Strategy games like Desperados 3 are a strange beast. Focused heavily on squad-based tactics and precision timing; a sub-genre that gained popularity with the Commandos and Myth series from long ago. It is also a style of strategy game I'm simply unskilled at.
Many of you reading might balk at that statement, even be worried about how this might change my perspective on the title as well. The thing is, the mechanics of the game and how critics interact with it should never be based on personal skill or limitation. There is a massive distinction between good and bad games when it comes to the implementation of mechanics, and despite my personal frustrations, it doesn’t change the fact that Desperados 3 is a great game with a ton of challenge attached to it.
Home on the Range
Desperados 3 is a homecoming of sorts, as the franchise hasn’t seen a new entry since 2006. Acting as a prequel to the original 2001 release, the game follows John Cooper as he forms an infamous gang of skilled professionals to battle the corrupt DeVitt company in the Old West. Cooper has an alternative motive as well, tracking down the gang leader known only as Frank, hoping to settle a long-awaited score with him.
Desperados 3 is a fairly standard pastiche of a number of Western tropes. Narratively its cast of stock characters is nothing special. Nothing groundbreaking, but still familiar enough to be comfort food in terms of its storyline. After all, having oddball anti-heroes working to take down a corporation is pretty old hat for video games, let alone the western genre.
The real meat of Desperados 3 is the gameplay, thankfully crafted by developer Mimimi Games, the team behind Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. This is a real-time tactics game that favors stealth and careful planning against insurmountable odds. Those expecting a ‘rootin, tootin, shootin’ kind of western will be sorely disappointed. Instead, we get a slower, methodical experience that values patience and planning over instant gratification.
Taking the Fight to The Enemy
What makes Desperados 3 work so well is the sheer amount of options available to challenge those playing. This is thanks to the strong level design, which borrows a few cues from larger stealth-puzzle games like Dishonored. Each level has a degree of linearity to it, but the pathway the player chooses allows for experimentation in how you progress forward. This is Desperados 3’s greatest strength, allowing the player to interact with the environment in a satisfyingly intimate way.
Utilizing character skills is the key to success in Desperados 3. This can be in the form of lures, such as Cooper using coins to distract enemies, to more unique abilities such as femme fatale Kate’s skill to distract and lure male foes from their guard posts. Each character has a small selection of skills that can distract, knock out, or outright kill enemies, and stringing them together in a coordinated effort is where the game truly shines. Even the more unique powers, such as new character Isabelle’s ability to possess enemies, offer a variety of options that often turn the tide in your favor.
The environmental design shines to complement these skills. with a surprising amount of variety of landscapes and missions. Each environment is a location you would expect to find in a western, from the swamps of Louisiana to the border towns of Colorado. Mission variety compliments the environment design; each being a new miniature sandbox to interact with the level design. Players will have to crash a wedding reception, blow up a bridge, and rescue hostages in a swamp.
All of this interactivity is enhanced with the showdown mode mechanic, a new edition to Desperados 3. Showdown mode pauses the game in all but the highest difficulty level. This allows you to pre-plan your movements and skill usage to create simultaneous actions, instead of cycling through characters normally. This allows for easier coordination for your squad and frees up movement for more tactical advantages.
Showdown mode is an excellent quality of life feature that enhances Desperados 3 for the better. It doesn’t sap the challenge away, but rather adds a layer of tactical complexity that players can utilize. The choices to go stealthy or even rip up a section through coordinated gunplay is also an option in almost every scenario, giving total freedom to the player on how they choose to proceed through a level.
While the use of the environment is well designed, the pacing is sometimes a bit off. Desperados 3 has this nasty habit of having sections of the levels kind of “roped off” from each other, almost as if they were chunks of mini levels strewn together. The later missions make this incredibly obvious, where each section you interact with feels like miniature arenas over a fluid map. Players will spend quite a bit of time positioning their characters with relative safety, something that actually detracts from the experience because it gives you too much leeway to methodically plan things out.
The pacing ultimately is hurt by another issue, one that is beyond the game's control. To really succeed in Desperados 3, you need to have perfect timing everything perfectly. This is the real Achilles heel when it comes to my own abilities, and why I had so much trouble playing Desperados 3. Even with Showdown mode on the beginner difficulty, some sections require precision timing to survive.
This includes sneaking past guards, contending with elite enemy-types that are immune to your tricks, or simply just memorizing movement patterns that are so narrow you simply have one small window of opportunity to proceed. Trial and error become the first hurdle players need to conquer in a lot of cases, which drains some of the excitement I have. There are some equalizers to mitigate those frustrations. A built-in quick save feature in particular is a nice touch. Even on consoles, loading an old save is just a quick click away.
Riding off to the Sunset, Triumphant
None of this is a mark against Desperados 3, mind you. Despite my enjoyment of strategy titles, the degree of precision timing you need to get through even the simplest of objectives is a clear weakness of my own abilities. Desperados 3 is the type of ‘hardcore’ experience where those who revel in testing their personal skills will find the most enjoyment.
There are a lot of rewards and challenges available for those players who memorize every nook and cranny of each level. There are also a ton of challenge badges that players can earn. Most are standard fare, including beating levels on harder difficulties or within a certain time limit. Others have odd mini-objectives, such as killing certain characters with environmental hazards or completing objectives out of order. These challenges give Desperados 3 some added longevity to go back and play through the game multiple times.
Desperados 3 Review | Final Thoughts
There really is not much else to Desperados 3. It is a game that shines through its mechanics with little care to the minor quibbles I may have. Mimimi Games delivers a tightly-focused game that contains a serviceable story, solid environments, and offers a fair amount of challenge. It is an easy game to recommend (despite my own failings), and it’s undoubtedly a worthy successor to the Desperados name.
TechRaptor reviewed Desperados 3 on PlayStation 4 with a copy provided by the publisher. The Game is also available for the Xbox One and the PC.
- Excellent Use of the Environment...
- Polished Stealth-Strategy Mechanics...
- Showdown Mode
- Good Level and Challenge Variety
- Solid Sound Design
- ...Some Pacing Issues Due to Level Design.
- ...A Mediocre Western Narrative.