With Red Dead Redemption 2 coming later this year, interest in Wild West games is at a heightened level. So it’s interesting to take a look at a game in development that seems broadly similar to RDR 2, but is taking a very different approach to the subject. This Land is My Land — due out in the first half of next year — is an open-world game set in late 19th century frontier, but it’s played from the point of view of a Native American.
By contrast, Red Dead Redemption 2’s protagonist is a white man. Promotional footage thus far released has shown little evidence of Native Americans, likely because RDR 2 is set in 1899, decades after the defeat of plains tribes by a combination of the United States military and by the influx of white settlers wielding advanced technologies.
This Land is My Land is set at an earlier time, when Native American country was being overrun by white settlers. The game is being created by Ukrainian outfit Game-Labs, best known for the PC strategy Ultimate War series, set in the American Civil War, and the excellent age of sail combat MMO Naval Action.
The hero is a man who makes use of traditional weapons as well as modern guns to stem the invasion. According to the game’s development lead Denis Khachatran, he represents an amalgam of western tribes.
“You represent them all,” he said in an email interview with Polygon. “The Chickasaw, Cherokee, Lakota, Cheyenne, Apaches, Navajo, Shawnee, Shoshone, Mohawk, Utes and all other tribes large and small. These last patches of your homeland seem insignificant for the settlers, but for you it is the center of the universe; the heart of everything.”
He added: “We could not find any good games which would let us play as a Native American warrior, or as the Declaration of Independence called them, ‘merciless Indian savages’. So, we are making one.”
Europe has a long history of fiction sympathetic to Native Americans. During the Cold War, movies like The Sons of the Great Bear (1966) portrayed the U.S. Army as hostile invaders. Such anti-American movies were part of a genre called Red Westerns, which pilloried and critiqued Hollywood’s version of 19th century American history.
Khachatran cites Karl May (1842-1912) as an inspiration. He is the most popular author in German history, best known for writing rollicking stories about Native American warriors. His work is still popular today, though he is almost unknown in the English-speaking world.
This Land is My Land doesn’t have the lavish budget of Red Dead Redemption 2, but its developers are finding smart ways to add value to their production. While RDR 2 boasts a huge map, This Land is My Land’s open world resets on each new game, with mines, camps, towns and other settlements appearing in new places.
This Land is My Land relies on stealth more than shooting. Players will be able to make use of baits and traps, creeping in the shadows in order to kill enemies or create panic.
“Stealth is an integral part of asymmetric warfare that is one of the few working strategies when facing a superior force,” explained Khachatran. “Open combat is dangerous, but stealthy destruction or quiet sabotage can defeat the strongest opponents.”
It’s a single-player game, but AI allies can be used to scout out locations, help with crafting and create distractions during attacks.
The American Indian Wars are now remembered for their brutality toward innocents, including the massacres of vulnerable settler families by Natives, and of non-combative women and children by United States forces. But this game will feature neither women nor children.
“The frontier is too dangerous during this time,” said Khachatran. “Native American women and children have been sent farther west, and [white] women and children have not yet arrived.”
The game’s history focuses on the invasion of Native lands, as the indigenous people saw it. While Red Dead Redemption 2’s publicity talks of “civilization spreading rapidly into the wild, lawless frontier,” This Land is My Land recognizes that complex, thriving civilizations were already in place, long before the United States arrived.
“Aliens [white people] came to this place from all latitudes and longitudes and for different reasons,” said Khachatran. “They think they are claiming the empty lands, but your people have always been living here.
“This is a game; not a simulation,” he added. “But it takes place during a time when Native Americans faced a choice of becoming part of the alien civilization or disappearing. The player is fighting people who want to terminate his people’s entire history. The events happening in game could have happened in reality.”
Game-Labs has yet to announce specific platforms for This Land is My Land, but Windows PC is likely the lead format. We’ll keep you updated as news emerges.