Desperados is a storied IP. The franchise passed to THQ Nordic a little while ago, having not received a new title since 2007. Mimimi Games of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun fame jumped on board to bring the franchise back to life, and they have done so in a big, big, big way.
Desperados III is the game I never knew I needed. A perfect blend of satisfying Wild West tropes, a surprisingly compelling story, and an endlessly-gratifying tactical layer that will make you feel like the architect of a bandit-murdering Rube Goldberg machine. With guns.
This is Desperados III, a real-time tactics game in the Old West.
Visuals, setting, and story
I went in completely blind with Desperados III, having never played Mimimi Games' previous title Shadow Tactics, and missing out on the earlier entries in this franchise. As a fan of Wild West movies and games in general (a genre way underserved), Desperados III immediately piqued my curiosity, and I'm so glad it did.
Desperados III is a visually impressive game, with excellent performance on the Xbox One X, effortlessly hitting 4K resolution with 30 frames per second. I haven't really noted any situation that caused slow down or stuttering, making it an impressive and well-polished feeling title.
Several Wild West biomes are represented in the game, from snowy mining towns high up in the mountains, to scorched deserts, and mosquito-laden swamps. Each environment presents different challenges and opportunities for tactical play, which we'll go over in the next segment. The swampy areas in Chapter Two are particularly impressive, with tons of vegetation, realistic-looking mud, and great lighting.
The environments generally enjoy lots of great detail, whether it's unique areas within the land or small conversations between NPCs. It's perhaps built this way to test your powers of observation and creativity while planning attacks. Still, the side-effect is a very immersive, very believable world, that reminisces of the likes of the recent Hitman reboot or a full-blown isometric CRPG.
Sure, if you zoom right in, you might see some inconsistent texture resolution in certain assets. Still, the game is designed to be played from a broader, isometric perspective, zoomed out for maximum tactical awareness. It's from this bird's-eye-view that the game really shines, like a hand-crafted tapestry of Wild West goodness. There's no copy and paste here.
The game also has a surprisingly compelling story. It tells the tale of John Cooper and four other comrades-in-arms, on various quests for redemption, revenge, or simple cash. Cooper's tale is central to the game, with each chapter opening with a flashback segment to his childhood. The game's primary villains, notorious crime lord "The Man Known as Frank," and a corrupt conglomerate the DeVitt Company, who seek to control the Old West through heavy-handed "legitimate" means, while using an army of thugs to extort local townsfolk.
The game examines the various' playable character's backstories as you progress through the incredibly beefy levels, with some solid voice acting, and more often than not, truly hilarious banter. Your party often bickers among themselves in levels, competing for the most kills, or mocking each other's assassination methods. The attention to the character development and delivery, the environmental details, and depth of the simulation is a testament to the love Mimimi Games has poured into this title.
Desperados III is a real-time tactics game (RTT for short), a genre I previously hadn't had much experience with, but now adore thanks to this game. For those who are unfamiliar with the genre, the closest comparison I can make is to imagine an isometric Hitman, where you can control and set-up ambushes and assassinations with all five of the player characters in the story. It took me a fairly long time to get to grips with the game, but I've ended up hooked.
On Normal difficulty (which is more than hard enough if you're a beginner!), levels can take anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour depending on how careful and methodical you are. Each map is a separate mission across the different story chapters, and they're truly huge playgrounds of traps, hazards, guard patrols, and unique assassination opportunities.
The game is initially fairly simple, but halfway through Chapter 2, you'll have all five characters, and the game will expect you to utilize all of their abilities in tandem to tackle enemy threats. Ultimately, getting caught is a death sentence in most situations. You'll want to avoid direct confrontation unless you're pulling off a massive assassination strategy that perhaps leaves you with just a couple of enemies left to mop up.
Using the game's "Showdown" mode, you can freeze time and set up actions for your squad, which you can then activate using different keybinds, or all at once. In the video below, I had two of my squad members hidden in bushes, with Kate, my disguised assassin, ready to hit the detonator on a TNT stack, blowing up three enemies at the wall. Doing so would naturally alert the other three guards, who I then set up to get shot by my cowboys-in-waiting.
Figuring out this tactic and pulling it off just felt sublime. As you progress further through the game, the opportunities to get creative with the mechanics come in thick and fast, rewarding those with the patience to experiment.
It's like a glorious Wild West jigsaw puzzle.
The game has a free-roaming camera that can be controlled using the right trigger in tandem with the stick, on console. It feels odd to begin with, but it makes more sense as you learn the importance of figuring out angles of attack, and getting a feel for the layout of any particular area.
You can watch enemy view cones to help you plan attacks, and avoid their line of sight. It's also useful for figuring out where you can set lures, like McCoy's doctor's bag, which attracts bandits who think there might be cash inside. Luring enemies out of line of sight of their allies for a quick kill is key to progressing through a level, but the game throws several curveballs at you throughout the story.
Rainy levels have mud, creating footprints that can alert enemies Metal Gear Solid-style. Some of your characters have different capabilities, too, such as moving bodies while standing or dragging them while crouched. Learning each of your character's skills can take a long time if you're unfamiliar with this type of game, but as you gradually begin to get a grip on things, everything slots into place. It's like a glorious Wild West jigsaw puzzle.
You'd think this type of game might get repetitive after a while, but the character delivery, banter comments throughout levels, and the seemingly limitless combination of different strategies and threats keep things fresh throughout the game. Hardcore completionists can even indulge in some truly insane challenges, earning badges for each stage on subsequent playthroughs. I suspect speedruns of this game will be truly exciting to watch.
In brief terms, your character's abilities generally revolve around reducing enemy view cones, luring them away from their patrol routes, distraction, traps, or different types of firearms. Later in the game, you get access to Isabelle, who comes with some unique powers. With some swamp-style voodoo magic, you can bind the fates of enemies together, or outright mind-control them, forcing them to shoot their friends.
Beyond the simple guard-murderin' gameplay, there are several setpiece events throughout the game that come with unique weapons or opportunities to sew destruction. Some of the earlier levels finale with Gatling guns, blowing up a massive bridge across a waterfall, or dropping hazards onto enemy heads. There are a bunch of obscure interactions, too, such as throwing enemy corpses to knock other enemies out. I wonder what other interactions I am yet to discover.
Who should buy Desperados III?
Desperados III is an epic introduction to the genre.
Desperados III certainly will not appeal to everyone. Despite having a solid story with great characters, and lovingly-crafted levels, the tactics genre simply doesn't have the broadest appeal.
If you've ever enjoyed stealth games like Hitman, or turn-based tactics games like Gears Tactics or XCOM, Desperados III feels like a happy medium between real-time and isometric-style tactics, where you're controlling units in a complex sim.
Mimimi Games achieves maximum satisfaction with Desperados III's delivery, and as someone who had never played a real-time tactics game before, Desperados III is an epic introduction to the genre.
Sure, I think some of the controls could be a bit better on console. Learning how to use the Showdown Mode properly took several bouts of trial and error. The tutorial segments could be a bit friendlier to newcomers in general. I struggled quite a bit with it initially, but eventually it just "clicked," and I'm so glad it did, because I discovered something endlessly rewarding as a result. And because of that, Desperados III has become my unexpected game of the year so far.
Wild west strategy .
Desperados III is a franchise I didn't know I needed. With endlessly satisfying tactical action, Desperados III is an unexpected gem of a game, that stealth fans need to try.
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