The Golden Years: Way Out West
The North American gold rush was a time of both excitement and danger. In Alawar’s The Golden Years: Way Out West,Gertrude unexpectedly experience the adventure of their lives when her husband Samuel is imprisoned because of debts and she has to travel through the country on her quest to find gold. Vacation Mogul, The Golden Years can best be described as a hybrid of adventure, building sim, and resource management – and it’s both fun and unique.
The Golden Years: Way Out West features 48 levels and only one mode, providing roughly four hours of gameplay. It is possible to reach an expert rating for each level, but players can also finish them on their own pace. Expert scores only provide decorative upgrades for the train Gertrude uses to travel across the country, but those do not have any influence on the actual gameplay.
The Golden Years: Way Out West can be best described as a mixture of the Mogul series, resource management titles, and a dash of Westward. Obstacles and resources have to be removed from paths, small quests have to be handled for various characters on screen, and different types of buildings need to be constructed to earn income, raise population or produce resources such as gold and wood.
Interestingly enough, houses such as inns, ranches and hotels can only be constructed next to municipal buildings, such as a church, a water tower and a sheriff’s office. All those municipal buildings cover different patterns of lots, so it feels like a little puzzle to plan a village. While houses earn money you can also construct commercial buildings which earn gold depending on how many citizens live next to them. Here the same rule applies as to municipal buildings. The sphere of influence of a general store differs from that of a saloon. And those commercial buildings also require a municipal building to be constructed.
Apart from those buildings The Golden Years: Way Out West also features sawmill and gold mine, at which wood and gold can be produced, as well as trading posts, where a train arrives on a regular basis and enables you to buy or sell different amounts of gold and wood. All in all the building aspect of the game is very varied and complex, but since some levels are more adventure game than building simulation, this never gets repetitive or frustrating.
A really unique aspect of The Golden Years: Way Out West is the introduction of goals and the general design of levels. Each level is divided into two to six stages, each stage contains very different goals, and each stage of any level can be finished in expert time. Whether you receive an overall expert rating for a level depends on whether you finished the required number of stages in expert time.
This level structure provides a very entertaining and episodic feeling to The Golden Years: Way Out West. Sometimes you have to search for an amulet and deliver it to an Indian. This will open the passage to a gold mine, where your workers have to dig to complete tasks in the next stage. Each level feels very different and the tasks highly vary, an aspect that is rarely found in other games. It’s also wonderful how well the narration of the storyline and the gameplay are combined – each stage is introduced by a conversation between Gertrude and other recurring characters, which makes goals and the overall gaming experience more personal than in your average casual game.
However, players should not expect a challenge as deep and complex as they are used to from other titles from other titles of the genres The Golden Years: Way Out West combines, such as Build-a-lot or My Kingdom for the Princess. The game apparently does not aspire to replicate that aspect from those games. Apart from some complicated stages in a couple of levels the focus is rather on compelling storytelling, gorgeous graphics, and an interactive and quick experience.
Apart from the short playing time the only real issue we had with The Golden Years: Way Out West is the somewhat disappointing ending. In a game like this players might expect the last level to be longer, more exciting, and different from the others, but here it falls a bit short. It certainly is still good and entertaining, but it is over way to soon. I’d also have enjoyed if the story had some parts where I actually would have to make a decision on my own – for example do I pay the bandits or do I try to fight them by searching for guns? But these complaints are nitpicky in comparison to what the game has going for it.
In the end all I can say is that while The Golden Years: Way Out West blends aspects from various other titles so well that it feels extremely unique and fresh. The division of each level into various stages firstly assures that even beginners can easily achieve expert ratings while playing on their own pace, and secondly increases the feeling of being part of an evolving story. If you are searching for a highly challenging building simulation you might be disappointed, but all others might appreciate the exciting story, high variety between levels, and the wonderful mixture of different genres.