What are the best Western games on PC that you should be playing? It’s not an easy decision to make. The Wild West is a time of lawlessness, striking gold, and perilous shootouts – no wonder it’s the subject of many top cowboy games.
Western games are inspired heavily by the cowboy media that has come before them. Over in TV land, there are the likes of Westworld and Deadwood while cinema throws its hat into the ring with classics of the genre including Unforgiven, The Magnificent Seven, and The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.
It’s fair to say that the humble Western is a cornerstone of American culture. The game studios that decide to take on the challenge of bringing the American Frontier into our lives have a lot of pressure to get it right. Luckily, a number of them have absolutely nailed what being a cowboy is all about. And, fortunately for you, we’ve done the hard work of corralling the varmints right here.
Here are the best Western games on PC:
A prequel to one of the best Western games of all time, Red Dead Redemption 2 throws you in at the brunt end of life as a cowboy. Not that RDR2 is without whisky swilling, tavern brawls, or nights camping under the stars, but we now see another side to this scrappy way of living. You play as Van der Linde gang member Arthur Morgan and right-hand man of Dutch, the baleful leader of the outlaw gang. The murky morality the gang embraces in order to survive in a world that no longer accommodates their lifestyle is constantly tested across this epic tale – unlike many Western games, RDR2 looks at the American frontier in transition, and that’s brilliantly reflected in the downtrodden Van der Linde gang.
In Red Dead Redemption 2, you’ll learn how to be a cowboy, but along with taming horses and bounty hunting, you’ll also have to learn how not to be a cowboy and survive in a world that is slowly abandoning your lifestyle. But there’s unparalleled freedom in Rockstar’s open world, it’s a place where you can lasso escaped outlaws and lay them on railway tracks like a pantomime villain, get drunk at saloons and start a town-wide brawl, and ride through the dry, dusty plains shooting deer for dinner.
Before Creative Forge released its ‘XCOM with spies’ title Phantom Doctrine the team made an ‘XCOM with cowboys’ game called Hard West – and it’s one of the best strategy games around.
Hard West’s story covers eight scenarios with a number of different characters, all bound together by Death – literally. The mysterious supernatural stranger, who may or may not be either the Devil, offers you a chance to avenge your family’s murders with a range of special abilities. These are unique to each character, from simple ones like having more health to truly unearthly powers such as being able to see the future, or the ability to resurrect.
In the main map you can freely travel over the world buying items, visiting towns, mining for gold, and making questionable decisions that will come back to bite you. The combat is very much in the style of XCOM: Enemy Unknown, with neat new ideas such as a ‘luck meter’ – which determines whether or not you can get hit – and the ability to spot, and attack, hidden enemies by their shadows. It’s clever and addictive all round, and is a far cry from some of the other Western games on this list.
The Call of Juarez series boasts having some of the finest Western games around, but the inclusion of Gunslinger over the perhaps more popular Bound In Blood may be a surprise. While the earlier games are undeniably excellent, they have aged a fair bit in places – whereas Call of Juarez: Gunslinger still looks great thanks to its wonderful cel-shaded art style.
Gunslinger also has the wonderfully cinematic ‘cheat death’ mechanic that slows down time and zooms in on the bullet that’s about to kill you, and if you avoid it you get your health back. In the moment of your near-death, the game’s whole world turns black and white, apart from enemies, which allows you to dodge bullets as if you were Max Payne. The one-on-one ‘Showdown’ duels also standout and are played almost like puzzles, as you manoeuvre your hands and sights while watching your opponent’s, and you can even kill them before the time’s up if you don’t mind being called “dishonorable.” There’s even a slice of Bulletstorm in here as you earn bonus XP points for pulling off stylish kills.
Read more: Here are the best FPS games
It’s Gunslinger’s narration mechanic, however, that’s the real standout. You play as Silas Greaves, whose older self is telling the story years later – and sometimes he gets it wrong, or others interject. The levels actually shape themselves around the tale being told, so enemies, areas, and even time itself can change right in front of you. All of which makes Call of Juarez: Gunslinger an unpredictable, incredibly enjoyable, and unique shooter.
Now is the perfect time to revisit the original Desperados as there’s now a third game in the series finally on the way. Essentially a Wild West take on classic WW2 strategy game Commandos, Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive is, arguably, a better game than its more famous inspiration.
