Almost anything can be made better by combining it with the supernatural. Pirates of the Caribbean capitalizes on a winning formula with its haunting buccaneers, Stranger Things puts monsters in D&D, and the Hard West has hit a home run with its tales of the strange Wild West. An XCOM-like tactics game, when it isn’t, Hard West 2 Poker brings some up-to-date ideas to the table.
need to know
What is this? Supernatural Cowboy Turn Based Strategy
Expected payment: $27/£24
Developer: ice code games
Publisher: good cowboy entertainment
Reviewed on: Threadripper 2950X, Geforce RTX 3080 10GB, 64GB RAM
Contact: Hardwestgame.com (Opens in new tab)
It starts with a train, as do many great things. You’re naturally robbing it, and after doing your research you’re sure there aren’t many guards. ‘You’, in this case, is Jin Carter, a horse-riding, hat-clad fan of the Six Shooters, the titular leader of a band of outlaws. This train robbery is going to make him rich, you will see. They are accompanied by Laughing Deer, Native American melee specialist, Flynn, who appears fragile and remains in the shadows, and trick-shooter Kestrel Colt.
The train guards have no chance, except that there are more of them than you expect. Happily, you have some advantages, which keep you in good shape throughout the game. The first is that your characters have three action points instead of the traditional two. This means they can move, heal and still shoot. Or sprint into cover and plop down for a better chance of escaping oncoming fire.
(Image credit: Good Shepherd Games)
the luck of the draw
Trick shots are meant to ricochet your bullets from hard surfaces to negate the effect of cover, essentially improbably outnumbering the enemy. To facilitate this, wheelbarrows, junk piles, and non-explosive barrels are scattered around the levels. You can also ping a bullet with a hanging light fitting. Then there’s luck, which makes your attacks more accurate.
However, it is bravery that makes the biggest difference. Kill an enemy, and your action points are replenished. It’s so simple, but affects the fight in such a deep way. Suddenly they are chained to see how far they go. Living enemies are marching toward your target, at the risk of over-expanding and being cut to pieces on the next turn, or leaving other characters behind as you go on a killing spree.
This, at least in the early stages, means that the Laughing Deer is a killing machine. Bring him close, add a dose of luck, and he can stun anyone, instantly replenishing his AP to move on to the next hapless victim. Luck will eventually run out, and enemies with more health will arrive, but he still works hard. This makes it very easy to leave him unprotected, standing miles away from cover or allies when the turn ends just because you were having so much fun tearing down the bad guys.
Train? Train? You forgot the train! (Image credit: Good Shepherd Games)
red hot poker
Back on the train, you’ve made your way to the driver’s compartment. Loco goes into the tunnel, everything turns black. When it emerges from the other side, it is crawling on hundreds of centipede-like metal legs, which is unusual for a steam train. There, provoking Baylor, is a man with some interesting powers of his own, who eventually reveals himself as Mammon, the devil himself. And he wants to play poker.
Of course you play. Of course you lose. The bet was only your soul, but he would have sent you the centi-train if you had won, making it a very tempting proposition. And he seemed such a dependable man. Interestingly, the loss of your soul prevents you from casting a shadow. I am not sure how it works.
Eventually you’ll unlock a gang of six outlaws, each with their own skills and inventory.
You wake up in an overworld map, a departure from an XCOM-like base-building globe, and something more like Total War’s strategy layer mixed in with a 2D RPG. You roam here, exploring towns, mines and strange things beside the streets, usually getting yourself into trouble and switching to turn-based combat mode to put yourself out there again. You dig up (sometimes quite literally) new members of your crew with new abilities, hold short conversations, decide whether to take supplies or leave them for hungry villagers, and investigate the supernatural. . Mammon and his Centipede Express to Hell are still somewhere out there, mocking both timetables and 19th-century engineering practices as they rumble through the countryside. You can get your soul back by killing him. It’s worth a try, anyway. And it can be fun.
