

West of Dead has some nasty difficulty spikes that feel borderline unfair, ruining the flow of gameplay.

The biggest problem I had with West of Dead was that the game is filled with sharp spikes of difficulty that upset what should have been a more gradual learning curve for players. I have no issues with games being challenging — I often seek out tough games, in fact — but when players are forced into a brick wall before they've even had a chance to get comfortable with the mechanics, it just feels unfair and frustrating. Part of the roguelike experience is dying, but the game should at least give you a fair chance. West of Dead often does not.

It doesn't help that the game also has a fair amount of bugs. Sometimes the portal to exit a level and continue onward won't work, so you're forced to start over. Other times, my bullets would fly in random directions. In the heat of battle where hitting your shots can be the difference between life and death, this particular bug is infuriating. There are other ones too, such as The Marshal not taking cover when next to it or enemy AI bugging out. Overall, these technical issues really hurt my enjoyment of the game.

Lastly, the aiming mechanics are pretty sluggish. When manually aiming, you get an arrow that indicates where your bullet will go. However, your rounds can deviate from this trajectory slightly, which makes long-range aiming feel like educated guesswork instead of something you can master. The process of adjusting your aim isn't as quick as it should be, either. Making matters worse is the fact that West of Dead's slight auto-aim can override your manual aiming, which is beyond annoying.

Should you buy West of Dead?

West of Dead

Source: Upstream Arcade (Image credit: Source: Upstream Arcade)

While West of Dead has an excellent foundation with its core ideas, visual style, and Ron Perlman's iconic voice, it undermines its own potential by muddying the experience with brutal difficulty spikes, plenty of bugs, and an aiming system that fights the player at every turn.

West of Dead will be decent fun for fans of roguelikes that are looking for something fresh, but I think for most people, it would be best to wait until the game is on sale and/or some bugs get patched.

West of Dead is available now for $20 on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs. And for more games we highly recommend, check out our list of best Xbox One games available today.

Brendan Lowry

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.