The main reason for that is the cast. Gunslinging bounty hunter John Cooper is fun but predictable for a cowboy, so it’s great to have some different faces alongside his: gambler Kate O’Hara, sniping and grumbling Doc McCoy, and monkey-wielding Mia Yung. They’re all entertaining to play and have a diverse set of histories for you to learn about.
The levels, as per the Commandos styling, are tough as nails, but are designed incredibly well. They hold up in their looks even today, too, as all the backdrops are hand-painted. In many ways, Desperados is more of a puzzle game than a strategy one, in that it’s all about agonizing over the best path to victory. Yes, it’s hard, but like some of the best old games it can be so rewarding.
There are none of the fancy ideas you get in modern shooters here. Outlaws – one of the few original LucasArts IPs that wasn’t an adventure game – is a pure, straightforward, and well-designed FPS, in the style of the original Doom and Star Wars: Dark Forces.
LucasArts was one of the few ‘90s developers to put story front and centre in its games. That means the classic Western revenge story of Outlaws gets to shine. You play as retired US Marshal James Anderson, who returns home to find that a gang of vicious outlaws have kidnapped his daughter and murdered his wife. You have to track them down over an excellent string of levels that channel pure old-school FPS action.
Old but gold: The best old games on PC
It looks basic by today’s standards, but if you accept it as no-nonsense fun with tightly-designed levels that are packed with secrets, you’ll get a hell of a kick out of Outlaws. It’s surprisingly realistic in parts, though – a couple of bullets from your basic pistol will kill any enemy (except the bosses), so its range of weapons are better weighed up for their accuracy than firepower.
Special mention has to be given to the voice acting, too, which even sports John de Lancie (Q from Star Trek) as “Dr Death” – and the incredible orchestral soundtrack by Indiana Jones regular Clint Bajakian.
Most of the Oddworld series focuses on the friendly Mudokon named Abe as he escapes and plots revenge against his corporate owners in a series of action-adventure games. But the most recent and original addition to Oddworld is an alien Western – and it’s wonderful.
Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath follows the Stranger, a bounty hunter who tracks outlaws for the bounty in order to pay for a life-saving (and mysterious) operation. The gameplay is a weird mesh of third-person action-adventure and FPS. Both are entertaining, but the shooter portions stand out due to the Stranger’s primary weapon being a crossbow that fires live animals. It’s far less horrific than it sounds due to the Muppet-like manner in which it’s portrayed. Best of all, it never stops being fun, as you head out setting up traps comprising of live monsters to chew your enemies to death.
It’s all supported by a wonderful, imaginative world that developer Oddworld Inhabitants clearly put a lot of time and effort into creating. Despite being set on a alien planet, the Mongo River Valley feels more alive and believable than many locations that feature in games set on Earth. Luckily, Stranger’s Wrath got an HD re-release a few years ago, so it still looks pretty great today.
The original SteamWorld Dig was a perky Metroidvania with a steampunk Western vibe. The sequel, SteamWorld Dig 2, took everything the first game did and made it better, starting with vastly improved looks. It’s gorgeous.
You get to explore this colourful, vibrant world as a robot named Dorothy, who’s in search of the first game’s protagonist, Rusty. The story is surprisingly deep – much like the holes you dig in your search for minerals and crystals – and ties the whole SteamWorld universe together well. This sequel is roughly twice the size of its predecessor, too, meaning it takes about eight hours to finish, and you’ll enjoy every moment.
You explore mines, gather resources, solve puzzles, and deal with enemies and traps like a regular Indiana Jones. Most impressive is how all of these components are balanced so that the game flows naturally from one encounter to the next. While SteamWorld Dig is still worth checking out first, SteamWorld Dig 2 removes all its predecessor’s rough edges and polishes the gameplay to a keen shine. A rare occasion of a sequel being better than the original.
Back in 2005, developer Neversoft took time off from the Tony Hawk series to release one of the best Wild West sandbox games under the title of Gun. Its original appeal was born out of novelty, as it came out when an open-world Western game was a new concept. But Gun is worth playing today because it has different ideas than the likes of Red Dead and its ilk – plus, it’s still a really fun shooter.
