With an appropriately swishy cloaked figure in a Stetson, and the twang of several string instruments, the home page of Desperados III promises good, gunslinging, bounty hunting, cowboy fun. Desperados III is the prequel to 2001s Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive and is the first Desperados game since 2007. With thirteen years between games, you’d hope to see some improvements, and Desperados III delivers in almost every way.
Rootin’ tootin’ sneakin’ shootin’
Desperados III is a real time tactics game with a heavy focus on a strong story, and tactical stealth in a compelling Western setting. Also known as a rootin’ tootin’ sneakin’ shootin’ game. It’s what you get when you mash together Hitman, Red Dead Redemption, and XCOM. It sounds like darts thrown at a wall of games, and yet, Desperados III manages to do all three games very well. Not too surprising as Mimimi Productions, the people who worked on Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun are at the helm.
One of Desperados III’s main strengths lies in the vast array of ways you can play through a level. There are five characters to play as, and each offers up unique skills that really change how you operate depending on who you’ve got with you. It also means that once all five characters are at your disposal, you will develop a play style, and a favourite character. Mine was Isabelle, and not just because she has a cat.
Okay, so the cat was a big part of it, but you’ll be swayed too when you see the best subtitled line ever: “*meows enthusiastically*”.
The Gang Goes to a Shootout
John Cooper is our protagonist, as well as the protagonist of the previous Desperados games, and it is his journey that brings everyone together. He can distract enemies, take out targets quietly with a knife, or loudly with a pistol. He’s a jack of all trades, and useful in pretty much any situation.
Doc McCoy is a doctor in the same way that Doctor Doom is. Who knows if he really is a doctor, but that’s not what you should be worrying about. While he can heal characters, he’s much more likely to shoot someone with his sniper pistol, or distract them with his booby trapped medical bag.
Kate O’Hara is the femme fatale of the group, using disguises, flirting, and throwing perfume bottles to great effect. She will help you control the enemies around you, and can even lead them straight into traps.
Hector is a new character who brings with him a large body mass, a large axe, and an excessively large bear trap called Bianca. He may not be the best for stealth kills, but he can carry more bodies than anyone else, and is very useful for taking down tougher enemies.
Isabelle introduces a new, and interesting element into Desperados. Along with her cat Stella, Isabelle also has blood based voodoo magic. Using her own health, she’s able to control enemies, or link enemies together so that what happens to one happens to the other linked enemy.
I favored stealth and distraction as a strategy, and tended towards using Isabelle and Cooper. At least until the fact that I am bad with stealth games caught up with me, and Hector became a life saver. Anyone willing to put the time into Desperados III will learn that practice does make perfect, and that dying is not the end of the world. It’s easy to see the potential for some truly epic stealth moments, as long as you’ve got the patience for it.
Save or Suffer
Desperados III makes the fact that you’re going to die a lot easy on you with a quick save button, and the ability to reload in your last save the moment things start to look vaguely pear shaped. Which will happen often. There is also a timer, letting you know how long since you last saved, and it’s both useful, and a very annoying waste of space at the top of your HUD. Thankfully you can turn it off, but it does remind you to save during your epic stealth adventure.
All that quick saving goodness is useless however, when your save file corrupts and deletes everything five levels in. I am speaking from experience, but luckily only one experience. I did attempt to break my game again, but couldn’t seem to make it happen. Hopefully a fluke rather than a bug, but just in case, I recommend making sure you’ve finished each mission and exit the game from the main page, rather than from the middle of a level.
The newest tactical mechanic the Mimimi Productions brings us is showdown mode. Showdown mode allows you to pause the game, and select the actions you want characters to perform, before setting them off to do so. All of your playable characters can be moving at once, meaning that in one move, across the whole map, you could take out upwards of ten enemies.
Civil zones have also been added to the game. Civil zones are areas that are essentially cloaked in social stealth as long as you don’t do anything suspicious. These are the best areas to pick up clues to help you take out specific targets, and also the best places to dart off to if your enemies are bearing down on you a bit too heavily.
Once you’ve finished a level, if you haven’t had your fill, head back in and do it again. The game is split into chapters, each with a selection of missions that play through a particular map and encounter. Desperados III encourages replaying missions, offering challenges such as ‘don’t go in the water’, or ‘kill 15 guards with the Gatling gun’. You know you’re in for the long haul when the speed run challenge asks you to do a level in seventeen minutes, and then acts like that is a short, and reasonable amount of time.
Character driven shenanigans
Not that excellent gameplay would suffice if you had absolutely no interest in the characters or storyline. In this case, it is the characters, not the story that draw you in. Cooper is looking for a man named Frank, and on his way to finding him, he stumbles upon the rest of the characters, who for reasons of their own, decide to join up with Cooper. It’s a little disjointed due to the fact that chapters are so definitively split into missions, but over all the cutscenes at the beginning and end of each mission tie everything together well enough that it’s not a confusing mess. The story is fine, but it wouldn’t hold up if it didn’t have the characters to go with it.
Luckily the cast are all likeable. More John Marsten than Jack Marsten to say the least. Each character has their own story that intertwines with the others, uncovering a larger storyline, and more complex situations to play through. John comes across Doc McCoy during a train robbery, bringing them together in a violent twist of fate. Many of the other introductions go the same way, in a rom-com approved meet cute that leads to a bloody path of bodies. Girl is held in a cage, girl voodoos her way out, girl meets boy, girl helps boy by offing all the guys shooting at him, girl helps boy save friends. You know, the usual.
The cast of characters is brought to life by the fantastic voice acting. Previously Desperados has had … passable voice acting at best. You always knew John Cooper was a rough and tumble bounty hunter with a gruff voice, but a heart of gold. Now he sounds like an actual person, and not just like a bad cliche walking in from a 70s Western.
Adding to the improved voice acting is a visually stunning game. It isn’t the photo realistic beauty seen in games like The last of Us, or Detroit: Become Human, but it is definitely the best looking top down game I have played in a long time. There’s a range of locations, each beautifully, and carefully made to be realistic. Each area contains a lot of detail, from train tracks to swap grass. It’s a lovely backdrop for the entire game, but there are also a lot of opportunities. Terrain can be used to your advantage. Boulders, and piles of crates can be pushed over, oil slicks can be lit, and there’s no easier way to dispose of a body than throwing it off a cliff. Preferably onto someone.
What really makes Desperados III is the small touches that show a lot of thought and effort went into development. You can pick between English, Russian, Chinese, and German as the games voiced language, and have even more choices in subtitles. There’s a colorblind mode, especially useful considering the enemy viewpoints switch between green, yellow, and red to show detection level. The civilians in towns, or areas that you play in will respond to what you’ve done, commenting about the grisly death via church bell (totally not your fault, but it is a good thing that fingerprinting wasn’t a thing in the 1870s, just saying) as you walk past them.
Desperados III takes time, patience, and the ability to put down your controller gently after your sixteenth death in a row (because your plan should definitely work, maybe just one more try at it), but it offers in return compelling characters, a beautiful setting, and uniquely interesting mechanics, all bundled together in a strong game. I struggle to find much negative to say about the game as a whole, even after it deleted several hours worth of hard won levels. Had it happened more than once, I’d be frustrated beyond belief, but considering how much I enjoyed everything else, I can forgive one mishap.