Desperados III is a story-driven, hardcore tactical stealth game, set in a ruthless Wild West scenario. Play smart if you want to succeed. A good plan can make the difference between survival and finding yourself at the business end of a pistol.
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Reviewed on: PC
Also available for: PS, Xbox One
Cast: Doug Gochman, Todd Haberkorn, Lucas Schuneman, Erica Lindbeck, Debra Wilson, Daniel Riordan, Joe Zieja, Paul Ganus, Casey Miller
Developer: Mimimi Games
Creative Director: Dominik Abe
Head of Design: Moritz Wagner
Game Design: Dominik Abe, Martin Hamberger, Moritz Wagner
Level Design: Felix Friedlein, Mathias Neukam, Moritz Wagner
Writers: Dennis Huszak (narrative lead), Martin Hamberger (lead writer)
I would love to know how many times I pressed the F5 and F8 keys to quick save and quick load while playing through Desperados III. The real-time, tactical stealth prequel to the long-dormant franchise is hard, but not to the point of being utterly frustrating. If anything it’s super-rewarding. It’s disappointing that the genre may be the one thing keeping more players from playing what is one of the year’s best games, and the most fun I’ve had playing a stealth game in recent memory other than the Hitman series.
As a real-time tactics game, you’ll spend the majority of your time scoping out the map in an isometric view and moving your characters one by one into cover or position for kills. You can move your entire crew as one group around the map or split them up and play out two different objectives at the same time — some missions even encourage this.
Desperados III isn’t so much about trial and error gameplay as much as it’s about having the freedom to discover cause-and-effect. It’s definitely not for the inpatient however as you’ll sometimes spend hours on one level slowly working out how to handle each enemy encounter efficiently.
As this is set during the wild west you do have access to firearms and even a character with an explosive double-barrel shotgun, but Desperados III does encourage stealth, and that is the most rewarding way to play the game.
Whether it’s slinking around the green-tinted bayou or hiding between rooftops as you sneak across an upper-class town, Desperados III features massive maps littered with enemies and ways for you to take them out. The game’s protagonist, John Cooper, is equipped with a blade he can use for typical stealth takedowns, or he can throw it for long-range kills. However, the key to stealth in Desperados III is that you need to be able to follow up on your kills. Leaving a dead body on the ground in front of enemies will sound an alarm; even an enemy dying from a knife throw will attract someone’s attention quickly. The big brute Hector Mendoza can set up a bear trap for stealth takedowns, but it’s not going to be much use if someone walks around the corner and spots the gruesome demise left for all to see.
This is where Desperados III’s ‘showdown mode’ comes in handy. The feature lets you pause time and layout actions for characters and then execute them in one button press (hard mode doesn’t pause the game, but you can still set off the chain of actions). Entering showdown mode lets you use an action like Cooper’s coin throw to distract an enemy just as you initiate a kill with another character. Or, you can set up your entire crew so that you can initiate several kills at the same time, quickly open showdown again and have them all hide their bodies within seconds before anyone notices anything. It’s these moments, where you lineup everything perfectly, that the game feels the most rewarding. The further you get into the game the more it asks you to use everything, and all of your characters like this as well. The game’s final level took me several hours to beat and this was due to several sections that require ultra-smart plays from all angles of the map at the same time.
The stealth is helped by ultra-helpful onscreen information at all times. Selecting any enemy will show you their vision cone including a point you can sneak through and a point they’ll spot you inside. You can also press H to highlight all objects you can interact with which helps bring to your attention any environmental kills you may not have spotted previously.
Playing Desperados III feels like playing a puzzle game more than anything else. A puzzle with multiple ways to tackle any given situation, but a puzzle nonetheless. There are louder approaches to most situations, but also more flashy solutions using environmental objects that are easy to miss. These can include things like a boulder you’re able to push over to take out several enemies at once, to areas covered in oil you can set alight.
There are sixteen levels across Desperados III’s campaign that took me around thirty hours to complete. Some levels took me thirty minutes, some took hours. When you’re all done there’s still so much to do if you’re seeking more tactical stealth in the west with bonus objectives including speed-run times to complete for each level, as well as bonus missions that are unlocked near the end of the game. There’s also the promise of more content to come in the future. Desperados III is a big game and got more than enough to keep the most hardcore RTT fan working hard for utter completion.
I have no history with the franchise before but developers Mimimi Games chose to make it a prequel anyway, so it’s safe for anyone to step up with their cowboy boots, spurs and ready to seek revenge for John Cooper.
The story focuses on John Cooper seeking revenge against the bandit leader Frank who killed his father at a young age. Along the way you gain several new companions, several of whom I’ve discovered were in the other games and also some new additions bringing Cooper’s crew to a total of five by the end of the game.
Cooper’s revenge mission isn’t super engaging and I didn’t have much attachment to it even by the end, but I did grow attached to his crew. It’s a pulpy, serviceable story for a game that’s mostly about the gameplay. I ended up looking up the stories of the previous games as soon as I rolled the credits because I wanted to know what happened next. I was disappointed to learn my favourites weren’t in the original games, but who knows, Mimimi Games could still fit in another game before it reaches the plot of the original game, surely.
Isabelle Moreau was one of the characters I was disappointed to learn wasn’t in the past games as her powers made for some of the most fun solutions to several of the game’s levels. She’s a voodoo practitioner who’s introduced in the latter third of the game and she has the ability to link two enemies so that anything that’s done to one, happens to the other. This can lead to simple double takedowns, but also more interesting solutions to puzzles. For example, one of the other characters, Kate O’Hara can throw a perfume bottle and cause an enemy to lose vision for several seconds. If you link two enemies and throw the bottle at one, they’ll both lose vision, which can then set up stealth kills that aren’t close to one another, or simply open a gap of time for you to run between two guards.