WB Studios’ Westworld mobile game can be just as complicated as the series, but the game’s true promise may take some time to see.
The mobile theme park mobile game combines elements of economic strategy sims (RollerCoaster Tycoon) and traditional RPGs. Players are thrust into the role of a trainee at Delos Corporation, the overarching company behind the outlandishly successful getaway, Westworld. The goal is to collect an ensemble of hosts (super advanced artificial intelligence that serves the park’s guests) and manage the park, ensuring everyone is happy.
The screen is split into two areas that players must toggle between. Delos’ labs exist underground and are split into individual sectors — reminiscent of the submarine in Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zizzou. Each of these bays represents an important division from the series; there’s the manufacturing sector, Ford’s office, the reparation bay and the interrogation unit. Westworld and it’s different areas exist above ground. Players can move from area to area and interact with guests in different locations, like the Mariposa Saloon.
Since the game is based so heavily on the series, and includes contributions from the show’s writing staff, the narrative feels familiar. I spent a few minutes generating new hosts and adding them to my collection, trying to figure out how I could use their individual skills to my advantage. Most hosts are randomly generated and come with pre-programmed with specific strengths designed to meet all of Westworld’s guests needs. I knew that I wanted to generate as many hosts as possible so I could grind through different interactions and create a powerful host army. Almost all hosts are generated as basic or with one star, and they can reach a total potential of five stars. The more powerful they become, the greater opportunity there is to explore far-out regions of the park.
Hosts are the heart of Westworld’s mobile game, and it’s easiest to think of them like Pokémon. The difference is that Westworld doesn’t encourage fostering relationships that Pokémon games do. Instead of working hand-in-hand with the hosts to accomplish a goal, I felt like a god. I could whittle the hosts down and mold them into someone new by choosing two hosts from my collection and molding them into one stronger character, or I could dispose of them at any given moment. I didn’t have any attachment to the hosts I was working with; they were like cogs in the machine. It’s jarring to try and foster relationships between the guests at the park and hosts, set up these fruitful experiences, and actively not care about what happens next. Naturally, these feelings might change the more time I spend with the game.
There’s also something empowering about that disconnect, though. I felt like I could run Westworld better because I didn’t care about my hosts. It was survival of the fittest in real time. The game doesn’t encourage much interaction between the player and the hosts, but there’s one small mini-game that enthralled me. This mini-game takes place in the interrogation bay, where hosts are asked philosophical questions to ensure they remain exactly as programmed. I was encouraged to pick from a series of questions at the bottom of the screen and try to pick the best outcome as parlayed by the corresponding icons at the top of the screen.
This is one part of the game that feels most influenced by the Westworld writers. The answers are fastidious, with a bite of sarcasm that creates legitimately funny dialogue. All I wanted to do is play this mini-game over and over, even though the full game pushes players to travel around different parts of Westworld and continue exploring. It was easily the most fun I had during my time with the game. I looked for similar experiences in the rest of the game, interacting with different hosts to see if I could generate a similar outcome or dialogue, but that never happened. The closest scenario is watching the short animations between hosts and guests play out on screen, but even that comes with its fair share of problems.
The biggest issue with WB Games’ Westworld is there’s too much to do, and the game doesn’t really plan for diddle-daddling. A good example is the tiny animations that play whenever hosts interact with guests. These are cute, well-animated shorts, but because of the game’s harried pace, I never felt like could just sit back and enjoy. I watched the first couple of animations to completion, but by the third or fourth interaction, I grew restless thinking of what else I could be doing. I wanted to earn more coins so I could purchase gems and fast-forward to the final result. Being in the Westworld game is like a bee hive; there’s always something happening. That can be fun at times, but it also diminishes the most important part of Westworld’s core value: immersion.
I never once felt immersed in the game. I knew that because it’s a theme park simulator, I had to temper my expectations. Aside from the casual appearance of a known Westworld character, however, nothing really screamed Westworld. The buildings were the same, and the concept was there, but spend 10 minutes playing it and the game just becomes another sim. I wanted some kind of inkling, beyond an obvious reference, that Westworld the game could expand upon Westworld the TV series. I’m both disappointed and frustrated that never came to fruition.
I wanted to play WB Games’ Westworld because I adored the show’s first season. I was transfixed by the world and narrative Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy created. I was sold on the promise of a game that does, to an extent, intertwine with the universe Nolan and Joy created, but that’s not the game I played. There are many hurdles to overcome when creating something based on beloved, pre-existing property. It needs to feel authentic and build upon what we already know. WB Games’ Westworld tries to do that by inundating the game with references, but didn’t come close to capturing the very essence that made the show special. There’s nothing to differentiate the game from every other theme park simulator, and that’s wildly disappointing considering how much more Westworld is to fans like me.
Still, I’m not giving up on it just yet. Westworld seems like a game that I could get into during my lengthy subway commute to work. Maybe having more time with the game will help me see things that I didn’t get a chance to, as Easter eggs will be included and the game will update as the show’s second season progresses to allow for new locations and characters to be introduced. I’m hoping that Westworld’s mobile game can figure out a way to be more than just a generic theme park sim, but that’s certainly not the case right now.
Westworld will be available for iOS and Android devices in April.