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Wild West Online hands-on - first impressions from the frontier

Wild West Online Preview

Game PreviewSep 27, 2017 at 5:24a PSTby g40

Wild West Online hands-on - first impressions from the frontier

The developers of Wild West Online were so done with waiting for the PC version of Red Dead Redemption that they’ve decided to make their own Wild West game. Can this thing even work? For now, there are more questions than answers.

Isn’t it strange that such a popular setting as the Wild West remains so underexploited in video games? Across all of the 80s and the 90s we saw games focusing on the life of a cowboy or a trapper popping up from time to time, such as the memorable Colorado from Silmarils. In the 21st century, as the technology developed, the gamers have seen an increasing number of interesting titles, including Dead Man’s Hand, the fantasy-treading Darkwatch and Gun, and, eventually, Rockstar’s Red Dead Revolver, followed by a sequel – the opus magnum of 7th-gen consoles – Red Dead Redemption.

Red Dead Redemption PC

The adventures of RDR’s John Marston were unable to shift the attention of the industry to westerns, though. Also RDR’s influence on other developer teams appears to be negligible. One could wonder whether it was the result of Rockstar’s work being that much ahead or the fact that other developers were afraid of entering a potentially oversaturated market. After all, Wild West games are something different that modern FPS game, which began popping up like mushrooms after the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

Red Dead Redemption never got to the PC platform, whose owners have been waiting seven long years for a port. According to the developers at 612 Games, this was one of the reasons behind the decision to create Wild West Online, a PvE and PvP-focused open-world game set in the Wild West.

A meeting of clones. In the alpha, we cannot change the appearance of our avatar (except for the skin color). - 2017-09-27
A meeting of clones. In the alpha, we cannot change the appearance of our avatar (except for the skin color).

The alpha tests of the game launched a few days ago, and we had a chance to take part in them. It was the developers’ wish for us to state that the current version of the game does not reflect its final shape, and the purpose of the alpha tests is to run a load test for the servers and evaluate some solutions that are to appear in the final version of the game. Which means that, well, it’s just your average alpha test – and the developers are counting on the common sense of anyone playing their half-finished product at this stage.

Contents of the alpha

The alpha has us exploring a small valley, featuring two towns and several farms. The available area allows us to get into the atmosphere of the game: hilly wasteland with sun-scorched grass and scarce bushes – your typical Wild West landscape. Surrounding it are the majestic mountains, which cannot be reached in game.

GAME DEVELOPMENT

Wild West Online is one of the games that are developed under the watchful eye of the fan community. What follows are our impressions of the first tests of the game’s alpha build, which features only some of the elements that will be included in the final version of the game. We’ll be keeping a close eye on WWO, and the topic will perhaps return around October (assuming something interesting happens during the beta tests).

The horse or the gun? You’re gonna have to choose. - 2017-09-27
The horse or the gun? You’re gonna have to choose.

Our character, which we can observe from TPP (or switch to FPP), will not always respawn with weapons and additional items, such as e.g. treasure maps or a pickaxe. The map will show you the place where you can dig for gold. Ore-bearing stones, however, yield little profit, and it will take some effort before we can spend some money in the town. Not that we can buy anything nice, as the vendors and barkeeps stand around their modest inventory like scarecrows. You may wonder about the fact that gold is simply there, lying on the meadows, and nobody needs to go into a mine to try their luck. In fact, there are no mines in the alpha build (whether they will be included in the final version is unknown), but hey, it’s an alpha.

Nobody can get shot while in town, as it’s a safe zone, and bullets simply go through the characters without any consequences. Outside of towns, however, anything can happen, as the competition gets real and brutal. Killing, same as theft, will make us lose our reputation. Repeat criminals will be marked with a special icon, informing us that we are dealing with a professional thug. For now, however, the mechanics’ influence on the game, other than providing information, is negligible. In fact, the sheriff’s office is empty for now, so nobody would do anything about the crooks either way. In the full version, we’ll be able to get arrest warrants from the sheriff, as presented by the developers on one of their promo movies.

The shops offer several types of weapons, which can be customized. - 2017-09-27
The shops offer several types of weapons, which can be customized.

The only transportation methods available in the alpha are your own feet and a horse, which appears in your vicinity after you call it. The game apparently has yet to introduce any form of mounted combat, as currently you can’t even shoot from horseback.

Alpha, being the alpha, rarely emits any sounds. For most of the time I was accompanied by silence. A working voice chat provided some comfort, and if somebody has the determination they can assemble an army of clones even in this small, contentless alpha build. While it’s fun in the short run, only the final version will make the most of this option.

