With 2010 recently come to a close, it is a good time to announce my official "Best Western Video Game of 2010". I am sure that any follower of video games last year will be able to guess that the video game with the truest western feel was...
Mass Effect 2.
That's right, not Red Dead Redemption, but Mass Effect 2. My problems with Red Dead Redemption are many, and will surely be the material of a future post, but it's many failing keep Red Dead Redemption from achieving in this space. Mass Effect 2, however, draws on the best aspects of Space Opera, which itself draws from westerns, to create a game the embodies the western story.
Mass Effect is a science fiction action roleplaying game series that puts you in the role of Commander Shepard, a space marine and sometime secret agent seeking out a conspiracy that threatens all life in the galaxy. You'll spend most of your time in the game dropping in on frontier planets under siege by the "alien other", by shadowy business conspiracies, or often times by a mix of both. In the first game you and your crew arrive like the proverbial cavalry, always ready to right wrongs on the space frontier. The second games takes you towards a different kind of western, as you start collecting a ragged bunch of frontier toughs and gunslingers a la the Magnificent Seven to guard your back on dangerous missions.
The choices that Commander Shepard makes in the game are for you to control. The most fun aspect of this is the morality scale. Not a simple good and evil scale, the morality scale shows your character as becoming more "Paragon" or "Renegade" as your decisions influence the game. Think of a Paragon as a Roy Rogers character, always looking for a peaceful outcome. Renegades are more like the anti-heroes of Sergio Leone films, often interrupting conversations by pulling out pistols and filling the air with gunsmoke.
Mass Effect touches on some of the moral issues raised in good westerns as well. Genocide, both cultural and biological, comes up often in the game. The manner in which empires depose of their frontier taming soldiers once civilization moves in is also a common theme. You can almost see the dinosaur-like Urgnot Wrex sitting by the fire with Gus McCrae, discussing how they should have thrown in with the Indians, outlaws, and the Rachni.