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No genre is as iconic as the American Wild West. It’s the only one to blend elements of exploration, establishment, and expansion with a healthy dose of cool cowboy heroism. You don’t need to be an American to appreciate the unique landscape of the Wild West, and it’s a shame that there aren’t many mainstream games based on that time period.
Save for a few outliers, most Wild West video games have been buried beneath the sands and forgotten to the passage of time. However, if you want to inject a serving of the Wild West into your gaming sessions, you really need to check out these awesome games.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood [PC, PS3, X360]
At this time there are four titles in the Call of Juarez franchise, but the one that deserves your attention is Bound in Blood. It fixed all of the shortcomings in the original Call of Juarez and stands as the strongest of the four titles, so play this one if you want an authentic Western experience.
It’s got everything from heroes to outlaws, duels to robberies, even stagecoach chases and feuds with Native Americans. If you ignore the theme Call of Juarez is just like most other first-person shooters, but the theme and the story are what make this game as compelling as it is.
Red Dead Redemption [PS3, X360]
Red Dead Redemption takes the Wild West genre, wraps it up in a large open-world sandbox environment, and leaves it up to the player to interact with the game however he or she sees fit. There are several game mechanics that propels this title far above every other Western shooter.
First, there’s a morality system that determines how characters in the game respond to the player’s actions. Second, there’s a system called “Dead Eye” which is similar to the Matrix’s bullet time: everything goes slow motion, allowing you to blast multiple enemies. Third, the open-world environment means you can play it for a long while.
If you’ve ever wanted to play Skyrim or Fallout out in the Wild West, this is the game for you. Plus, the story is fantastic.
GUN [PC, PS2, Xbox, X360, GameCube, PSP]
GUN wasn’t an original pioneer of Western-themed games, but it sure did its part in raising the popularity of the genre. Available on multiple systems, and selling well over a million units, there’s no doubt that GUN helped gamers to see that the Wild West is a fascinating setting.
Like Red Dead Redemption, GUN takes place in an open-world environment. There’s a main storyline, but there are also multiple sidequests and minigames that expand on the lore. You’ll face down outlaws and wild animals in shooter style as you play, but you can also be the bad guy and terrorize towns if that suits you better.
Perhaps the most engrossing aspect of the game, though, is its voice acting. There’s a lot of strong talent that went into this game (e.g., Ron Perlman, Thomas Jane, Dave Wittenberg) and they really help to bring the atmosphere to life.
Wild Arms 3 [PS2]
Unlike the other games in this list, Wild Arms 3 is an RPG. Though it takes place in a fictional world called Filgaia, it’s basically the American Wild West, making it a unique title since there aren’t many RPGs that make good use of the setting.
As it originates from Japan, you’ll run into a few of the tropes that pervade JRPGs. However, the setting is lively, the characters are easy to root for, the story is engaging, and the gameplay is exciting. Truth be told, it’s the only Wild West RPG that comes to mind, and that should be a testament to how well this game sets itself apart from the rest.
Oregon Trail [Too Many to List]
Is there anyone who DOESN’T know about Oregon Trail? For many of us, it was the game that defined our childhoods and taught us that games could be harsh. I can’t count the number of hours I played this back when I was just a boy, and a list of Wild West games would be incomplete without it.
The goal of the game is to travel from Missouri to Oregon by way of the Oregon Trail all the while making sure that your party survives from start to finish. Along the way, you have to hunt for food, avoid diseases, endure the environment, and take care of your belongings.
Life in the West was no picnic, and Oregon Trail didn’t hold back any punches in getting the point across. Itching to play a modern remake? Try the Organ Trail parody flash game for free.
If you’ve played these titles already and want even more, try searching around for free and open source games like Smokin’ Guns.
With the oversaturation of fantasy games (and more recently, sci-fi games), I can only hope for more titles that further explore this genre. I’d even be happy with a true space-cowboy type game along the lines of Firefly. One can always hope, right?
What do you think of Wild West video games? Which ones are your favorites? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!