Weird West Reminded Me Why I Always Bounce Off Immersive Sims

Weird West Reminded Me Why I Always Bounce Off Immersive Sims

Matt Lorrigan

Weird West is the latest game from Raphaël Colantonio, the co-creator of Dishonored , and, much like that game, it’s best described as an “immersive sim”. But what exactly is an immersive sim? Video game genres have gathered some daft and less-than-useful names over the years, from the hugely nonspecific moniker of “action”, to the SoulsBornes and Metroidvanias of the world, with names that require a short history lesson of video game releases in order to understand. Immersive sims, for the uninitiated, might bring to mind one of those dull but oddly calming simulation games, immersing you in the world of a long-haul trucker, or a lonely farmer, via a chunky VR headset.

In reality, however, immersive sims offer something a little bit different to almost any other genre. The simulation tends toward the fantastical - the rat-infested whaling city of Dishonored, where technology and magic mingle; or, in the case of Weird West, a gothic horror reimagining of the American frontier. The immersion, then, comes from an interlocking series of systems, which sees the player’s actions result in consequences that not only follow the rules set out by the game, but also make sense using either real-world knowledge or an in-universe logic - fire spreading across spilled oil, or guards not seeing a player concealed in shadow. As a result, players will have several choices in how to tackle each objective, with events playing out according to the rules hardcoded into the game, rather than a predetermined script.


It’s not difficult to understand the appeal. When compared to high quality but linear games like DOOM, Ratchet & Clank, or Gears of War, it’s easy to see why having such a wide range of choices in how you approach any situation would be considered a positive, a unique selling point in an ever growing video game market. It’s the temptation of this freedom that, like the frontiersmen themselves, drew me into the wild world of Weird West in the first place. Like so many immersive sims before it, the trailers and clips allured with the promise of realism, of choice, and of just a smidge of unexpected chaos. And then I played it myself, and I remembered why I've bounced off of every immersive sim I've played.

Choice, it turns out, is a double-edged sword. Should I sneak around, slowly taking out each enemy one by one? Or do I distract a large group of foes with a well-placed explosive, before punting a vat of oil at another and setting them ablaze? With each mission I was tasked with taking on, each enemy encampment I had to infiltrate, the options in front of me were enticing. And then, once I’d made my choice, each and every time I’d be shocked, as the realisation suddenly hit me that my choices actually had consequences. Maybe that barrel of oil I’d given a good kick didn’t quite reach its target, and rather than being on fire the outlaws are firing at me. Sneaking around to take out one target, I’d accidentally miss a spare lookout, bringing the entire camp down on my location. I’d revel in the fucking around, before being swiftly hit with the ‘find out’ part of that particular equation. I’m sorry, you’re telling me I have to reap what I sow? What the hell?


This is, of course, a me problem, and I have no problem admitting that. My patience for down time in games is short, which also means I don’t exactly excel in the stealth genre either, often breaking cover out of boredom before waiting for a guard to complete their patrol. But while the immersive sim qualities of a game like Dishonored didn’t quite click with me, I still managed to make it through to the end. Despite my best laid plans nearly always going awry, I found a way to muddle through, out of a weird sense of duty to complete it. Weird West, however, can feel particularly punishing, despite all of its good qualities - of which there are many, even if they don’t appeal to me. 

In Weird West, trying to come up with clever or unique ways to deal with each mission can take a lot of setup time, and once it all went wrong (and it often did) I was back to square one. A quick-save system is included, in an attempt to remedy this challenge, encouraging experimentation by letting you create a manual save to quickly reload from. But it’s far too easy to forget to create a save point in the early stages of a mission, when the plan feels like it’s coming together, only to realise you have to start all over again. And in the moments where I did make liberal use of the save system, the all-important ‘immersion’ part of the immersive sim broke down. Suddenly, I wasn’t a cool bounty hunter scraping through a firefight by the skin of my teeth. I was a grumpy guy in their late twenties who couldn’t move their thumbs fast enough to avoid yet another death at the end of a bolt-action rifle.