Black sombrero

Even now, WWO can boast decent visuals and awful, eye-hurting character animations. Admittedly, there is still time to fix some things up, but… this is a large title, which was announced last May and scheduled to launch this December. Giving its predicted scope, you’ll have to admit that the developers have some really ambitious plans. And even though Wild West Online is said to have been in development since 2016, which is doubtful, how much can be accomplished by a team that includes three people, before the deadline comes? Even if they were to pour their entire soul into the game. And yet the thing goes on…

And here’s where we stumble upon the point where the dream of a multiplayer Red Dead Redemption successor ends and the fight for money begins. While the team at 612 Games may have nothing to do with this darker side of the industry, the situation appears to be weighty enough that this aspect needs to be mentioned.

Quick travel points are currently out of order. - 2017-09-27
Quick travel points are currently out of order.

Clever marketing

In May this year, a mysterious screenshot, depicting a dusty town street and a cowboy leaning on a signpost, appeared on a Rockstar forum dedicated to Red Dead Redemption 2. The developers at 612 Games, or perhaps rather the PR company that represented their business, cleverly took advantage of this situation to win a great deal of recognition for their game that had been almost nonexistent in the media up to that point. A marketing trick worthy of the best – suddenly, everybody was talking about a game nobody had heard of five minutes before, and the small developer team was compared to Rockstar, one of the most influential video game developers of the world.

The next day, PC Gamer published an interview with the creative director at 612 Games, Stephan Bugaj, one of the three people officially hired by the company. The other two are its CEO, Sirus Ahmadi, and executive producer, Dmitri Johnson (other than limited information on the three aforementioned men, the developer’s official website is empty). Bugaj talked about a planned Kickstarter campaign, which eventually didn’t happen, as the media exposure provided by the highly creative marketing strategy was enough to draw in sponsors.

This is the same location that appeared on the “leaked” screenshot. Only it’s viewed from the other side. The cowboy was leaning on the roof support of the first building from the right. - 2017-09-27
This is the same location that appeared on the “leaked” screenshot. Only it’s viewed from the other side. The cowboy was leaning on the roof support of the first building from the right.

Shady connections

At this point, you could still say that nothing bad has happened, and the team at 612 Games is simply passionate about their work and has a lot of luck. The real problems begin when we make the connection between Wild West Online, 612 Games, The War Z, and Sergey Titov – a video game producer of questionable reputation, whose name can be traced back to several cases of “collect the money and leave an unfinished mess of a game”. One such title is the aforementioned The War Z a.k.a. Infestation: Survival Stories, which was even removed from Steam after it was accused of false advertisement (the description included features that were missing in the game) and for putting arbitrary bans on the players.

The Wild West’s most famous shootout took place in Tombstone, Arizona in 1881. The involved parties were the Earp brothers (including the famous Wyatt) and Doc Holiday, as representatives of law on one side, and the gang of McLaury and Clanton brothers on the other. In the wake of the incident three bandits were dead and three sheriffs wounded. Two remaining participants left the scene unscathed.

Around 30 shots were fired during the shootout, which lasted only 30 seconds. There is even a famous 1993 western that focuses on the event, Tombstone, starring Kurt Russel, Val Kilmer, and Sam Elliot.

Little House on the Prairie... stands empty. Other than vendors, there are no NPCs in the alpha version. - 2017-09-27
Little House on the Prairie... stands empty. Other than vendors, there are no NPCs in the alpha version.

As it turns out, the thing that allows the works on Wild West Online to progress so quickly is the Nightshade engine – written by Sergey Titov and used in his games: The War Z, Burstfire, Romero’s Aftermath, and Shattered Skies. All of them either eventually turned out to be flops or were dropped by their respective developers. The devs at 612 Games admit that if they had decided to use, for example, Unreal Engine 4 in their game, we would have to wait for the release at least a year longer. Now, the question is, does the developers’ wish to finish their game faster that Rockstar validates the use of such a worn out engine? In fact, RDR2’s release date was moved to April next year roughly two weeks after the reveal of WWO, but I wouldn’t really make a connection here.

On the WWO forums, the guys at 612 Games vigorously deny having any connection to Titov although they do admit that their game runs on Nightshade. What they forgot to mention is the fact that they are also reusing some of the assets previously used in the games from Free Reign Entertainment – company owned by Sergey Titov. That’s yet another thing that might backfire.

We rode horses made of sticks... - 2017-09-27
We rode horses made of sticks...

Unknown future

Will Wild West Online become yet another game whose job is to trick the naive into parting with their money, only to leave them hanging in the end? Well, conspiracy theories have that funny thing going about them – they tend to be false. Perhaps also all my doubts are exaggerated, and we’ll get another Wild West game. The alpha does little to answer this question. For now, its contents are too scarce to even try predicting how this game will turn out eventually.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

I’m not that much into multiplayer titles, all the less so if their focus lies in PvP. Still, there are several co-op-based tittles that I consider to be very good, and had some really pleasant time playing them. I’ve spent several hours playing Wild West Online, during which I’ve explored the available game area and tested various gameplay mechanics provided in the alpha build.

DISCLAIMER

The alpha version of Wild West Online used for the tests was provided free of charge by the VIM Global company.