Like the best of spaghetti westerns, Desperados III is a story about revenge. Serving as a prequel to the very first game in the series Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive, it dives into protagonist’s Cooper backstory and shows how he met the femme fatale Kate, the second half of the deadly duo that starred all four Desperados games as they tackle a greedy mining company who happens to be in cahoots with an old enemy from Cooper’s past. You read that right: Desperados III is actually the fourth entry in the franchise, following Helldorado which was released in 2007, but differently from all the games that came before it, it’s not developed by the company formerly known as Spellbound Games, now called Black Forest Games, the folks responsible for the upcoming Destroy All Humans! remake.
The task to bring Desperados back fell to Mimimi Games, whose last release, 2016’s incredible Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, managed to reignite the flame of isometric real-time tactical stealth games while at the same time retaining the feel classics such as Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood, and of course, the original Desperados. To anyone familiar to Shadow Tactics, Desperados III should feel similar since it plays pretty much the same, only further polishing up and improving on the already solid gameplay found in the studio’s previous game.
Desperados III’s campaign is split into three chapters, each taking place in a different region in 1870s USA and containing around five missions not including some bonus ones that are unlocked around 2/3s into the game, which reuse maps and objectives are changed, including more restrictions, that come in the form of contracts laid out by the mysterious Baron. The normal missions do a tremendous job at carrying the story along thanks to some really well put together pre and post-level banter among the characters in your team, not to mention their exchanges as the action is going on. Every stage in the game also manages to be unique on its own, whether is through the objectives set before you, or your group’s composition and the state which they start at, which sometimes varies wildly.
One of the early missions in the game, for instance, sets a lot of limitations that really amp up the difficulty: it’s the one where Kate is introduced as she’s about to get married. Donning a wedding dress, you’re to escape from the party and somehow infiltrate your husband-to-be’s office for some sort of document. You can imagine the lengths that you have to go through in order to make that happen while inside such an attire. Such is only one of many examples of the creativity that went into Desperados III’s mission design that doesn’t let up until and including the very last segment in the game which is damn right amazing and a really cool closer to the story.
A desperado is nothing without friends at his side, and dual Colt shooting, knife tossing Cooper’s got some great companions to ride along with in Desperados III. Kate is a master temptress and can distract all male opposition with the exception of special units, but she’s not just a looker either, as her purse gun is almost silent and deadly at close range. Another old friend from previous Desperados is Doc McCoy, who Cooper meets at the start of the game — “doc” isn’t merely a cute nickname as he’s deadly with chemicals and can temporarily put out enemies by distracting them with his medicine bag, or shoot them dead with his long range and comically, Tim Burton Batman’s Joker long-barreled gun. Hector is a newcomer to the series, a mix-up of some of the previous games’ characters into one burly man that loves to lure and ambush suspicious foes into his gigantic trap which he affectionately calls Bianca, as well as break out his sawed off shotgun to blast away the opposition. Last, but certainly not least is Isabelle, a voodoo practitioner from Louisiana whose set of skills makes her one of the most fun characters I’ve ever played in a stealth game like this — what she lacks in firepower she more than makes up with her black magic and movement speed.
Every member of the team has their own set of strengths and weaknesses that really force you to learn how to use them effectively on their own and as part of a group, a posse if you will. Even on normal mode, Desperados III’s incredible mission composition has you making creative use of their skills in order to make it through in one piece, and if you’re anything like me, who loves to get to the end without raising alarms or getting seen, combining abilities and coordinating your team is a must. That’s where Showdown Mode comes in handy, Desperados III’s analog to Shadow Tactics’ Shadow Mode, where you can pause the game — things keep on going if you activate it in the hardcore ‘Desperado’ mode, mind — allowing you to plan out ambushes by setting individual team members to different tasks and activating them simultaneously or in sequence as needed, to get you out of pinches.
