Well howdy there, greenhorn. Our recent coverage of cowpoke simulators Red Dead Redemption and Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West got Mike “Dead Eye” D’Alonzo and me thinking about the history of Western video games, so we thought we’d compile a li’l ol’ list of the top five Western games for ya.
Cowboy games have such a long history in gaming, so we narrowed our picks down to five top Western games, one from each roughly-defined era in gaming. Yee-haw, as they say.
In the great shootout between Half-Fast Pete (say it out loud and you’ll get the joke) and Billy the Kid (no joke necessary), the obvious winner is the young child of the ‘80s, who would have found the simple-but-delicious gameplay in Outlaw to be so entertaining that they wouldn’t have been able to imagine a better Western game would ever appear. The object? Outdraw and shoot your opponent, avoiding the digital stagecoach. Beautiful, man…just beautiful.
The Oregon Trail (Created 1971, Released for Apple II in 1985)
A PC educational title popular in schools in the ‘80s and ‘90s, The Oregon Trail is the most realistic Western game ever widely played. You don’t play as a sheriff or outlaw, but as a regular person, and like most citizens of the actual Wild West, you don’t spend as much time slinging six-shooters in saloons as you do desperately trying to keep your children from dying of dysentery. Unlike most “educational” computer games, though, The Oregon Trail is actually fun, especially the hunting mini-game, which has caused more wasted hours in school computer labs than any other game in history.
Sunset Riders (1991)
Konami’s SNES version of the well-known arcade game takes the run-and-gun screen-scrolling of Contra and slaps on a serious layer of Old West dust. In it, you choose from one of four buckaroos and head out into the dusty West to shoot a million guys and collect the bounties on four bosses. The gameplay is frantic and a tiny bit frustrating. It’s totally mindless but completely engaging, like the best Nintendo games. But man, the bosses in the later levels are impossible -- I still have nightmares about Big Chief Wigwam’s knife attack.
Now this is what I’m talking about. First class voice acting, including Thomas Jane, Lance Henriksen, and Kris Kristofferson, narrate the story of Colton White, trying to avenge the death of his father and getting caught up in the search for a city of gold. An open-world third person shooter, Gun had a lot going for it. Whether you were trying to outdraw a baddie with your revolver, hunt down a buffalo with a bow and arrow, or throw explosives and the like, the only drawback was that it was too short. We’ve been waiting for the long-rumored sequel (a poster for "Gun: Magruder’s Ghost" appeared in Tony Hawk’s Proving Ground in 2007), but don’t hold your breath, as the heat on this one seems to have been, sadly, cooled.
Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood (2009)
This criminally under-appreciated gem is a great game. It’s a linear first-person-shooter that puts you in the head of either of two cowpokes -- one who prefers a brute force approach with the six-shooter, and the other who’s stealthy and rocks a rifle or bow and arrow. The single-player plot feels like an Eastwood movie and the multiplayer is more like a Peckinpah movie. Bound in Blood delivers on the possibilities of next-gen systems by allowing gamers, finally, to be cowboys…and isn’t being a cowboy all you’ve ever wanted in a video game?
Honorable Mention: Custer’s Revenge (1982)
General George Armstrong Custer was known for a lot of things, but according to Custer’s Revenge, the most prominent among them was his…um…prodigious Wild Western erection. With this, he strove to thwart, biologically speaking, the pelt of a Native American hottie with huge boobs, whose name was...Revenge. Get it? Seriously, this was a game that your dad had, the ‘80s gaming equivalent of his sock drawer, and you only got to see it when he was out of the house.