Review: Infinite West22 May 2018 1
Review: Infinite West
Released 18 Jan 2018
There’s maybe no genre on mobile platforms more synonymous with it than puzzle games. Low intensity inputs are good for a device with no buttons, and the pace of puzzle games plays well with the low session time, start-and-stop nature of mobile gaming. Puzzle games also take so many unique forms nowadays that a top ten list in the genre can produce ten completely different looking games.
Enter Infinite West, a puzzler that resembles more board game than match-3. It’s difficult to find which had a bigger influence on it, the sombre motif of the Ed Porter/Sergio Leone style western or Square Enix Montreal’s critically acclaimed GO series. What’s easy to see is that developers APE-X have a clear reverence of both and have done their best to highlight what makes both strong while adapting it to a unique vision.
In Infinite West’s main mode, your Clint Eastwood/John Wayne-esque protagonist is journeying aimlessly through the rough and tumble, cowboy and outlaw-laden American West, putting interlopers down as they present themselves. Every encounter is a point on a map, and every map is a day in the life of this silent executioner.
Each encounter features the same 7 x 7 checkerboard, with different obstacles laid out from stage to stage to mix up your movement limitations. The scenery of each level is dynamic and beautifully low key. From rugged, cracked deserts to lush greenlands, the simple hues and shades are both striking and subtle. These backgrounds have no real bearing on the game mechanically, short of the tile set and color scheme of the non-interactable boulders that often pepper the game world.
The minimalist art is well complemented by an equally barren score. Wind howls furiously, but in particularly rousing bursts between the spartan plucking of guitars and plinking of keys. It won’t change your experience so much that it can’t be wholly ignored while playing on mute, but it really gives the game’s presentation of the setting that little extra oomph. Sparse and haunting music is a staple in the Western genre, and often gave some weight to the feeling of tension and isolation that these films tend to focus on.
The landscape-only view does much to enhance that, in its own right. It helps you see all of the play space at once, which is important as enemies with long range start to hunt you. But it’s wide angle shots of empty spaces populated by sparse flora and even fewer people that really defines the Western film. Big spaces make the protagonist look small and keep in context that the wild and untameable West is bigger than the will of just one man and his enemies squabbling over mortal things. Whether this was APE-X’s intention or not, it’s a restriction that really helps sell the whole thing, even if portrait-oriented games are generally just easier to play.
Swirling around these immovable objects on the field is a cadre of enemies, color-coded by how they move and attack. This group gets bigger and features more variety as days go on, making every move down the map track a step closer to violent death. Each turn, you can either move or use one of your special abilities, like shooting your gun or healing yourself. Afterwards, the enemies all act. Like chess pieces, they each have their own attack patterns, and you can tap on each to see which boxes they can target before you make your move, so you can plan accordingly. If you aren’t shooting, the only way to attack is moving into a space next to the enemy, letting you stab them in melee. Planning movement wisely is doubly important then, for both defense and offence.
Each map has two special items on them, a barrel of gunpowder and a crate. Attacking the gunpowder does damage to every adjacent square, making it a tactical option to clear more than one baddie at a time, so long as you can lure them to it. The crate grants you a refill of your finite abilities, or an upgrade to them. When this loop is at its most intense - when you’re surrounded by killers and one false move can see you clobbered by multiple assailants - Infinite West feels most like your best runs of Hoplite, maybe the best version of these sorts of games on the platform.
Unlike Hoplite (or the Go series), the latter days of Infinite West feature the sort of challenges that require more abilities and resources than you’re given. As if it’s balanced for you to look at the field and the game over screen you’ll ultimately get and say, “I wish I had just one more MacGuffin,” just in time for the store tab to swoop in and say “how ‘bout some of these MacGuffin’s for 99 cents?”
Infinite West is a free-to-play game, so the micro-transaction model is to be expected. It has a “buy the full game” option, which gives you access to a seemingly endless stream of stages in Survival mode, the ability to unlock costumes, competition on the leaderboards, and a handful of stock refills for abilities. If you needed to make any purchase, this would be the best move. It’s also required to see some of the game’s true creativity when it comes to the late-stage challenges.
Another good move is recognising that, since this game has no definitive end, blowing all of your restocks just to push a little farther in Survival mode may not be the most efficient decision.
The presence of IAPs isn’t a deal-breaker, though. Every fresh run starts with a small amount of restocks to help you when things are looking maybe too gnarly. And it takes a pretty long time before things start feeling unfair. But it was never so unfair that I just quit all together. Achievement hunting and score chasing in Infinite West can throw you in that fervent, 'just one more map' loop because of the solid core concept.