This is one of
those times where the saying "graphics don't matter" gets put to the test. There's
no getting around it: West of Loathing
looks like crap. Take the wall drawings of a five-year-old, smother them in
condiments, and the resulting mess would still be more colorful than anything
this game throws at you.
Trying to be funny in a
video game is a skill unto itself. Unlike movies, television, or audio, the
audience plays a much bigger role in this interactive medium. They aren't just
along for the ride but rather contribute to the direction of the overall
comedy. Not only that, but playing a video game takes far longer than watching
a show or listening to a podcast consisting of four people farting into a
microphone for 15 minutes.
Executed exclusively through text boxes, the funnies are impossible to miss. From the moment you choose your character's class to the towns you visit, the entire experience feels very much like a Choose Your Own Adventure book; albeit with far less choices (more on those later).
West of Loathing's humor is hit-or-miss. While almost every crack is filled with jokes anyone can understand, they only tend to be funny the first time players hear them.
Take for example
a spit pot in a saloon. Upon interacting with the object, the game tells you it
is ill-advised to go digging through its contents. But seeing as this is a video
game, you do it anyway. This executes a series of text prompts detailing an
argument between you and the game about the various health hazards of doing
such a thing. This is mildly entertaining the first time you do it, but becomes
tedious as you enter different saloons to do the exact same thing over again.
In lieu of any kind of
story or proper gameplay, players have to walk back and forth between a series
of buildings to get a set of papers from the town's government. This requires
slogging through a seemingly endless stream of text (and some memorization) to
complete. I could tell you it gets more interesting, but then that would be a
joke the game fails to deliver.
Things only get worse as players delve deeper into the game. Once the initial laughs wear off, West of Loathing fills its locations with far less interesting stories. This is no more evident than in Ghostwood, a town you come across about halfway through the world map.
Which is a shame
considering that for the most part, each of the locals has its own humorous
quirks. The town of Breadwood is so deep in trouble that the horses are drunk
and the mayor is at risk of being run out of the community. There is camp full
of marching skeletons and a graveyard full of dead people named Dave. All of
these places have their own little adventures, with some locations' activities
intertwining with others.
The way text appears contributes largely to the humor's downfall. Without a dedicated button to interact with the world, all thoughts and speech come up as soon as you make contact with the object or person in question. This triggers a bukkake of words that fills the screen and takes the player out of the experience. While the writing itself is humorous at times, the way it is presented makes it feel like the developers chopped off pieces of the final Word document and pasted it into the game.
When you aren't investigating derelict mines or getting pricked by cacti, combat is there to fill in the gaps with turn-based action.
This works just as you would expect. With an extra party member in tow, you two take turns whacking away at enemies until one side's respective health bars are empty (you lose the fight once your player character's HP reaches zero, regardless of how many party members are still alive).
There are your
run-of-the-mill ailments and useable items, with successful skirmishes
rewarding experience points, Meat (the game's currency), and more crap which
you stuff into your backpack. Items are numerous and while it can be daunting
to see an inventory filled with filled with flavor text and useless
knick-knacks, knowing where the standard healing item or explosive is can get
you out of trouble pretty easily.
In terms of choices, the game leads you to believe there is more than one way to solve a problem. This is true for some instances but not all of them.
where you allocate your experience points, certain paths make themselves
available. Pumping your character with "Lockpickin' Expertise" instead of
"Foragin'" allows you to break into safes but also limits your ability to
collect rare plants. Depending on your playstyle, you can customize your
character with specific abilities and equipment. However, all skills can be
maxed out as long as you continue to gain experience points.
Considering how much it
does with so little, West of Loathing
should be commended on the effort it tries to make. Its combat is ho-hum and
the presentation is more than lacking, but amidst the wasteland of mistimed
jokes are a few comedic nuggets which would make any prospector show their
As with all comedic games, West of Loathing doesn't have much replay value. Just like a joke, it becomes stale the more you use it; even more so considering the title reuses some quips on the first playthrough. You can extend your playtime by trying out the different classes and making different decisions, but almost everything can be seen by playing the game once.