Is this stealth game a best Western? Or should it be shown the saloon door? What does this even mean? The Fingers Guns review of El Hijo: A Wild West Tale.
I am, almost without fail, bad at stealth games. There’s something about the spatial awareness required to be good at those games – to know who’s moving and looking where – that I am just incredibly lacking in. So, when El Hijo: A Wild West Tale (developed by Honig Studios and Quantumfrog) slipped into my view, promising a more sedate and simple experience, I was immediately intrigued. Could it be? Was this the game that would let me feel like Agent 47 for a reason other than our shared baldness?
In case it wasn’t obvious from the game’s title, El Hijo is set within a world heavily inspired by…the Wild West, and – as such – the world is full of touches you might recognise from media that has portrayed that era over the years. The colour scheme is all deep reds and burnt ochres and terracotta, giving the whole thing a dusty southern US/Central American look, and environments are full of little details like cracked tiling, beautifully patterned tapestries and rickety old train tracks.
Taken as a whole, the game does a terrific job of invoking the feel of old Western movies, in spite of the fact that the game contains no dialogue whatsoever. This is also partly down to the game’s terrifically charming animation, which gives the world a real sense of being alive – corn sways as you walk through fields, water trickles serenely in rock pools and monks react in a delightfully humorous way to the things happening around them.
The story itself is a simple no-frills affair – you play a young boy who lives a peaceful existence on a farm with his mother. This being the Wild West, that peaceful life doesn’t last for long though, as bandits attack the farm, forcing you and your mother to flee for your lives. Your mother leaves in the protection of your monastery for your own safety, but you have other plans, and the game revolves around your attempt to escape and find your mother.
What follows is a non-combat stealth game that involves a lot of hiding, distracting and sneaking to avoid the gaze of those who want to stop you.
One thing that will be very clear from the early stages of El Hijo is that this isn’t a game designed to encourage a ton of experimentation. Indeed, rather than the kind of emergent experiences you’ll get from the likes of Hitman or Metal Gear, what you get here is something more akin to a Hitman Go or Lara Croft Go with slightly more freedom of movement.
Your ‘enemies’ all move back and forth along set linear paths, meaning you’ll be afforded very little in the way of opportunities to test out different strategies – the game knows where it wants you to go and how to get you there, and I respect that, although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss being able to see how far I could bend the game without breaking it.
Thankfully, the mechanics presented to you are, by and large, extremely tight, meaning that you’ll rarely feel that the game has punished you unfairly for mistakes. In the early stages, with no tools at your disposal, you’ll avoid the gaze of the monks who inhabit the monastery by hiding in shadow or ducking behind some of the aforementioned tapestries. Later, you’ll acquire the ability to chuck rocks to distract those in your way, Far Cry-style, before eventually getting your hands on your precious slingshot – essential for completing some of the game’s trickier puzzles.
For the most part, this all works effectively enough. However, I did encounter some issues with the precision of the projectile tools, particularly the rocks, as I would occasionally find I had lined up my shot, only for the aiming reticule to flick away to another part of the screen. I also encountered a couple of instances where enemies wouldn’t react to thrown projectiles and I’d have to throw them again – in the exact same place – to get them to move. Thankfully, these were minor and very occasional issues that did little to hinder progress or enjoyment.
Overall, El Hijo succeeds by doing enough things right to compensate for its minor issues. It presents a compelling story and does so with charm and simplicity. If you want a pared-down stealth game with minimal bells and whistles, this might just be the game for you.
El Hijo: A Wild West Tale’s focus on a non-combat brand of stealth, as well as its forgiving mechanics, serves as a very pleasant change to most stealth games on the market, and its overall style is cute without being cloying. It’s not perfect, with some roughness round the edges mechanically, but there are much worse ways to spend a few hours.
El Hijo: A Wild West Tale is available now on PC and Google Stadia.
Developer: Honig Studios / Quantumfrog
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, a copy of the game was purchased. For our full review policy, please go here.
If you enjoyed this article or any more of our content, please consider our Patreon.