For now, though, it’s cold. It would be nice to go to a city, because there may be shops for new weapons, but first we have to see that old hut on the side of the road.
(Image credit: Good Shepherd Games)
Once you’ve built up a few extra members in your ranks, you can start thinking of different ways to approach missions. The game shares more with Desperados 3 than a setting and prefers save skimming, giving each character special abilities. Jin Carter has a short range skill that can shoot through cover, inflicting damage on every enemy in his area of influence. Flynn can swap places with any character—at the cost of one hit point—with just a sliver of health to take an embattled enemy out of cover or eliminate the bad guys. Others have more elderly endowments.
Eventually you’ll unlock a gang of six outlaws, each with their own skills and inventory as riflemen, shotgunners, exploding drunks (apparently a grenade launcher with infinite ammunition), zombies and witches to tear down. ready to infect every formidable wooden structure. Hard West 2 lives up to its name, as enemies are plentiful and tend to be very tough.
The value of replay can be limited, as levels are more like puzzle solving, enemy positions don’t mix if you take another shot at them, and there’s no multiplayer.
They start out killable with a single shot, but soon double their hit points, putting an end to your fiery-fueled rage unless you spend some time softening them first. Are being given. Characters can carry two weapons, as well as a throwable, each of which will have a different AP cost. Rifles, for example, fire all three action points, but their damage and range are unmatched. Shotguns and explosives have an area of effect, and can injure your allies. Killing an ally, however, can trigger bravery, so it’s probably worth it, especially as members of your team never actually die, coming back to life after the fight, ready for a visit to the surgeon. With hit points, if you’ve got cash.
The playing card system increases stats and unlocks new abilities. (Image credit: Good Shepherd Games)
Then there are cards that you’ll occasionally pick up as you move around the map. They are normal playing cards, only slightly enchanted, and can add extra hit points, luck or speed on their own. But this is the Old West, so giving a character a legitimate poker hand gives you something extra. Having two pairs can unlock an ability, but a full house tops it up and a royal flush makes it even better. Unless you’re a real cowboy, it may be helpful to have a poker guide or Wikipedia hand when dealing cards.
Take Laughing Deer: He needs to capture a pair to unlock his devastating Wild Run ability, which adds extra damage for every two squares he charges in combat. Add extra cards to a flush and a sphere of effect is added to dodge nearby enemies, while a direct flush increases base damage and gives an advantage to allies. Sending him zig-zagging on a max-range killing spree among scattered enemies, and watching him fire bravado every time he fielded another rifleman, is one of the game’s most satisfying sights. offer.
(Image credit: Good Shepherd Games)
Less satisfying are the things you would expect to happen but haven’t. Throwing a stick of dynamite should have a devastating effect on structures, which look lightly built and dry. It’s not. Field of effect attacks are two-dimensional, limited to the level you are at and don’t affect those immediately up or down, especially frustrating with shotguns, which you can use to hit someone from the ceiling. Should be able to. And cover can’t be blown up or vaulted, though your characters do a good job of finding paths, scaling stairs, and bursting through windows the rest of the time. The value of replay can be limited, as levels are more like puzzle solving, enemy positions don’t mix if you take another shot at them, and there’s no multiplayer.
Given time, enemies appear who have the same supernatural abilities as your characters, which feels like cheating on their part as their hit points return to normal after a flurry of bullets. Then massive amounts of explosives are carried by other enemies, who like to charge up and begin throwing grenades everywhere, causing your characters to bleed their hit points dangerously fast. There are ways to reduce this, of course, using the heads down maneuver to stop the bleeding and feeding to build your points back, but they all take action points.
None of this really matters though, as Hard West 2 is as solid as the safe in the township’s bank. Which the local bandits are making elaborate plans to rob. The combat is crisp, the bits in between aren’t out of their welcome, and the whole supernatural cowboy setting still has enough sparkle to be entertaining. There is enough space in our city for such games.