When I first sat down to play Desperados III, I knew roughly what to expect. A real-time tactics game with an emphasis on stealth and clever execution of your squad’s abilities. However, what I was not expecting, was just how engrossing this game would be. Literally hours of my day would pass before my eyes as I carefully calculated and orchestrated each move – planning my attacks, always with an escape route in mind.
Described as “a story-driven, hardcore tactical stealth game, set in a ruthless Wild West scenario…” Desperados III was developed by Mimimi Games and published by THQ Nordic. This is the first game in the series since the 2007 spin-off Helldorado. Desperados III is an absolute stand out in terms of games I’ve played this year and was well worth the lengthy hiatus.
The game pits you as protagonist John Cooper and is situated as a prequel to the first game. You’re on a quest for revenge, hunting down “Frank”, the notorious outlaw responsible for the death of John’s father James Cooper. Along your journey, spanning the expanse of Colorado to New Mexico, you meet a strong cast of characters, each with unique abilities that form your squad, arming you with the necessary tools to complete your objectives. As you progress through missions, a story of treachery and the menacing DeVitt company unfolds.
The plot of Desperados III is so engaging. Despite the levels providing you with various tasks and objectives that may seem somewhat of a tangent, they all tie together and you’re never sidetracked by your task of seeking out and executing villain Frank.
One thing that I thought was really well done was how the members of this rag-tag group become drawn together into each other’s journey, forming a bond stronger and often times stranger than friendship. The levels are woven into the story perfectly and without giving too much away, the twists and turns of the plot are always in keeping with the general theme of revenge and retaliation.
That said, it’s the gameplay mechanics of Desperados III where this title truly shines. It’s intricate, clever, and demands careful attention of your surroundings and lots of consideration before you make any move. During the tutorial, James Cooper tells a young John Cooper to “Think slow, act fast!” – that about sums up the best approach to an initial playthrough of the game. You have to take your time to strategize and as the game progressed and the levels became ever more elaborate, I found myself taking 10-15 minutes, if not more, mapping out my strategy just to get through one area.
The basic premise is fairly simple: you have a cast of characters, each with unique skillsets and in any given level you’re provided with varying combinations of characters, which forms your squad for the level. You then have set objectives, which may require blowing something up, but you need to retrieve the dynamite first, which is likely on the other side of the map. Certain characters can make use of disguises that they can pick up along the way. The goal is to use your squad’s abilities in harmony with one another to complete your objectives. You can combine everyone’s abilities in one fell swoop by utilizing “Showdown Mode”, whereby you can pause the game and set different character’s actions, before hitting enter and carrying out the moves all at once. For example, you can set one character to create a distraction, one character to shoot long range on an enemy and another to execute a close-range attack on a different enemy all at the same time. Making good use of Showdown Mode is crucial for success in Desperados III.
Some levels are quite small, while others are absolutely sprawling. The level at Eagle Falls springs to mind for me, where you’re tasked with destroying a bridge that is right at the start of the level, only to realize that the explosives you need are locked in storage camps far, far away. Once you’ve got the dynamite and destroyed the bridge, the alarm is raised and you need to rendezvous with your comrade at a nearby train. The map is huge, the enemies are numerous and the task is formidable.
Each level has a set of optional tasks you can carry out that earn you “badges”. You can also earn badges for completing the levels in a set amount of time. The Bridge at Eagle Falls took me the best part of four hours to complete. However, the optional speed run is to complete the game in 13 minutes 20 seconds, or less! Needless to say, I never managed to beat any level quickly enough to earn a badge for speedrunning. Nor did I manage to earn many badges. You see, this game challenges you in such a way that you are actively encouraged to take your time and think things through. I took this to the extreme in my playthrough, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Desperados III is brim with excellence from start to finish. Everything is expertly crafted, from the luscious maps, brilliant story and deep gameplay. The maps and levels look great. They’re colorful and have an almost hand-drawn look to them. They’re varied too, which ensures that the time you spend with this game never gets tiresome.
The story drives you on and the choice by Mimimi to make the game serve as a prequel was a great one, as you needn’t have played the previous entries into the franchise to get up to speed with the characters and how the game operates. Never dull, always full of drama, and occasionally funny, the plot evolves and thickens naturally and doesn’t come across contrived or forced.
However, as I mentioned earlier, what really allows Desperados III to shine is the sheer depth of the gameplay. There are so many approaches and combinations to completing levels, it seems like it’s impossible that there’s a “correct” way to do things, but instead, the vast choice and freedom of strategy you have at your disposal means that there are a number of effective ways to get the job done. Proficiency is valued over a set sequence of events that you have to complete. Despite being a stealth game, Desperados III allows you to approach things your way. I always preferred creating distractions and looking for environmental traps to defeat enemies where possible, but you can shoot, gas, blind and carve your way through enemies, so long as you’re careful to cover your tracks by staying in cover and hiding bodies.
You can play the game your way, such as the freedom you’re given to execute your ideas. Also, the quicksave system really allows you to try different approaches until you find something that works. One button to save, carry out your plan and if it fails, you simply press another button to reload. Trial and error are part and parcel of this remarkable game.
At this point, I usually talk about aspects of the game that I didn’t like. But, when it comes to Desperados III, there aren’t any! I mean that in earnest. I can’t think of a single thing about this game I didn’t enjoy. Sure, I would spend hours on one level, but I enjoyed that. Yes, I could plot for ages just to get past one group of enemies. However, that’s right up my street.
So I suppose that’s one thing to be said in the negative about this title. If you’re someone who likes a faster, more frantic paced game full of action, Desperados III may not be for you. This is a pure, unashamed game of tactical ingenuity that challenges the way you approach situations, which makes you think before you act and one which rewards patience over excess. That said, for those of you that think this sounds good, rest assured that with Desperados III, Mimimi has perfected the formula for tactical games and I feel deeply privileged for having been given the chance to review such a masterpiece.
In the end, Desperados III provided me with around 42 hours of enjoyable and thoughtful gameplay. It pushed my problem-solving abilities to the limits at times, but the reward of watching a well-executed plot get carried out exactly according to plan never got old. This game comes with the highest of recommendations – if you see Desperados III, be sure to grab it – it’s absolutely well worth it!
DESPERADOS III IS A MUST BUY
Many thanks to THQ Nordic for a PC review code for this title.
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Damien (dkpriory) has grown up gaming, from the humble days of the Atari all the way through to modern PC gaming. Unafraid to let a game steal his life for a few months, he is passionate about playing something immersive but also yearns for something to take him back to his childhood. Sadly no longer a member of the NookGaming team or creating content, but check out his archives on Youtube here.