Developer: Upstream Arcade
Publisher: Raw Fury

A great indie release that is ruined by its own smug bullshit and game breaking bugs.

What a fun game this was. I truly enjoyed most every aspect of West of Dead.

Should you play it? Fuck no!

The art style is amazing. The strategic cover-n-shoot mechanic was super fun. Ron Pearlman’s voice acting was a pleasant surprise. The rogue-like (permadeath) grind even had its charm, despite having to repeat the same 6 levels across 50+ attempts. Gathering ‘sin’ from dead enemies and investing it at the end of each level to pump up my character gave the illusion of ‘progress’, despite having to restart back to the 1st level upon each death.

You will get to know level one VERY well.

But fuck this game and fuck the developers.

Why the vitriol you may ask?

For one, it’s broken. 4 times (so four resets) I was ‘knocked’ off the board and was ‘stuck’ below the floor, taking damage, until my unavoidable death, or just stuck period. Unforgivable if you are making a ‘rogue-like’ permadeath game. 3 times I had ‘gates’ lock me in rooms that had no enemies… but the room required me to kill all the enemies to open, but there were none… so… stuck. Restart.

But mostly, West of Dead is ruined by its own severely misguided attempt at being “challenging” by putting the boss at the end of 6 levels of a game, that kicks you back to the 1st level every time you die. Which is a tough enough challenge as the levels get progressively harder. But it’s nothing short of sadistic, and just disrespectful to the player, to put an end of game boss at the end of 6 levels, that takes beginners around two hours of game-play just to reach (if they don’t die). After running through the levels over and over and over and over and over and over again… you can shave that down to about 1 hour and 15 minutes to reach the boss… AGAIN).

And what happens when you reach the boss? You die. Because that’s what bosses do. They kill you. Repeatedly. And each time, you learn a little more of their pattern until you find the right attack and defense combos to victory.

BUT YOU CAN’T DO THAT WHEN YOU HAVE TO RESET BACK TO THE 1ST LEVEL EVERY TIME YOU DIE!

Level 4… Farmlands. I spent so much time here I could have grown real crops.

Picture the grind they are expecting of you. 6 levels, and an hour+ (at best, closer to two for beginners/average players) to get to the boss. You have no idea what his attack patterns are. You have no idea what weapons and abilities might work best, because you have been given zero opportunity to experiment on the boss. The fight isn’t even really much of one. You won’t knock the boss’s health down to even half (at least on the first few tries).

And the REALLY sad part is… *(small spoiler)… you are kidding yourself if you think the game is over after the first boss fight. No… grind some more. What the game requires of you to actually beat it, is frankly, ridiculous for two reasons. 1) They don’t explain jack all about what you are supposed to do, so when you are stuck in an infinite loop with the game, there is nothing to even give you a hint of what you are doing wrong. And 2) and this is MOST egregious… even once you break down in complete resignation and go to the internet and read point for point what you are supposed to do… you still have to rely on a bit of dumb luck for the game to actually spawn the three things you MUST have to beat the boss and finish the game. If you don’t have those three things… most likely you only have two because the game didn’t spawn the third because it’s buggy and broken as hell… well then, back to the beginning. A-fucking-gain.

I’ve dumped about 60 hours into this maddening grind, and have reached the boss many times. Only to have died, as expected, rather quickly. To then be taken back to level 1, with rage and sadness in my heart. (*Did beat it on the sixth attempt, but again, back to the beginning, do it again, then do it again the RIGHT way. Seriously). *I actually played this so goddamn much, I got to the point where the end boss wasn’t even a problem anymore, but getting the game to actually spawn the required items to get an ‘end game’ instead of a ‘repeat game’ relied on some degree of ‘luck’ because the devs probably figured no one will actually get that far in the game.

Is this fun anymore?

I don’t think so. It stopped being fun long ago. Upstream Arcade…. speaking to you directly. Is this the feeling you want people to walk away from your game with? Read the forums, people WANT to like your game, but they don’t.

It’s too bad. It really is. This went from one of the ‘funnest’ games I’ve played in a long time, to just an exercise in disappointment that a group of developers would sink so much time and effort into such a beautiful game, with truly fun mechanics… only to piss on the player with a giant ‘fuck you if you think you are going to beat this game’. Add that to the knowledge that they KNOW the game is broken (patches that updated my game a week after I started playing changed core parts of my game… thanks) and are trying to ‘fix it on the fly’. I am so turned off by this experience, I will forever remember the developers of Upstream Arcade and avoid any titles with their name attached to it like the plague. I’d rather give my gaming time and money to a company who shows a modicum of respect for the players experience and weren’t so wrapped up in their own games hubris to try and be ‘rogue-like’.