I pushed on through Weird West for far more hours than I actually enjoyed, desperately panning for a nugget of the joy that so many players find in the immersive sim genre, but came up empty. Over the past few years, I’ve had to learn to better understand the sorts of games that appeal to me, and those that don’t, in order to best make use of not only my limited budget, but limited time. I’ve discovered that I find myself more drawn to highly curated titles - tightly designed games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps or Bloodborne, that limit your options to a few key weapons and the occasional optional path. I have so much respect for the immersive sim, and the players who love them, but I think I need to accept that they are, very simply, not for me. Perhaps the next time I see a trailer for a shiny new game in the genre, promising a plethora of player choice and interlocking systems galore, I’ll remember the consequences that come after.

  • Good article, and I feel your pain on many levels. My love of stealth (in theory) usually overrides my boredom and distaste for dealing with the consequences to my actions.
  • Shame on you sir, but at least you’ve tried. I love story and gameplay of Weird West. And freedom to kill anyone at any point without breaking game is like freedom I haven’t tasted before. All in a backdrop of western with supernatural story and best soundtrack on a game this year.

    I honestly didn’t expect to love it but I do and as with many games that is the case I already dread finishing the amazing story full of twists and surprises.
  • I think immersive sims just work better in a first- or third-person camera situation; they don't necessarily lend themselves to an isometric perspective for me, at least not yet. I found many of the same problems as the author in my (albeit) limited time with this game. I just wouldn't see an enemy and totally mess-up a stealthy approach. That being said, I haven't given up yet and will dive back into the Weird West soon.
  • Hmm, maybe we should ask "Immersive AF" Immersion Lord/Henry Liang about "immersive sims".
  • @ViNyLek - I'm glad you're having a good time with it, I'm sure plenty of people will! Might have to catch a stream of it at some point actually, I definitely enjoy watching other people play these sorts of games more than I like playing them,

    @Blue n Gold Eel - couple things mate. First I did address than game genre names are weird and not very useful descriptors, and secondly, the term immersive sim was coined by Warren Spector, the developer who worked on Thief and Deus Ex, so it's not something we've just pulled out of thin air?

    No problem with you disagreeing with stuff but you do tend to come into the comments a bit more argumentative than is necessary, we're just people who like playing and talking about games.
  • The only thing that really matters with a genre name, as with essentially all of language, is that the meaning is collectively understood.

    'Role Playing Game' is not very descriptive at all, but there is a general understanding of the characteristics that a game in that genre would have. The actual words in the title are almost immaterial, it's the understanding that matters.

    'Immersive Sim' is as effective as any other genre title in defining a genre, because most gamers have a similar level of understanding of what it entials.

    Prescriptivism is not the way.
  • Genre names will always be a "no-win" debate because they are both useful in understanding a game's style, and capable of diluting the understanding of what is the game's style.

    Generic, nonspecific names are meant to broaden the category for understanding, while making it simplistic to grasp the game's style, such as "action" or "shooter". However, these names are so vague they also weaken the understanding of the game's style too. Is it action adventure or action platformer? Is it looter shooter or first person shooter?

    But the same can be said with much more descriptive genre names. Some people don't like the idea of genre names, such as Soulsborne or Metroidvania because some people feel they kind of rely on the person knowing what those games are to grasp what is it's style of game (although I'd disagree). Alternatively, for those who know what those games are, with a genre name that specific, you know exactly what you're getting.

    I think @Dervius has it pin-pointed better in that as long as it is collectively understood, then that's what really matters.

    As for @Blue n Gold's argument, while you are entitled to your opinion, it feels a bit like grasping at straws for the sake of being argumentative... I mean, I could technically say, why do video game genres exist at all? Doesn't everyone know there is only one genre for video games? All video games are strategy games, Duh! Because you exercise strategy every time you play to achieve something, which is to complete the game, regardless if it's an RPG, a racing game, platformer, or a simulator. They all require strategy to play, therefore all games are strategy games.
  • Well said, and politely, too.
  • ^ Well wrap it up everyone. Can't argue with such ironclad logic and we'll reasoned arguments as that.
  • First time I heard pong is a strategy game, but ok! :)
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