The evolution of Wild West video games

Red Dead Redemption

Howdy pard’ners. I don’t know about you, but I’m going crazy waiting for the release of Red Dead Redemption. In fact, I got so bored of checking my watch to see if it’s May 21 yet that I decided to go and revisit some Wild West video games of yesteryear.

It’s surprising that the Wild West has never really taken off as a game genre. It lends itself to action, adventure and excitement, yet few developers managed to capture the spirit of the old West in a computer game. There have been a few gunslinging games that have proved successful, however.


The story of cowboy computer games began in the early Seventies, when The Oregon Trail was created for the Apple I. This pioneering pioneer adventure proved one of the most successful early video games, spawning releases on a dozen different platforms over the years.




The Wild West game genre was almost killed off by Custer’s Revenge, an Atari 2600 title that ranks as one of the worst of all time. The aim of this controversial X-rated game (which cost $49.99 at the time!) was to guide Custer safely across the plain so he could draw his pistol at a buxom lady. Not surprisingly, this game was panned by women’s rights groups and video game critics alike.




Thankfully, the rather soiled Old West genre was cleaned up in the early Eighties, when kids flocked to the arcades to play Bank Panic. This Sega game, later released on home consoles, saw you take the role of a lawman who needed to shoot down the bad guys who popped through one of the three doors.




Express Raider on the Spectrum cast you in the role of a rootin’ tootin’, cowboy-come-kung fu expert. The side-scrolling element of the game saw you take down baddies with your moves. There was also a sharp shooting mode where you had to aim at moving targets while on horseback.




It was a terrible film, but Back to the Future Part III became the most advanced Western game in history when released by Probe in 1991. The varied gameplay turned Doc Brown into a murderous gunslinger who rode around shooting everything and everyone in site. And we loved it.




LucasArts first-person, 3D shooter, Outlaws, raised the bar for cowboy games. This polished game captured the atmosphere of a Western movie with its Morricone-esque soundtrack and cinematic set pieces. Best of all, Outlaws was multiplayer, allowing up to eight varmints to square up using their modem connection.




Dead Man’s Hand adopted the same first-person approach as Outlaws but with graphics and sound effects that were way more realistic. Famously, Red Dead Revolver was also released in this year on the PS2 and XBox, this being the precursor to Red Dead Redemption.





The free-roaming, open world, GUN brought the Wild West into the sandbox. Armed with a arsenal of different weapons, the character, Colton had to pass through a wide range of different missions. A series of fun side missions included poker playing, cattle herding and bounty hunting.




Billed by its developer, Ubisoft, as “the best West ever created”, Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood is the benchmark on which Red Dead Redemption will be judged. Its presentation was absolutely breathtaking, although hopefully the gameplay in RDR will be a bit more varied than this one.



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