And you’ll need to put Showdown Mode to the test quite often with increasing demand the further you get in the game, sometimes even having all members of your team tied into a single coordinated and absolutely awesome to pull off strike. If you enjoy setting ambushes and can spend hours upon hours coming up with strategies for doing so, you’ll be in for a treat with Desperados III due to how huge and open to different solutions each of its missions are, even bigger than Shadow Tactics’ already hefty maps. That, coupled with the fact that not all sections are necessarily hostile zones, you’ll have to think on your feet and not go balls out all the time since not all NPCs scurrying about are enemies.
My biggest surprise with the game, however, came from the most unsuspecting of features. Due to Desperados III getting a simultaneous release on PC and consoles, I was able to play through its entirety on a controller, sitting on my couch and taking advantage of my HD TV. The control scheme that the game is set to default works wonderfully well on a controller, and it didn’t take me long at all to become proficient at keeping track of all the button combinations and context-sensitive actions throughout the game. The best part about playing this way though is having direct control over your characters and being able to move them with the left analog stick which I loved. Apparently that was also made a feature in Shadow Tactics after it was ported to consoles, which makes me want to go back and try it out since I liked it so much in Desperados III. Before playing the game this way, I would’ve called you insane for even suggesting playing real-time tactics on a controller, but after thirty six hours playing it in this manner, I don’t see myself going back to keyboard and mouse.
As with Blades of the Shogun, Desperados III is built for replayability. Not only do special enemies named after the developers make a comeback, giving you special in-game achievements for killing them during missions, as well as a number of badges earned for completing missions differently and completing certain requirements, but now Desperados III also adds a built-in speedrun of sorts tool that displays your performance on a level once you’re done in the form of a play-by-play map, much like what’s done in sports broadcasts on TV, as well as having your video replay available if you wish to upload it online. It might sound silly at first, but it’s a really awesome feature that I can’t wait to see how badly people who are much better than me at Desperados III will break the game and score insane times in events such as Awesome Games Done Quick thanks to it!
Desperados III is also a pretty well optimized game. I was able to play it with all settings turned to max in 4K and in butter-smooth 60 fps on my 5+ year old computer with absolutely no glitches or crashes. The game’s quite a looker when it comes to the colorful and lively environments and characters who are really detailed and pop on screen.
They all also animate naturally thanks to the use of some motion capture, giving the clockwork nature of a bunch of individuals going about their routines a lot more life and realism. Even zoomed out far, it’s easy to pick your heroes apart thanks to the smart use of colored silhouettes, which also comes in handy when clicking the left analog stick to highlight enemies and interactive scenery like trap apparatuses, doors, and animals.
Real care has also gone into the game’s soundtrack, which in true Morricone fashion sounds unmistakably Western, from the main menu guitar-heavy theme to many a mission’s track where whistling is put to incredibly atmospheric use to set the mood. Composer Filippo Beck Peccoz has done a remarkable job emulating the feel of old spaghetti flicks and making it the game’s own. I’m sure I’m going to pick up the soundtrack on Steam eventually.
While not nearly as exciting as the music, the voice acting in the game isn’t bad, but it’s nothing out of this world either, even if the writing for the banter between the cast manages to be really entertaining, especially McCoy and Isabelle’s back and forth since the good doctor is constantly suspicious of the swamp witch’s magical antics. One thing that might not sit well with some players, however, is the presence of a lot of profanity, especially when it comes to enemy dialogue. I wasn’t put off by that since it fit in with how robbers, castle rustlers and outlaws would behave back then, but it’s a fair warning to anyone playing on playing the game near kids.
Ever since seeing the game for the first time at last year’s E3, I was hopeful that it would turn out well due to the people who were handling it and how much I’ve enjoyed playing their previous game, but my expectations were surpassed by the sheer quality of the end product that I got to enjoy over the course of a week reviewing it. Desperados III is one of my — if not the absolute — favorite games that’s come out in 2020. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it and I’m certain I’ll be back to it in order to tackle the bonus missions and later drops of content coming in form of a season pack in the future. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a train to catch and some review bounties to claim. After all, it’s high noon somewhere in the world…