After 13 years, Desperados rides again in Desperados III, after a complete modern retune of its core gameplay.
With this refresh of the western-inspired tactics series, developers Mimimi go two-for-two in crafting another beautiful, challenging and personality-drenched world after 2016’s fantastic Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun.
Take some Commando, dress it up like Red Dead Redemption, then feed it a little Hitman 2 and you’ll get something like Desperados III. Situating itself as a prequel to the original run of games, Desperados III takes a birds-eye view of the action. Throughout the game’s roughly 25 hours of gameplay, you’ll snipe cowpokes, scoot around patrols and view-cones, and become fully-immersed in the technicolour B-movie version of late-1800s America that the Desperados call home.
The original gang’s all here too – well, mostly. They’re John Cooper, the perfectly regular cowboy protagonist; Kate O’Hara, the bloody bride and master of disguise; and Arthur “Doc” McCoy, the doctor-come-sniper for hire. New to the series are Hector Mendoza, a massive Mexican fella with a taste for bandits who totes an equally massive bear trap, and Isabella Moreau, whom the developers describe as “a mysterious lady from New Orleans” with supernatural abilities. One of Desperados III’s brightest spots is the attention to detail in the animations and voice-acting which bring these characters to life in a way that many real-time strategy games just don’t. Watching Cooper and his team laze about a night-time campfire or shoot the air while saddling up the horses becomes all the more realistic through Desperados III’s motion captured performances.
“Take some Commando, dress it up like Red Dead Redemption, then feed it a little Hitman 2 and you’ll get something like Desperados III.”
The bread and butter of real-time tactics games like Desperados III is always going to be the abilities of your party members and the bag of tricks you have to pull from. From a lowly coin (for distractions) to a doctor’s bag filled with knockout gas (for distractions, again), you’ll have quite the roster of tricks by the time you’ve met every member of the cast. It’s not all non-lethal takedowns of course, with the aforementioned (and we must say brutal) bear-trap, Cooper’s dual-pistols, and plenty of other deadly weapons also getting in on the action.
While you can always take out enemies in real time, more complex encounters require you get familiar with the game’s ‘Showdown Mode’, wherein you assign an action for each character before executing your plan and watching the bullets (or perfume bottles) fly. Showdown mode is good fun, but the inability to log more than one action per character – while it makes sense – is a tad disappointing.
On top of the increased complexity of new enemy types and missions, Desperados III also isn’t afraid to whisk away half of your team and force you to use different approaches by depriving you of abilities that you may be relying on too much, matching up different characters for different ability loadouts.
But it’s the maps themselves that are the best part of Desperados III. They remind us of 2018’s Hitman 2 in the way that they run like clockwork puzzles, begging you to find a weakness in the defences of your enemies. Guard patrols become more intricate and unforgiving as you progress, and they learn to watch each other’s backs more. Unfortunate ‘accidents’ can befall high-profile targets if you pay attention to your environments – for instance, a particularly nasty rodeo bull, or an oil spill…
On top of all of this is what Desperados III calls ‘Civil Zones’, which are areas where your characters can roam free unbothered by guards or civilians. These zones create an interesting basis from which you can position characters and launch your various escapades, and even if you get caught up in a shootout, it’s Desperados III’s encouragement of saving and retrying different approaches that makes even its most head-scratching moments enjoyable. This tight-rope walk of puzzling encounters but fleeting punishment for failure is one that Desperados III pulls off effortlessly.
Ultimately, it’s the confidence in its map design, character abilities and gameplay tone that makes Desperados III such a joy to play – with the wonderful art direction and world a welcome bonus.
Desperados III is available June 16 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.