The Western is a good genre choice for any game. The setting fits well with for both action and adventuring alike but there's one thing has always amused me; why are wild west adventure games afraid of being serious? From Freddy Pharkas, Fennimore Fillmore and even Fievel Goes West, the tone is always light-hearted. Dust: A Tale of the Wild West released in 1995 by Cyberflix fits right into that same mould.
With only a couple of early shooters under their belt, Dust was Cyberflix's first attempt at an adventure. They would later be better known for the excellent Titanic: Adventures Out of Time which is mechanically very similar. It sticks with the first-person viewpoint as well as representing human folk as a series of still-photos, in close-up at least. There are a couple of surprisingly well-implemented mini-games such as poker and the odd shoot-out but their mandatory nature may frustrate adventure purists.
The story is not unlike many Western tales you've heard countless time before. A nameless stranger wanders into a dustbowl desert town named Diamondback that's blighted by outlaws, becomes the resident Sherriff despite being a nameless stranger, bests an juvenilely nick-named outlaw to a duel and visits a mystical underworld. Just your average run-of-the-mill horse opera then.
Besides the surprisingly fantastical turn in the final act, what elevates Dust to comedic heights is the cast of characters you interact with. Every single one of them is a staple of the genre right down to the incomprehensible town drunk. In fact this reprobate named Leroy is the first person you'll meet in Diamondback and depending on your taste, he'll either have you in stitches or make you want to hurt yourself. The voice actor reads his lines with gusto, complete with the American twang of the gold-rush era. I laughed quite a bit through my encounters with him but that's probably due to how the character is portrayed rather than the script, which often becomes groan-worthy.
The puzzles are mostly inventory based and are often well designed. If you do get stuck, there's also an excellent help system that doesn't take away from the game's immersion. The town of Diamondback is home to a curiosity shop owned by a Chinese fella named Help - in case you weren't sure of his purpose. He will provide hints and guide you in the right direction whenever you are lost. He's also a little bit racist coming from the Charlie Chan School of acting.
In many ways it's good that I enjoyed this broad, intentionally bad acting because conversations take up most of the overall play time. And boy is it difficult to shut these folks up. Everyone prattles on for what seems like an age which could be torture if you're not already invested. The character graphics change from the low-res CGI models displayed while exploring to static still photos up close. There's an attempt at animation but it comes off as a badly controlled ventriloquist dummy. There's little attempt made at synching it with the dialogue but given the tone of the game overall, it weirdly fits.
So there's a definite air of humour in this game, but unlike the other aforementioned adventure games, the story itself could've easy been told straight. The hijinks are not entirely out of the realm of reality so a re-write would be fairly simple. However, the plot's so slight and generic that I doubt it would've been as enjoyable. The humour and personality is what makes the game so those looking for a serious attempt of will have to find their fix in the action genre. There's plenty there with titles like Gun, Desperados or the excellent Red Dead Redemption.
So why is it so hard to take the Western seriously in video games? Fantasy, sci-fi, horror, drama and even romance are all represented in point-and-click form no matter which Greek muse mask they put on. Perhaps it has to do with the genre's ever-fluctuating popularity. Westerns were to movies in the 50s and 60s what Superhero flicks are to now. When they were popular, cowboys and Indians were everywhere and if interactive entertainment existed back then, I'm sure various interpretations would've popped up. Westerns became to ubiquitous that it eventually became a parody of itself - so much so that only now does it seem to be recovering. Today's Westerns like True Grit, The Hateful Eight and The Revenant aren't so reliant of over-used tropes and are told respectfully. Video games reflect this trend with the more modern likes of RockStar's Red Dead series and Ubisoft's Call of Juarez.
Does this all mean that Dust's style of storytelling is irrelevant in today's world of gaming? Perhaps. But if you're visiting this site I doubt the ageing concepts or mechanics of a game will have little impact on your opinion. I found Dust highly enjoyable and definitely worth a playthrough. I doubt I'll come back to it like I expect I may do with Titanic but I'm glad to have visited if only for the once.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox running Microsoft Windows 3.1 to get the game working on modern systems. Tested on Windows 10.
Dust: A Tale of the Wired West is © Cyberflix IncorporatedReview, Cover Design and Installer created by me