Monday, 24 February 2014

Law of the West

1985 game about 1885 life

Have you ever wanted to be a Sheriff in the old West? Ever wanted to walk around like you're John Wayne and be Duke to all that you survey? Did you ever consider that maybe it's a risky business and you're more likely to get shot than make it to the end of the day without looking either like a dead man or a coward? Do I know what I'm talking about any more? That last one I might be able to answer, as I've no real clue, but I have played Law of The West on the C64 and this half-week review is on that.

I suppose I have the lack of processing power and the imagination of armies of bedroom-programmers to thank for the huge variety of games we used to get back in the days of the C64 and ZX81 et al. So many different games based on different circumstances and back in an age where making something similar wasn't really the way to go but making something unique was the forerunner to innovation and inspiration.... Gone off on one again haven't I.
Is he telling the truth? Sod it, just shoot the bastard anyway.
LoTW is effectively a "Day in the Life Of" game where you play as Sheriff NoHead (or left hand side as far as we can see) where you'll have to contend with doing the rounds in the town. A town that has its own doctor, deputy, saloon, bank, railway and other usual stock-locations one would expect to find in any half-decent "Living in the West" film/story. I always get reminded of Blazing Saddles at this point. You'll have to chat with various people, select your options from the trees of conversations and attempt to ascertain what might be happening around the town and how best to deal with each situation. This leads to a somewhat more complicated situation than one might initially realise.

That doctor, the one you told to go fuck himself and drink like a fish, well if you get shot he won't be able to patch you back up. Or balls up the scenario so badly that it kills you anyway. Or if you piss him off about how shitty his job is or how bad he is, he won't help you as you've been a right prick to him. (What was that about "do no harm"...).

Bottom option! You yellow-bellied coward.
Likewise various people are inherently good and bad in the game, though your choice of options can sway them from being good to being a dick, or being bad to leaving you alone or giving up entirely their weapons. Some will reveal things like a certain location is going to be held up by robbers and you'll be heading that way shortly after to stop them in a quick-draw shoot out. Other people will just get pissed off and try to shoot you, though you could just shoot everyone as soon as they arrive, including the little kid. There's no blood (unless YOU get shot) and if you kill the person as they arrive, you'll skip onto the next event.

After 12 events have happened, you'll be rated and assessed on how well you did in the day and given a score. Ratings on how much of a lawman you are, how romantic you were with the ladies, how many bad people you killed, good people you killed and so on. For each encounter there are 3 choices to be made from 4 options. Sometimes it's easy to see where things are going, other times it’s not. One particular encounter seems to be confrontational but can turn out to be that the fast-drawing mexican in front of you is NOT there to challenge you but is actually a hero of the people if you play the cards right. Pre-conceived notions are NOT going to help you here (and the use of the minor key in the music when some of the characters come in is not helpful in trying to gauge good/bad)

...In a body bag, cattle rustlin' jezebel.

The controls are a little sluggish for drawing the gun and shooting, the animations a little stiff though the detail on the characters and the sheriff are impressive for the C64. The melodies seem to be inspired very strongly by your usual cowboy films and shows and everything about it could be a slice-of-life game were it not so short. Only getting one day is a little brief but you can always replay it and see what options will get you where. Maybe you can piss the sassy lady off and have to shoot her? Or see if you can talk your deputy down from being a dick? Or perhaps shoot that prick kid in the face for not telling you the secret he has.

But be careful, the game does try to catch you out at times. Sometimes the bank gets robbed ANYWAY if you just happen to be there at the right time when the scenes change. Sometimes someone will walk away and at the last moment draw their weapon and try to shoot you and in other places, someone who comes across as a good person can be a real monster depending on the statements you make and the choices you take.

Option #5 Shove it up your arse and pull the trigger, bitch.

As a result, there's a lot of replay value and there has to be for a game that can be over in relatively quick time, if you take the time and planning to explore all of the possibilities. Otherwise it's a nice functional game that could have been made better by having the time expanded out and the game take place over the course of a week, maybe seeing how that hoe-down went with the teacher, or if you can go the whole week without murdering your deputy for being a smart-arse shitbag bastard. Otherwise it's a shot and brief excursion through what could have been a very promising and very complex game.