Xbox One, PS4, PC
June 16, 2020
Its been roughly fourteen years since we last saw a game from the Desperados series. During that time the game has not only changed publisher but developer as well. Spellbound Entertainment is sadly no longer leading the charge, instead passing the buck over to Mimimi Games. Known mostly for their previous game, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, their expertise with real-time tactical stealth games becomes astonishingly clear in Desperados III as soon as you start playing.
Published by THQ Nordic, this marks a return for the Desperados franchise and capitalises on what made the original games so great, while reimagining the core gameplay experience so that it can work for both PC and console platforms. This focus of bringing an old and seemingly forgotten franchise back up to speed for modern players is incredibly nostalgic. I’d long since lost the feeling of what it felt like playing games on PC, back when the coolest about those times were the cool pre-rendered CGI videos that introduced you to the game’s world. And while Desperados is an older series, this newest release doesn’t bog itself down because of it. In fact, the game feels like a brand new game that is tailor-made for both the Western fan, and the tactics nerds that enjoy games such as XCOM or even Hitman. That last example might seem out of place, but will make more sense in context.
Desperados III tells the story of John Cooper, a gun-slinging bounty hunter that wouldn’t look out of place were he placed in a Clint Eastwood western. That adds a certain charm to the character as well as the entire cast, as the main story is so unapologetically western that you can’t help but crack a shy smile at the clicheness of it all. The world of Desperados is similarly draped in the finery that is the Old West. Each game scenario takes place either during a train robbery, a flourishing mining town or even during a forced wedding ceremony. The environments take clear inspiration from the genre that, combined with the narrative, makes for a game that isn’t afraid to use a playbook if it makes for interesting gameplay.
Desperados III’s take on cowboys is interesting, to say the least. Whoever thought it would be interesting to slow down the heart-pounding shootouts of the Old West and turn it into a methodical stealth sim must have given one hell of a pitch. Because in reality, it works. I would’ve never guessed that some of the most satisfying moments to be had while playing Desperados is when you can clear a scenario without having to fire a single shot.
“The most satisfying moments to be had while playing Desperados is when you can clear a scenario without having to fire a single shot.”
Instead, the focus becomes centred on planning and setup. This is where that Hitman reference begins to make sense, because Desperados has more in common with Hitman then it does XCOM. Both games are fixated on eliminating key targets that are blocked by several obstacles or enemies that require both problem-solving and timing to get right. This makes for a trial and error gameplay loop that, while at times can become frustrating, make for incredibly satisfying moments once you’ve figured out the ideal solution.
Whether you’re hiding bodies in bushes to ensure your presence remains undetected, or you’re desperately trying to nail down the timing of enemy patrol routes so you quickly sneak your way into a restricted area, Desperados III’s primary concern is letting you as the player create the ideal story of what happens to these characters during these intense gameplay moments. While the story paints the cast to be these seasoned legends of the west, it’s during gameplay that these characters can truly live up to their reputation. Because of this, you’re probably going to be abusing the quick save and quick load button a lot, and the developers even encourage this behaviour.
Because at the end of the day, the allure of the old west has always been about stories of underdogs, facing insurmountable odds while performing heroic deeds. And try as we might, any deeds we hope to achieve will never be as cool or as fun as the ones seen during classic western films. But at the very least, Desperados III allows us to at least think we’re both as cunning and heroic as you’re a typical cowboy and that all it really takes is impeccable timing, solid teamwork, a few dozen retries and a huge boulder or two.
Desperados III is available on PC (Steam), PS4 and Xbox One. The game was reviewed on the PC version.
- Great soundtrack
- Voice acting is superb
- Open-ended gameplay
- Highly replayable
- Trial and error loop can become frustrating
- Bit of a learning curve
Desperados III is an interesting take on the Old West genre. A tactical perspective adds both strategy and nuance to a setting that doesn’t often stray from its staple of fast-paced action or dramatic storytelling. Desperados III has a unique approach to its game design, providing an interesting lens in which to view the legend of cowboys and how they commanded their presence on the frontier. This added complexity makes for quite a mentally stimulating challenge of precise planning and decision-making, that results in emergent game scenarios that are not often repeated.
The creative mix of strategy and satisfying execution makes for a surprisingly fresh take on the Old West genre that I didn’t think was needed or necessary, but here we are. If you’re a fan of either cowboys or Hitman style gameplay objectives, then Desperados III is sure to make for an entertaining ride.