Explore at your leisure: The best open-world games on PC
Beyond that, Gun undoubtedly has an excellent story, written by movie writer Randall Jahnson – known for The Mask of Zorro and The Doors. This is accompanied by a great soundtrack, and some impressive acting talent, including Lance Henriksen, Ron Perlman, Kris Kristofferson, Brad Dourif, and Thomas Jane as main character Colton White. The entertainment offered by the shooting is enhanced by Neversoft’s ‘QuickDraw’ slow-motion aiming mechanic, which is incredibly satisfying to use.
While it’s a little short, and sadly Gun 2 failed to emerge since Activision moved Neversoft on the Guitar Hero train, Gun still holds up as a unique cowboy title that hits a stride of its own, offering a look at where the genre could have gone.
Bet you never thought of Fallout: New Vegas as a Wild West game, did you? The follow-up to Fallout 3 puts you in the role of a Mysterious Stranger looking to find their purpose in the deserts of the Mojave Wasteland, while dealing with all manner of nuclear dangers and classic betrayal. Apart from having to fight rodents, robots, and Romans, it’s as Western as you can possibly get.
It’s also arguably the best Fallout game – which isn’t too surprising as developer Obsidian comprises a lot of people who originally created the series. The writing – from the likes of Chris Avellone – is excellent, believable, and takes a twisted form as you wander the wastelands. The game is filled with memorable characters, many with shocking backstories, making for some of the most memorable companions in a Bethesda game. After New Vegas you’ll be asking the question: why didn’t Fallout 4 and Skyrim allow us to issue commands to our companions?
Related: Read about the best RPGs on PC
The conflict between the New Californian Republic and Caesar’s Legion gives the world a dangerous and fascinating edge. The trusty VATS aiming mechanic gives the shooting a turn-based tactics feel. Oh, and grab the ‘Wild Wasteland’ perk so you can find a load of wacky secrets, like aliens and the remains of Indiana Jones in a fridge – make sure to grab his hat.
Western games have a habit of taking everything too seriously. Where are the barrels of laughs? Enter West of Loathing, a straight-up Wild West comedy game that features an entire cast of stick figures.
It’s an RPG with turn-based combat not unlike the early Final Fantasy games, but that’s not what West of Loathing is about. Instead, it’s about exploring this large and bizarre world and trying to do everything in it, from riding ghost horses to flushing toilets. It’s filled with mysteries and spooky goings-on, including supernatural characters like necromancers, goblins, and demonic cows.
More like this: Check out the best pirate games
There are puzzles, plenty of characters to talk to, and jokes delivered better than 99% of other videogames. The deliberately crummy graphics just make the game more endearing, and even funnier than it already is. It’s Westworld meets Strong Bad. Plus, it’s the only game on this list to have a Daveyard – a graveyard for people named ‘Dave’.
To quote Futurama, “technically correct is the best kind of correct.” Red Dead Redemption, arguably the greatest Wild West game ever, is legally playable on PC – although only through Sony’s PlayStation Now streaming service. Granted, this is the ideal way to play Rockstar’s classic, but we’ll take what we can get when it comes to one of the best games ever made.
Like Grand Theft Auto 5, this open world is huge, dangerous, and packed with conflicts to resolve. But Red Dead’s world feels more alive than Los Santos – with random encounters, interesting characters to talk to, and some of the most entertaining missions in any sandbox game. Who can forget Charles Kinnear and his flying machine, or the weird grave-robbing Seth Briars? It’s all a joy to discover as you ride on horseback, and it helps that the shooting is fun too – because you’ll be doing a lot of that.
It’s all backed up by a fantastic story, boasting some painful twists, excellent writing, and thoughtful commentary on the last days of the Old West. Then there’s John Marston, the ex-criminal who just wants to get back to his wife and son, but won’t find any redemption in this harsh world – beautifully voiced by Rob Wiethoff, his only acting role. Yes, Red Dead Redemption may only be playable on PC through a streaming subscription service, but if you’ve never played it before, it’s worth it.
Those are the best pure Wild West games to be found on PC. However, you’ll find that gunslingers can be found far and wide through gaming, such as protagonist Caleb in Blood and Overwatch characters like McCree – not to mention all those sci-fi games set in the wilds of outer space, including BattleTech or pretty much anything Star Wars. The influence of the Western runs deep, because who doesn’t want to be a gunslinger?