Desperados III is a prequel to the series first introduced in 2001’s Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive and utilises many of the systems refined for Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, which itself built upon the mechanics of games like Commandos and, indeed, Desperados. This ouroborus like development appears to have paid dividends for developer MiMiMi, who before Shadow Tactics had worked on a mobile hot air balloon game and twee platformer The Last Tinker.
The huge success of Shadow Tactics marks MiMiMi as the best choice to pick up where original developers Spellbound Entertainment left off, and having spent a number of hours with five missions of Desperados III, I can happily confirm that these are the hombres for the job.
Desperados III feels not only like a spiritual successor to Blades of the Shogun, but a tacit entry into its own existing franchise. It all just clicks, and the stealth-based, tactical gameplay is some of the best I have ever played. I cannot overstate how impressed I am with this game.
You play primarily as series stalwart John Cooper in a time before Wanted Dead or Alive, when he came into conflict the DeVitt Company and first met many of the companions from the previous games such as Doc McCoy and stubborn love interest Kate O’Hara. The beta build comes with the first four missions, and missions 8 and 10, put together to let us get a feel for the systems and characters without spoiling too much of the campaign story.
The first mission acts as a prologue and tutorial, as Cooper’s dad takes him through the ropes of stealthing, killing, and distracting enemy gunmen. Burning pages float around the place with tooltips, the most important of which is to use the Quick Save. Not many games actively encourage save-scumming, but Desperados III does. F8 performs a Quick Load too, and while you’re praised for fewer saves or none at all, there’s no punishment for using the system with extreme prejudice.
You’ll often be in control of more than one character, each witj different skills, strengths, and limitations. Cooper, for example, isna dab hand with a thrown knife and a crack shot with two pistols, while Doc McCoy has a long range scoped handgun, and burly trapper Hector has no ranged attack, but is the only character who can take out the heaviest enemies with his huge wood axe, or lay down a brutal mantrap to cut unsuspecting cowpokes in half. Some characters can’t climb, some can’t fight hand to hand, while some, like Isabelle, can use actual Voodoo to confuse and temporarily turn the enemy.
Using the right character for each situation is crucial, as is hiding bodies and keeping an eye on patrol routes and vision cones. You’ll regularly be infiltrating areas heaving with enemies, but many areas also have environmental hazards like loose boulders or a horse who’ll mulekick anyone behind it should Cooper anger it with a well-aimed coin flick. You can hide behind cover or in haybales and brush, but now and then you’ll have little option but to start shooting, and coordinating an attack is a thing of rare beauty.
Hitting Shift enters Showdown Mode, allowing you to get all your characters into position and queue up a move, be it a melee takedown, firing a shot or activating a hazard, and punching Enter causes all characters to perform their actions simultaneously. It never feels less than ridiculously cool.
You’re rewarded for things like speed and nonviolence, and for specific elements such as taking out rare targets or completing objectives certain ways. My favourite mission of the beta (and it was a close-run thing) was Mission 3 in the town of Flagstone, where the objective was to kill four bosses of the Devitt Company. It wouldn’t rival something like Hitman (though a Hitman-themed Shadow Tactics would be superb) but there were several options for each assassination. One, I poisoned with laudanum while she sat in a brothel, the other I dropped a church bell on. I orchestrated murder-by-bull for the third. I’ll admit, the fourth I just speared in the throat with a throwing knife because sometimes simplicity works. I missed out on an achievement for that, though. The release delay from last year to this worried some fans, but if the devs have put it on hold to bring the quality up to this level then it’s time well spent.
Everything about Desperados III feels thought-out, planned, and created with love, care, attention and, above all, respect. The environments are incredibly well detailed, streets bustle with people and noise, and the atmosphere is palpable and authentic. I’m excited to play the full game, to meet and get tonkjow the characters fully, and to experiment with each level and the objectives within. If you like you’re RPG/RTS hybrids with an interesting story, cool characters – or you’re just a little bit country deep down, it’s worth keeping an eye on Desperados III.