Westerns were one of the most popular film genres of the 1950-60s and after waning in popularity in the 70-80s, they found a resurgence in the early 90s (be sure to check out our list of The 12 Best Modern Western Films). Around the same time, we began to see a rise in western-themed video games in arcades and on home consoles. Though there hasn’t been a ton of focus on western games since then, the past few years have been full of anticipation for the upcoming release of Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2, which will hit store shelves later in 2018. The western genre of video games owes much of its modern success to Rockstar’s efforts with the Red Dead series but while the Red Dead series dominates headlines, there have been several quality western games released over the past few decades. We’ve highlighted the best of the bunch below.
Year of Release: 1997
The 1997 PC game Outlaws is one of the few first-person shooters to take place in a western setting. Developed and released by LucasArts, the game’s story follows retired U.S. Marshall James Anderson, who seeks to bring justice to a gang of criminals who killed his wife and kidnapped his daughter.
Outlaws is largely credited as the first shooter game with a sniper zoom, as well as one of the first to feature a gun reloading mechanic. The game ran on an enhanced version of the Jedi game engine that first seen in Star Wars: Dark Forces two years earlier. Outlaws was well received by critics and despite the sub-par visuals it received praise for its solid gameplay and an orchestral soundtrack.
11. Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa
Year of Release: 1992
Based on the Saturday morning cartoon of the same name, Wild West C.O.W. Boys of Moo Mesa is a Konami-developed, coin-operated action game that hit arcades in 1992. Wild West C.O.W. is a side-scrolling “run ‘n gun” game similar to Konami’s previous wild west-themed title Sunset Riders. The stand-up arcade cabinet featured four-player simultaneous gameplay much like The Simpsons, Ninja Turtles, and X-Men arcade cabinets that were popular at the time.
Players take control of Cowlorado Kid, Dakota Dude, Marshall Moo Montana, and Buffalo Bull with an eight-way joystick and two buttons for shooting and jumping. While the franchise never reached the popularity of the aforementioned properties, the cast of colorful characters, engaging gameplay, and fantastic theme song attracted gamers to this wonderful side-scrolling shooter.
10. Call of Juarez
Year of Release: 2007
Platform: PC, Xbox 360
Call of Juarez is a first-person shooter Western video game produced by Ubisoft in North America and released in June of 2007. The first game in the Call of Juarez series the story sees Billy “Candle” and Ray McCall, a former gunslinger turned preacher. Billy returns to his hometown of Hope, Texas, near the Mexican border after two years of searching for the mysterious “Gold of Juarez”. However, when he arrives at his farm, he finds his mother and stepfather have been murdered, and “Call of Juarez” written on a barn in their blood.
The game was notable for its use of two central characters and the ability to play levels based on each character’s perspective. Call of Juarez received mixed reviews with critics praising Ray’s levels and the general shooting mechanics, but finding Billy’s levels considerably inferior, especially the cumbersome platforming sections. Despite mixed reviews, Call of Juarez is quite fun and features a compelling story that makes it worth a look for fans of western games.
9. SteamWorld Dig 2
Year of Release: 2017
Platform: Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, PC
SteamWorld Dig 2 is a 2D platform action-adventure video game that takes place in a steampunk western environment. The game was developed and published by Image & Form in 2017 and is actually the fourth installment in the SteamWorld franchise. A direct sequel to the well-received 2013 release SteamWorld Dig, this game sees the lead character Dorothy, a steam-driven robot, searching for the previous protagonist, Rusty, who disappeared following the events of the first game.
Like the original Steamworld Dig, gameplay largely involves exploring a vast underground mine, coming up against enemy creatures while also finding various resources as the player digs their way downwards. The game features excellent gameplay, unique characters and a great progression system that allows players to customize upgrades based on their style of play. Steamworld Dig 2 was universally praised by critics and appeared in many games of the year conversations in 2017.
8. Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath
Year of Release: 2005
Released in January of 2005, Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath is an action-adventure game initially published by Electronic Arts for the Microsoft Xbox. The game later received a wide release across several popular platforms including the PS3, PS Vita, and Windows PC. The game’s story details the adventures of Stranger, a fearsome bounty hunter. Throughout the game, Stranger pursues and captures outlaws in order to collect bounties. The goal is to ultimately earn enough moolah (in-game money) to pay for a mysterious life-saving operation.
Stranger’s Wrath earned universally positive reviews with a Metacritic aggregate score of 88/100. Game Informer’s Andrew Reiner gave Stranger’s Wrath a 9/10, calling it “A stunning and exquisitely realized masterpiece that delivers a gaming experience unlike any that we’ve seen before….and is truly visionary in its delivery of gameplay.” The Xbox version of Stranger’s Wrath was considered a commercial failure, selling 600,000 copies by 2012. The game needed to do 1.6 million to just break even.
7. Sunset Riders
Year of Release: 1991
Platform: Arcade, Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo
Konami’s side-scrolling run’n’gun classic was first released in arcades in 1991 and later made an appearance on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Sunset Riders are set in a fanciful version of the American Old West and revolve around four bounty hunters named Steve, Billy, Bob, and Cormano, who are out to claim rewards offered for eliminating the most wanted outlaws in the West.
