It may get overshadowed by the likes of The Last of Us – Part 2 this week, but Desperados III is a title we’ve been looking forward to for quite a while now. Developed by Mimimi games and published by THQ, it’s coming out for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC and brings back a franchise we last enjoyed almost 15 years ago.
When Mimimi Games released Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, they almost single-handedly revived a genre that flourished and vanished quickly somewhere around the year 2000. The Commandos games brought a fresh mix of real-time tactics that built on the unique capabilities of characters that had to work together in order to succeed at missions, and Desperados was a Wild West-themed spin-off of the same idea. We even had a Robin Hood game there somewhere, but after about five years it was all over until Shadow Tactics came along.
Combining Mimimi’s track record with the Desperados franchise felt like a great idea the moment it was announced by THQ, and we’ve been eagerly anticipating the game ever since. Acting as a prequel to the original games, Desperados III is a story-driven game that still centers on familiar protagonist John Cooper. He is joined by four other characters, including Kate O’Hara and Doc McCoy from the first game. Rounding out the gang are Hector, the muscle who wields an axe, and Isabelle, bringing some voodoo charm and mystery from her hometown of New Orleans. There are fewer characters to play with than in previous games, but the additional focus that that brings pays off without sacrificing versatility.
As with the older games, you can switch between characters in real-time and move them or perform actions without having to wait for a turn. Abilities differ greatly between the cast members, because while John can either take a stealth approach with his knife or make use of his revolvers, other are more specialized and less versatile in that sense. Doc McCoy operates more like a modern day assassin, while Hector prefers to take down his opponents from up close. The ladies in the group also have their own unique qualities, with Kate being a master of disguise, seduction and distraction while Isabelle makes use of some of the “dark arts” she picked up back in Louisiana.
Cooperation is crucial as well, and very often you’ll need one character to open up a window of opportunity for another. Can’t get by a certain part of the level because someone is blocking your only way through? Have a teammate take them out first, or create a distraction if a direct attack is too risky in terms of alerting nearby enemies as well. When you hatch a plan and things come together, it feels great – and you’ll probably have a few instances where you see it unfold and think “I could have also done this or that!” – and when you replay levels that’s exactly what you can try out.
Desperados III feels exactly like you’d expect it to if you’re familiar with both the original franchise and with what Mimimi did in Shadow Tactics. Levels are big and can take a long time to figure out, and always offer you multiple avenues of approach. This isn’t just good design in terms of making the chance smaller that you get stuck just because you can’t figure out the designer’s intent, but it also greatly adds to the replayability of the game. As great as the early Commandos games were, I never really had the urge to go back and try things a different way and this is probably the greatest contribution that Mimimi has made to the genre. They realize this as well, with special challenges encouraging you go (back) in and tackle scenarios in certain ways. This option unlocks after you complete the first eight missions and have the basics down, and it’s nice to be able to experiment a little once you get comfortable enough to do so.
Despite the PC ‘mouse and keyboard’ origins of the franchise, the control scheme for Desperados III works almost just as well with a gamepad in hand. This is available on the PC version as well, which can also be played from the comfort of your couch. Once you’re comfortable enough with the controls and a particular level you can also try for its targeted speedrun time, which is going to be a LOT faster than your first playthrough in many cases. Getting it is a blast, and it can be either a case of doing what you previously did but doing it a lot faster, or shaving off time by finding quicker solutions. Again, more replay value.
I loved the game, but where Desperados III didn’t impress me is in the visual department. It plays out from the same isometric perspective as the previous games did, but XCOM has the same origins and has done a great job making the visual experience feel more dramatic and cinematic by making more use of 3D and camera changes at key moments.
This is just a minor issue though, because fans of the genre won’t be playing this expecting Red Dead Redemption 2 graphics. They want gameplay polish, and the combination of Desperados with Mimimi’s expertise is a winning one in that regard. Along with Shadow Tactics, this is the best that the genre has to offer.