And just for some clarity on how bullshit this game is (and to prove I’m not just a bad gamer with a shitty attitude)… when you unlock achievements in Xbox games, it gives you a percentage of how many other players have unlocked that same achievement. Just beating the 6th level… (that’s just REACHING the boss, THE FIRST TIME)… gave me an achievement that only .17% of people on Xbox have been awarded.

That means 99.83% of the people who play this game, don’t even SEE the boss. Hell, they don’t even see the end of the 6th level.

If I made a game that 99% of the people didn’t even beat the 6th level out of a game that only HAS six levels… I would feel like I missed the mark completely.

Here’s a few other interesting stats gleaned from the achievement percentages:

Less than 50% of players complete the first level.
Less than 13% complete the second level.
Less than 10% complete the third level.
Less than 6% complete the fourth level.
Less than 3% complete the fifth level.
Less than 1% complete the sixth level.

(Now keep in mind, to beat the game, you must complete the 6 levels, unlock and complete 3 other ‘harder’ sub-levels, beat the boss the 1st time, repeat the 6 levels, beat the boss the 2nd time, repeat the 6 levels, and then beat the boss the 3rd(!) time, IF the game actually gave you the three required items, which it tends not to do… without dying once… otherwise… repeat forever until you quit screaming, ‘Fuck this game!’.)

I hear the gurgling of the Bayou in my sleep because I have lived here for a week now.

It would be SO easy for the devs to fix this. Just make a mechanic that allows the player to face the boss without having to repeat the WHOLE FUCKING GAME. You could make it something that had to be earned like so many of the other special weapons and abilities. It could be something one can only get after grinding the levels over and over again and purchased with ‘sin’. Call it ‘Boss Resurrection’, which gives you two lives to take on the boss, and make it cost 500 Sin. And perhaps SOME clue as to what is expected for the final boss so the player isn’t just stuck repeating the game over and over. And most importantly… IF YOU ARE GOING TO MAKE AN ‘END GAME’ REQUIREMENT, THEN MAKE SURE THE GAME ACTUALLY SPAWNS THE REQUIRED ITEMS. That should be just fucking basic design, but the devs here screwed that up.

Done. I just fixed your broken game Upstream Arcade.

But as it is, you just don’t get the chance to learn how to fight the boss… and it takes 1-2 hours to earn each single shot at it. And even when you sink the hours of repetition in to easily overcome the boss, you still can’t beat the game because it’s final ‘requirements’ don’t always show up for the player.

I’ve read MANY reviews of this game. Not ONE mentions the boss.

Why?

Because I promise you, not one of those reviewers stuck with this game long enough to even SEE the boss.

But for you dear reader, I did the grind. So many hours. So many deaths. So many resets. But I FINALLY felt like I was honing in success. After failing to get through level 6 too many times, I made it to the Boss for the fourth time. It was close, but I was figuring out his attacks and whittling him down. It was going to be close… my heart was pounding… I was hyper focused. He unleashed a wave attack… I tried to dodge it… but it caught me and knocked my health precariously low… but before I could do anything about that… WHOMP… my character warped down below the ground (the THIRD time that happened)… which caused me to be stuck… which allowed the Boss to walk right up and kill me. Done. Game over. Start again sucker. Ha ha ha ha. We KNOW the game is broken, but fuck it, let’s release it and charge people anyway, right Upstream Arcade?

Here is the clip:

 

Verdict: My final call is – ‘Fuck this game and fuck the developers’. That said, I had SO much fun playing this game, until the crushing weight of the realization of how terribly they fucked the player out of any realistic chance of beating this game.

It’s not fun at that point. It’s not even really a “challenge” because you can beat the levels. You can even, eventually, with enough tries, beat the boss (rather easily, if you have the right loadout and knowledge of his moves). You’ve beaten them all repeatedly. In several different ways. With multiple different guns and abilities. And yet… the finish is beyond any reasonable expectation because of the way the devs designed it.

And that’s why I call bullshit on West of Dead and recommend you spend your time and money on a game where the developers actually care about the players experience.