The coin-op version of the game was released in two variants: a two-player version and a four-player version. The game became a cult favorite on home consoles and has become rare and expensive in the decades since the port’s release. The game is known for its great level design and its challenging and addictive gameplay.
Year of Release: 2005
Platform: Xbox, PS2, Xbox 360, PSP, PC
Developed by Neversoft and published by Activision, Gun is a revisionist western themed action-adventure that first hit store shelves in 2005 for a variety of home consoles. Gun is an interesting game that features an open world environment and includes multiple side-missions that add to the story. Players take control of the protagonist, Colton White, and the game is played from a third-person perspective. While traveling from town to town, bandit attacks are frequent and players must either escape or defend themselves.
The game is set in the American Old West, specifically in Arizona, Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico in the year 1880. Gun received mostly positive reviews from critics and holds an aggregate score of 79/100 on Metacritic. While the game doesn’t hold up today as well as it did in 2005, it’s totally worth a playthrough for fans of modern western themed games.
5. Red Dead Revolver
Year of Release: 2004
Platform: Ps2, Xbox
Red Dead Revolver is the first game in the critically acclaimed Red Dead series and was developed by Rockstar San Diego. Taking inspiration from staple Westerns like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, and The Wild Bunch, this third-person action-adventure game was originally a concept developed by Japanese game company Capcom, Revolver was eventually picked up by Rockstar Games. Set in the 1880s, it follows the story of Red Harlow, a bounty hunter on a quest to avenge the deaths of his parents.
The gameplay involves arcade-like elements and shooting mechanics, alongside a multiplayer mode called Showdown Mode. Red Dead Revolver was included as one of the titles in the 2010 book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die, alongside its sequel and other games published by Rockstar Games, such as Grand Theft Auto. While the sequel to Red Dead Revolver (Red Dead Redemption) is a far superior game, it’s still worth your time to go back and experience the game that launched this iconic franchise.
4. Wild Guns
Year of Release: 1995
Platform: Super Nintendo
Released in 1995, Wild Guns is a space-western shooting gallery style game released for the Super Nintendo. Gameplay mechanics combine elements from third-person shooters and light gun games. Wild Guns is set in the Wild West and features steampunk elements and sci-fi influences. The story follows Annie and her bounty hunter Clint, seeking revenge for the death of her family. The player controls either Annie or Clint sidestepping and jumping in the foreground while shooting down enemy robots in the background and dodging enemy bullets.
The game is beloved among fans of retro video games for its challenging gameplay and colorful visuals. Wild Guns Reloaded was released in 2016 for PlayStation 4, 2017 for Microsoft Windows, and 2018 for Nintendo Switch. Reloaded features two new characters, additional stages and modes, and updated visuals and audio.
3. The Gunstringer
Year of Release: 2011
Platform: Xbox 360 (Kinect)
The Gunstringer is a bit of hidden gem that was released late in the Kinect’s lifespan. This third-person on-rails shooter was developed by Twisted Pixel Games and published by Microsoft Studios for Xbox 360 with Kinect in 2011. The game features a unique method of control where players use Kinect to control the protagonist. One hand is held as though controlling a marionette while the other is used for aiming and firing the character’s weapon.
The setting of the play revolves around a character known simply as The Gunstringer, an undead marionette sheriff betrayed by his posse. The game begins as he rises from his grave, bent on revenge. The Gunstringer received overall positive ratings with a Metacritic score of 77 and was one of the finest games to be released with Kinect functionality.
2. The Oregon Trail
Year of Release: 1971
Platform: Everything under the sun
If you were in grade school during the 1980s you may have fond memories of this game designed to teach school children about the realities of 19th-century pioneer life on the Oregon Trail. Players assume the role of a wagon leader guiding a party of settlers from Independence, Missouri, to Oregon’s Willamette Valley via a covered wagon in 1848. Along the route, you’ll encounter several landmarks along the trail where players can make decisions, shop for supplies, or rest.
The Oregon Trail was a hallmark in North American elementary schools in the 1980s, 1990s, and early-mid 2000s as many school computers, including the Apple II, came bundled with the game. The Oregon Trail was extremely successful, selling over 65 million copies, and after ten iterations over forty years, the game has become a part of pop culture.
1. Red Dead Redemption
Year of Release: 2010
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Xbox One
Developed by Rockstar San Diego, Red Dead Redemption is the second game in the Red Dead series of western-themed action-adventure games published by Rockstar Games. Rockstar pioneered open-world gameplay with the Grand Theft Auto series and has successfully adapted the formula to the wild west setting. The follow up to 2004’s Red Dead Revolver, the game is set during the decline of the American frontier in the year 1911, and follows John Marston, a former outlaw whose wife and son are taken hostage by the government in ransom for his services as a hired gun. Having no other choice, Marston sets out to bring three members of his former gang to justice.
Red Dead Redemption is not only the best western themed video game of all-time but has cemented its place among the greatest experiences available in the medium. The third installment in the Red Dead series, Red Dead Redemption 2 .is due for release in late 2018.