A fistful of nostalgia
It’s been a while. The first game in the series, Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive, was released approximately 163 years ago, in 2001. It’s probably for the best, then, that Desperados III takes the form of a prequel, taking us through the origin of Cooper’s gang. The story itself is a tale of outlaws and lawmen, of betrayal and revenge. It’s standard cowboy fare for the most part, but it’s told engagingly and provides plenty of opportunities for sneaky-stabby-shooty action.
Controlling a party of up to five characters, Desperados III takes the real-time stealth action of its predecessors and makes it feel fresh once more. Each character’s skills and abilities are totally unique; from the weapons they carry to the speed they can drag a dead body. Returning heroes include Cooper – your typical cowboy – all guns and knives, remaining almost unchanged from his previous incarnation. The same goes for Doc McCoy, the sniper with a sack full of poison, and Kate O’Hara, who’s abilities revolve around distracting and manipulating guards.
New additions to the team this time around are Hector and Isabelle. Hector carries an almighty bear trap on his back – she’s called Bianca, by the way – and is the only one tough enough to take down higher-level guards by himself. Isabelle is perhaps the game’s most interesting addition, having clearly been heavily inspired by Dishonored’s Emily Kaldwin. Isabelle’s blood magic allows her to mind-control anyone she likes, or link the fates of two enemies, so that whatever happens to one also happens to the other.
Oh so sneaky
Were I to be uncharitable, I’d take issue with the fact that the game’s only playable black character is a magic voodoo’ swamp witch’ and the only other woman’s chief skill is ‘being hot’. However, the western genre is literally built on cliché, and the two are otherwise very well fleshed out characters, so I’m willing to give Desperados III the benefit of the doubt on this one.
The stealth genre has a bit of an optimisation problem at times. Sure, there are ten different ways to tackle any particular objective, but there’s usually always a best way. Initially, I was worried that Desperados III would fall into that same pattern. Hide, pick a target, distract their friends, stab, drag, repeat. And this works well, for the first few missions. However, Desperados III does an impressively good job of keeping things varied.
It’s extremely rare for all five party members to be active at once. Some missions require characters to be rescued before they can be used. Others split the team into multiple groups, tackling separate objectives. Sometimes they’re deep in enemy territory or wandering a packed town. One memorable early mission takes place the morning after a blinding night at the saloon and sees the weakened group escaping the aftermath of the night before without any of their usual equipment.
Shout, shout, let it all out
Impressively, the vast majority of missions feature bespoke voice barks for each character, aside from the usual plot dialogue. Hung-over Cooper grumbles and groans his way through the town, while farm girl Kate expresses her sheer delight at the sights and sounds of New Orleans.
Each new level brings something new to the table, keeping the game consistently fresh and cementing its status as, essentially, a puzzle game. Maps are sprawling and can take an hour or more to work through, with most encounters requiring patience, planning and timing. To help with that last part, Desperados III includes ‘showdown mode’, which allows every character to queue up a single action, to be performed simultaneously. Setting up and executing a five-way takedown is immensely satisfying.
Desperados III is a worthy successor to the previous games in the series, and a welcome return to a genre I’d long thought dead and buried. Now, how about a new Commandos?
[Reviewed on PC]