Disclosure ‐ The awesome guys at Tamarin Studios provided us with a press copy of Wild Frontera at our request.
Bandits, wrestlers and chickens, oh my!
Wild Frontera is a classic top-down action shooter set in 1887 Wild West of America, a time of cowboys, lawmen, outlaws and every Western cliché we know today. Step into the spur boots of an unnamed gunslinger, an ex-Marshall hunting a legendary thief through the American wastes. You begin the game armed with nothing but an old rusty pistol but can upgrade your weapon of choice as you progress through each stage, mowing down any man, beast or crate of dynamite foolish enough to stand in your way.
This is one hell of a shooter, highly reminiscent of old Japanese shoot-em-ups where the player must avoid an insane amount of projectiles while shooting through space such as the eXceed Collection, mixed with other top-down adventure games such as the Diablo series. The player’s starter pistol can hold six rounds but has infinite ammo with a brief reloading time. Bullets don’t travel as fast as you’d expect, but neither do your enemy’s, resulting in some incredibly fun gun play that’s all about avoiding a barrage of bullets while simultaneously fighting against the harsh environment, and it is harsh. Everything is out to kill you, except for a few damsels in distress and innocent farm animals. The land is crawling with armed men out for your arrest as you’ll learn why later on. I think the chickens had it out for me the most. What convinces a chicken to attack a man I’ll never know! Perhaps they had heard about my chicken kicking escapades in the Fable series… alas, a man has no time to question such things. Shoot first, ask questions later.After a brief introduction, our protagonist wakes by a small camp. His mission is clear, to capture the thief known as ‘Steelnuggets’. The player uses the WASD keys to move, space bar to do a quick roll and the mouse to aim, with the mouse buttons used to shoot and melee attack respectively. And if you’re not a fan of the old mouse and keyboard, the game thankfully offers gamepad support as well. The controls of Wild Frontera are simple and responsive; a tutorial isn’t even necessary. I head down the beaten path and encounter what appear to be large wolves. A few pistol shots do away with them rather quickly and I proceed onwards; further down the path and into a clearing where a large group of armed men sit around a camp fire. Immediately they’re alerted to my presence and all hell breaks loose. Bullets are flying from all directions and I don’t feel prepared at all. But as I charge forwards and return fire, it becomes clear that the situation isn’t as grave as I thought. With ease I manage to dodge and weave through the gunfire while returning shots of my own and successfully taking out a few of them. Straight away the fun begins and I feel like a total bad-arse. More men run into the fray and I take cover behind some bales of hay to reload. Ducking back out of cover I take out the rest of the men, using rolls to dodge their gunfire. I’m surprisingly unscathed and ready for more action. The core gameplay is fantastic and plays really well, less like a twitchy arcade shooter and more of a cinematic experience with a little room for error.
The main character narrates the story as the game progresses, but the lack of voice acting is a bit disappointing. A game like this with a silly style and such hilarious stereotypes is desperately crying out for a cheesy voice-over to complete the experience. I found myself unable to concentrate on a lot of the subtitles and text that would appear on screen as I was too busy trying not to take a bullet. What I did read of the dialogue was rather funny, some enemies would attempt to surrender after seeing too many of their allies die, but I – knowing no empathy – cut them down regardless. The sound effects and music are brilliant, enemies let out a funny yelp upon dying and the soundtrack is simple but perfectly fitting for the setting, with simple guitars and trumpets that set that classic Wild West mood.
Throughout each stage you can purchase new weapon models at wagons stationed between checkpoints. There you can spend all those fistfuls of dollars you’ve collected from fallen enemies and purchase and upgrade your weaponry. Besides your trusty pistol, there’s also a sawn-off shotgun and a rifle, if either of those take your fancy. Each weapon plays rather differently and you can only carry one at a time. I found myself favouring the pistol for the majority of the game, offering a nice balance between range, power and speed. Of course, weapons will degrade over time as you use them and must be repaired regularly for optimal usability. Also, not every weapon you purchase will be in peak condition so remember to repair it before moving on.
As the game progresses, the environments are nicely implemented and vary a lot without seeming out of place. The graphics and style are rather simple; similar to a lot of top-down action games on the cartoony-side such as Torchlight but a little less dark and fantasy-like. I played through rough deserts of bones to dark forests filled with hilarious ‘priests’ with pointy white hoods and cloaks. I fought masked Mexican wrestlers and even animated skeletons at one point. The variety of enemies introduced is quite good, becoming more and more bizarre as the game goes on, constantly introducing something new so you never know what to expect. The boss fights are a nice challenge without ever feeling unfair. You can expect to do a lot of runnin’ and gunnin’. Movement is key to avoiding the dangers scattered around the environment from bear traps to large piles of animal poop that can slow you down. While I did die a fair bit playing on the default normal difficulty, the checkpoint system is pretty forgiving, ensuring you never have to repeat large parts of the game. Upon completing the game on normal difficulty, a ‘Most Wanted’ difficulty is unlocked, where projectiles travel much faster, offering a much more difficult experience. Although a 1-hit kill with only 1 life difficulty would be great for all those masochists out there that like a real challenge.
Besides the single-player campaign, Wild Frontera offers a co-op experience but I wasn’t quite sure how it worked and was unable to try it. It’s short but sweet and has a nice number of achievements to squeeze that extra few hours of play time out of it.