Desperados III Review03 Aug 2020 1
Desperados III Review
Released 16 Jun 2020
It’s technically a prequel to the original Desperados, but Desperados 3 is actually a spiritual successor to Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. If you played Mimimi Productions’ previous stealth action game, then you are far more prepared for this spaghetti western romp than you would be knowing what the future adventures of protagonist John Cooper look like.
You’d also probably have your expectations set pretty high, considering Shadow Tactics was a landmark entry into a genre that’s become more and more niche through the passing of time. Rest assured, not only is Desperados 3 a worthy successor to Mimimi’s instant classic, it's quite possibly the best real time strategy game in years. Desperados 3 is a stealth strategy game, but it resembles more of a crossword or sudoku puzzle to me. When your party is tucked in a bush, watching guards trot in predictable, but hard to penetrate patrols, assessing the battlefield feels like scanning rows or columns for one stray number to betray the rest of the cypher.
These moments can linger for long stretches of time, while you take account of every guard viewcone, possible noise trigger, or environmental object that could give you a leg up. You find what looks like an opening, muster up some courage, and execute, only to get promptly crushed by that ONE THING that you didn’t spot.
This sort of trial and error scenario can get incredibly frustrating, and your ability to push through it is directly proportional to the kind of glutton you are for being exposed as a sloppy imbecile over and over again. As you get more characters, and further into the 30ish hour adventure, taking multiple breaks to collect yourself in one level can become standard fare. I can’t count how many times ive had to leave the game for an hour or so, after bashing my head against a tough encounter for as long, just to get some fresher eyes on it later.
All this struggle feels worth it when your plans come together. You truly feel brilliant when you’ve lured a guard through a narrow gap in patrols, to incapacitate him and hide the body right before his boss shows up to check on him. There’s a Hitman sort of quality to how you can complete stages and adapt to ever-changing objectives in any clever way that you can come up with. This adds to that sense of contentment upon completion - not only did you win, but you did it your way.
That said, there are some limits. You can’t pick up briefcases and toss them at the nearest foe. Your colorful cast of characters all have unique abilities that help you navigate the world, control crowds, and kill your way to the objective. Generic Cowboy, Cooper, can toss a fake coin to distract enemies, or dual wield a pair of pistols and put lead into two different targets at once. Kate, a pretty and tough farmer’s daughter, can dress up in disguises and flirt her way into buildings that the rest of your cast couldn’t get into. My favorite, Isabelle, uses voodoo to control enemies' minds and turn them on each other.
They all seem largely random in isolation, but the ways that all of Desperados 3’s character abilities interact with one another can create some truly ridiculous series of events. They are all meaningfully different mechanically, and each grants a level of dynamic versatility to the others that is sorely missed when you're forced to play a man down.
Mission variety is vast for a game like this, as well. I found that every mission tests you in a unique way. Sometimes by adding new mechanics, like leaving footprints in deep mud that enemies can track you with. Other times, it’s by splitting your party up, or making you gather and rescue certain members during the course of the mission. Not every stage feels like you're doing something different, but it always feels like you're doing it a different way.
Missions can change dramatically from objective to objective, too. After sneaking around a compound for dynamite, you use it to blow up a railroad bridge so that the local gang can’t harass Kate’s uncle anymore. What was a covert theft turns into a run and gun shootout after the entire base it put on alert by your explosion. These objectives pull no punches when it comes to keeping you out of your comfort zone. On top of that, there are a ton of optional badges and achievements to earn in each mission, adding a lot of replay value for the truly masochistic cowboy.
Enemies themselves are relatively one-dimensional, and come in only a handful of types that are increasingly harder to distract and dispatch. But the sheer number of them and where they’re placed is where they become a truly devious foe. They’re not brilliant, but they act reliably, and it often seems like every single guard is being closely watched by some other guard at all times. When the peace is broken and the alarm is raised, you are almost always outgunned, and will never win a straight up shootout versus them. If they see a body you forgot to hide and raise the alarm, they often summon even more gunmen to patrol the area in search of you. The amount of bodies that can pile on after slipping up can feel cheap at times, even if you do manage to finish your objective in spite of them.
The story feels a bit low effort as well. The plot is almost entirely made up of western tropes done the way they’ve always been done. The characters themselves quip back and forth between each other in entertaining fashion, but it’s the most interesting any of the narrative gets past just being a framework to hang mission objectives on. Being that this game is pretty long and substantially “story driven,” it’s weak story is a bummer that's hard to simply ignore. This is no Red Dead Redemption.
That said, I doubt that you’ll find real time strategy experience more robust and rewarding than Desperados 3 this year. This deviously challenging game finds new and clever ways to confront your tactical acumen in every mission. When it’s demands seem at their peak of insurmountability, the mechanical expressiveness and freedom of your party’s combat abilities never fail to provide you with just the right amount of tools to make you come out of any scenario feeling like the smartest person to ever play video games.