Let’s be honest: on some deep, fundamental level, everyone wants to be a cowboy. There may not be a better character type in history to epitomise freedom and adventure, and though the idea of a cowboy has no doubt been romanticised over the years, it’s something we can all relate to.
This is probably why Western films simply won’t die out. It seems that with each passing year, we get another major film added to this category. For instance, last year Quentin Tarantino gave us The Hateful Eight (which we reviewed here), and later this year Antoine Fuqua’s The Magnificent Seven will premiere. It truly never stops, and for the most part that seems to be a good thing.
Somehow though, despite the popularity of cowboys on the big screen and the sheer number of westerns we’ve seen over the years, the same themes have never quite come to dominate the gaming industry. One might imagine that there would be unlimited playable Western adventures—perhaps as many games as we see in the first-person shooter category as a whole. But really, only a certain title by Rockstar really comes to mind.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of Western-themed games out there on various platforms and formats. They may not all be leading the way in gaming headlines, but here’s a handful of games that can satisfy that inner cowboy.
Red Dead Redemption
We may as well begin with the aforementioned Rockstar title that still serves as the pinnacle of Western-genre gaming. Built as a sort of Old West version of the Grand Theft Auto games, Red Dead Redemption turns you into a cowboy in an open-world environment and pretty much lets you loose. You can create relationships, commit crimes, and complete missions, all while wandering (and riding) around to your heart’s content. It would be an incredible game if that’s all there was to say about it, but on top of the basic style the narrative elements and visuals are top-notch.
Call Of Juarez: Bound In Blood
For whatever reason, this 2009 PC/Xbox 360/PS3 game never seemed to get the attention it deserved. It may be that the Call Of Juarez series as a whole is not terrific, or simply that Red Dead Redemption came out a year later and set the standard for the genre. Regardless, Bound In Blood was an immensely entertaining game, and probably the definitive first-person Western shooter. The game was actually reviewed well, and if you’re looking for pure adventure, it’s a title you’ll still want to check out. I mean, there are stagecoach robberies in this one—it doesn’t get more Western than that.
If you’re looking for something a little more modern, or simply more accessible, this is a mobile game that captures the Old West in a cartoonish but wonderful manner. You simply download the app, outfit yourself as a cowboy/cowgirl avatar that other players can see, and then challenge. Once you’re pitted against an opponent this game is an actual quick-draw duel; you “holster” your device at your side and pull at the signal before aiming at your opponent and firing. There’s not really a mobile experience like it, and the chance to earn new upgrades (guns, weaponry, etc.) for your character keeps it engaging far after the actual gameplay gets repetitive.
This is another easily accessible Western gaming experience that should satisfy any fan of some of the older genre films. Featured among this platform’s extensive selection of themed casino games, it takes symbols and images from classic John Wayne films and uses them to adorn an arcade slot reel. Never mind that the phrase “yee-ha!” is in the game description. The actual game is packed with fun little elements for fans of cowboy fiction: the design makes you think of an old saloon, the Wayne images remind you of movies, and the “ranch bonuses” allow you to get some shooting action in as you aim for special prizes.
The Oregon Trail
Finally, even though it’s more of an exploration/Western game than anything specifically involving cowboys, it would be a shame not to include The Oregon Trail on this list. There are some more console games, such as Gun and Red Dead Revolver, that could be listed, but they’re ultimately inferior versions of the likes of Red Dead Redemption and Call Of Juarez: Bound In Blood. The Oregon Trail, on the other hand, is one of the most popular computer games of all time, and arguably still one of the more realistic exploration games out there. And best of all, you can still play online, for free. Just try not to get dysentery!
It’s not our fault we weren’t born in the Wild West, but unfortunately hopping on a horse and bounding around the open country chasing down bandits isn’t really an option these days. With these games, however, you can at least simulate those and many more cowboy activities.