Desperados 3 Review: A High-Tension Hootenanny
It's been many a moon since we saw a Desperados game. The second game in the real-time tactics series released in 2006, with the Helldorado spinoff coming out the next year. It's been all quiet on the western front until now.
This time, Mimimi Games is at the helm of Desperados 3, a great tactical title that carries on the legacy of the genre that included other greats like Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines.
Desperados 3 isn't perfect; it's still haunted by some of the same issues it had in its early build. However, it's a lovely little puzzle box that rewards creative thinking, eliciting more than a few "a-ha!" moments along the way, especially in particularly devious situations.
Desperados 3 Review: A High-Tension Hootenanny
If you've ever played a squad-based real-time tactics game, like other Desperados games, Commandos, or Mimimi's Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, you'll feel right at home in Desperados 3.
If you haven't, the gameplay style might need a little explaining. Each mission puts you in control of up to five characters. Each of those characters has special abilities at their disposal, and each mission consists of a series of objectives.
You must then utilize the characters at your disposal to achieve those goals, and there are usually dozens of enemies in your way. After analyzing patrol paths and learning the tendencies of nearby guards, you'll start picking off baddies one by one, opening up new paths while working your way through level toward the objectives.
When you first start out, things aren't terribly difficult; for example, luring an enemy into the jaws of a giant bear trap is pretty easy to figure out. As you start ramping up to greater difficulties in later missions, however, you'll have to combine several different abilities at once, each with a specific timing and a unique cooldown to make it through unscathed. It's tricky but oh-so-satisfying once you make it through a section that has been giving you fits.
Tactics and abilities start very simply. Protagonist John Cooper can flip a coin to draw an enemy's attention, and he has a couple of loud pistols that get instant kills but attract a big crowd. Later on, characters gain more complex abilities, and you can even press a specific key to queue up separate abilities from every character all at once.
One button press will unleash a symphony of destruction that requires distinct timing, and it's possible to mess up that timing on more than a few times in a playthrough. When it works, though, it's a sight to behold.
The Wild Bunch
Desperados 3 is a reasonably standard cowboy story, and its characters are relatively archetypal. There's a fun-loving giant, the brooding assassin, the rough-around-the-edges country gal, and so on. Rather than being put off by characters that have been done time and again, it's helpful for the tactical nature of the game.
There are limits and restrictions beyond just each characters' special abilities, but they won't surprise you. You'll have a pretty good idea of what to expect based on a particular character archetype.
Even though the characters themselves are pretty stereotypical, it is fun to watch how they banter and play-fight during missions. There's near-constant back and forth between them, and there's enough of it that it won't get too stale. It's a system that lends quite a bit of personality to the game that I wasn't expecting, and it helps make you care more about them than you might otherwise.
The game also gives you a surprising amount of choice beyond just, "How can I kill that enemy this time?" Desperados 3 allows you to play with little bits of the story, such as an early mission that has two characters competing for a bottle of whiskey by seeing who can take out the most enemies.
Though it doesn't change much in the grand scheme of things, it does let the player have more control over the story, and it also gives you a reason to play through Desperadoes 3 multiple times.
Fistful of Dollars
When you first scan through a new mission, it may seem nearly impossible. As you progress, you may think you have things figured out before noticing something you hadn't before, which then throws a wrench into your entire plan, forcing you to start from square one.
Perhaps nothing is more video gaming than a game encouraging you to save scum, but that's precisely what Desperados 3 does. Most missions reward you for limiting your use of or refraining entirely from quicksaving, but the very first mission informs you that "failing and trying again" is part of the game. Desperadoes 3 even warns you if you play for longer than a minute without a quick save.
This might turn some people off. However, it contributes to the feeling of triumph when finally get past a difficult section. This genre is also the king of making you realize that your approach is failing because it's the entirely wrong approach; sometimes shutting the game down, stepping away and coming back with a fresh set of eyes is the key to success.
Once Upon a Time
There is a lot to like about Desperados 3, but not everything is perfect out West. It isn't quite as noticeable as it was in the earlier build that we played, but the game just ain't that pretty. You can tell what's going on and who everyone is but, if you zoom in on the action, you'll see some terrible clipping and undetailed model work throughout.
It isn't a huge deal — you won't see most of the little hiccups in the game's standard view — but it's a bummer seeing the butts of Cooper's guns clipping through his coat in every cutscene.
Desperados 3 is also an extremely finicky game, and it's prone to make all but the most patient players tilt on occasion. Sometimes, after killing an enemy and trying to grab their body to hide in a bush, my character would walk in circles around them until spotted by the patrolling guard.
If you haven't quicksaved, these little misses can be extremely frustrating, as Desperados 3 is a game that doesn't afford screwups when putting your plans into action.
By and large, this entire genre is built on patience. If you demand immediate results or "mastery" of a game means never dying, then you're probably looking in the wrong place. That dog won't hunt here.
Desperados 3 Review — The Bottom Line
- Extremely satisfying puzzle box missions
- Lots of ways to approach and succeed
- Players can shape elements of the story
- Good callbacks to original games
- Can be overly frustrating
- Graphics need some polishing
Neither Desperados 3 nor the real-time tactics genre are for everyone. Both can be frustrating and overly "video game-y." However, if this is your style of game, it's executed really well here. At the same time, the stereotypical cowboy setting is a lot of fun to play around in, even if it can be a bit overly familiar.
It's a welcome return for the series. Mimimi Games has proven once again that they know the genre, as both Desperados 3 and Shadow Tactics demonstrate. Lock and load your (quicksave) trigger finger — somebody's poisoned the water hole!
[Note: A copy of Desperados 3 was provided by THQ Nordic for the purpose of this review.]