Wild West Town may make a better home on the range than FrontierVille

The Old West is undergoing something of a Facebook revival these days thanks to titles like The Oregon Trail and FrontierVille, and we’ve reached that stage where one Western-themed game feels much like the other. Clipwire Games‘ new Wild West Town moseys far in this precarious direction, but it thankfully distinguishes itself by offering a memorable experience based the popular FrontierVille formula. Here we have a game with a story to tell; indeed, you might say its strength is that it has a story at all.

Wild West Town kicks off when a train dumps you on the hardscrabble site of your future town. It’s a rough place, appropriately named Dead Man’s Gulch. The locals waste no time guessing how long it’ll take before you high tail it back east. Even your first quest has you digging up beans to feed a visitor who gives you little more than insults in return, and to make matters worse, he forces you to finish building your fragile homestead so he can have a place to eat. You are, after all, an untried city slicker with only a small stash of cash and pocketful of dreams to help you survive. And you don’t even have a hat.

Wild West Town

Yet you must be doing something right, because new folks start hopping off the train with bundles of missions aimed at helping you build a self sufficing community deep in the desert. Along the way you’ll meet an amicable banker named Nigel, a parched Pony Express rider who needs you to take up his duties, and a bright eyed cook who admittedly looks like she’d be more at home on the Champs Elysees than the Chisholm Trail. Each has a distinct personality that’s played out in dialog, and thus the townspeople in Wild West Town seem like real, breathing people instead of soulless avatars mindlessly grinning their way across your screen. It’s a nice touch, and if you want to harvest crops or feed your animals in their boots for a while, Wild West Town lets you control almost any person you choose.

Thankfully, this isn’t one of those games where every quest feels like a holdup. Money and supplies are as common as sand in the Mojave, and exciting events like capping an oil well for more income keep the gameplay interesting. In fact, whenever an opportunity to spend real-world money presents itself, you almost always have a way around it. For instance, in one early quest Nigel asks you to clear some of the brush around the blossoming town, and you have the option of either clearing 20 bits of brush or simply paying six “bank notes” to advance the quest. Later on, you can fill a cookhouse with three employees from your friends list, or spend six bank notes to fill each position with an NPC.

Wild West Town

Normally we bristle at these kinds of options, but Wild West Town makes them tolerable by letting you to pick up one bank note from your bank per day. In other words, given enough patience and time, it’s possible to get the most out of the game without spending much cash. In addition, almost all of the social game standbys are here and in top form, ranging from awards for visiting your neighbors towns to gifts and decorations that can spice up your town.

If Wild West Town has a problem, it’s that it may seem a little too familiar. Take away the story elements, for instance, and you basically have a FrontierVille clone. But the narrative elements are what make Wild West Town great. Again and again we found ourselves excited about learning which new visitor arrived at the train station, an experience that’s hard to come by in a market where so many farming sims blend into a single memory of planting, harvesting, and wilting. Elsewhere, watching our dusty main street emerge from the brush was an oddly satisfying experience. But find out for yourself. Take a visit to Wild West Town and sit for a spell. You’ll find that there’s gold in them there hills.