I never played the Desperados series before. I had certainly heard of it, but this almost twenty year old series was just outside the games I usually played–which is too bad, because it happens to intersect with a lot of things I would come to enjoy: tactical strategy games and western gunfights. Now, about fourteen years since its sequel, comes a modern take on Desperados with Desperados III.
Desperados III is a real time strategy and tactics game with an emphasis on choice: you can go in guns blazing, or choose the (often more sensible) stealth approach. John Cooper returns to the series, and Desperados III is actually a prequel where you get to see how he first got his gang together. Each of the five gang members you will gather together has their own array of abilities, and when used in synergy with other characters, that can mean lots of room for great tactical gameplay. And while the old west didn’t strike me as the ideal location for a squad tactical game, it turns out to be the perfect fit.
The romanticized Wild West has some great opportunity for interesting characters with some great stories to tell. And more importantly, there are plenty of shoot-outs to be had, and interesting locations to have them in. Or, great locations to sneak around in, really, since Desperados III makes stealth feel like the right answer most of the time. Each scenario has its own objective, or series of objectives, but how you go about doing those is completely up to you. But “guns blazing” is always a choice, and sometimes you’ll have to resort to that. After all, as Hector says about stealth: “If no one is left alive afterwards, it doesn’t matter.”
While the entirety of Desperados III is narrative-driven, the story is just a vehicle to bring any combination of the five characters into a scenario. But you do get to see how Cooper got his gang together and meet a whole cast of interesting characters. That includes the giant trapper Hector (with his beloved giant-but-hard-to-see bear trap), the ruthless Doc McCoy, the seductress Kate, and the mysteriously magical Isabelle. These characters are great, and they have some pretty good interactions with each other. In fact, the entirety of Desperados III’s dialogue is pretty consistently great.
Each of the five characters have their own abilities, as mentioned, but also their own strengths and weaknesses. Hector is strong, but can’t climb. McCoy is silent, but can’t carry a body as well. Kate doesn’t have any moves that can directly kill, but she can distract or even lure enemies to their deaths. Used in conjunction with each other, their skills can lend themselves to some incredibly fun tactical situations.
The tactics are damn enthralling. I’ve sunk hours and hours into this game, trying different strategies. You are given a set of characters for a mission, each with their own abilities, and you can approach problems however you see fit. The closest analogue is the most recent Hitman games—but with a crew that create some damn fun synergy.
There are only a few different enemy types in Desperado III, which was disappointing at first—but the few there are fit into the game, and feel as essential as chess pieces. There are normal gunmen, which are the most common—but are formidable in larger groups. Enemies with red ponchos aren’t distracted by lures and are more vigilant. Long coats are badasses who can only be killed by bullets, or stronger characters. Dogs can see through disguises—like Kate’s—and sniff out characters hiding in bushes. Of course, any one of them can sound the alarm, and have more men pouring out of guardhouses in moments. That’s also true for random bodies lying around—if you don’t want alarms sounded, you have to be tidy.
Each level is also full of interactable objects and hazards that you can use against your enemies. If you notice that a specific mission target is always walking under a precarious rock formation, you might be able to tip those rocks onto his head—and take out his entourage in the process. There are puddles of oil to burn bandits in, and trains to lure them into. The options are incredible.
Desperados III also does a great job of conveying information. Not only is there the usual UI elements, but you can get visual information about everything on the screen. You can see enemies’ cone of vision, and even where they can see you, whether you’re sneaking or not, or if you’re in the light or dark. Yellow cones of sight means they are suspicious, and purple means they’re focusing on something—usually a trick, or distraction like Doc’s trap Medical bag or when you snuff out a lantern.
I really loved Desperados III. It scratches a very specific brand of tactical itch I didn’t know I had. Each level is like a Wild West sandbox of fun. The characters and their comments and banter throughout the levels really endears you to them, and they each have a set of abilities that lend to some clever solutions to problems. I definitely recommend it.
Desperados III will be out on June 16th on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows
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