Unlike most games set in the Wild West, Desperados III isn’t all about riding horses and engaging in shoot-outs. It’s more about using your brain.
A story-driven adventure, Desperados III‘s gameplay tests your real-time strategy abilities. Stealth is also a focus; attracting the attention of enemies is a sure-fire way to put an early end to a mission. Think of it as an isometric Hitman with a Wild West theme – but instead of only having Agent 47 to take control of, you have multiple characters, each with their own set of unique skills.
Comparing Desperados III to Hitman is quite apt, really. Especially when it comes to its missions and how you complete them. In each of the game’s many scenarios you’ll be given objectives, and you have a fair amount of freedom as to how you achieve them. For example, when tasked with assassinating a target, you might sneak your way past guards by throwing coins to distract them; then eliminate your mark silently with a knife before hiding their corpse. Alternatively, you might wait patiently for your target to walk under a church bell, which you can then cut free and make your kill appear to be an accident. It’s up to you.
“Think of it as an isometric Hitman with a Wild West theme”
Initially you start with just character under your control: John Cooper. Central to Desperados III‘s story, he can throw a knife like a pro and is also a crack shot with his dual pistols. Making use of Showdown mode, with John you can freeze time, mark two targets, and have him take them down simultaneously. Just make sure there’s no-one around to hear the shots though, otherwise the attention the flashy move draws might not be worth it. As you push further into Desperados III, however, John gains the trust of four other characters, each with their own skills to bring to the table.
Doc is the first of the accompanying characters you get to control, capable of healing other characters’ wounds. This medical man isn’t afraid of getting his hands dirty though; thanks to his long-ranged silenced sniper pistol, he’s your go-to character for popping the heads of adversaries from a distance. His medicine bag is also booby-trapped, disorienting those who investigate it after it’s thrown. Then you meet Hector, a man who carries around a huge bear trap and likes to place it down before whistling to draw unsuspecting victims into its grasp. He also carries a sawn-off shotgun which is useful for dispatching multiple foes when things go south.
After that, Kate becomes an acquaintance, a capable lady who can distract most guards by engaging them in flirtatious conversation, though she’ll need a disguise first. Her almost silent, close-range pistol also allows her to take out unsuspecting targets without raising alarm. It’s the final character you meet while on your quest for revenge that really adds some interesting gameplay threads to Desperados III‘s, however; the Voodoo-wielding Isabelle.
Bringing a touch of the supernatural to the game, Isabelle can take control of a target’s mind, making them perform tasks to your advantage. She’s also accompanied by a cat, which is all-too happy to distract guards for a short period of time on her command. It’s her ability to intertwine the fates of two targets that you’ll find the most beneficial though. Got a guard that you seemingly just can’t get past without raising alarm? If there’s another nearby, tie their fate to one within your grasp and then swiftly make your move. Et voila! That’s two guards down for the price of one.
“Those seeking a title that they can really sink their teeth into… will find a hell of a lot to enjoy here”
Each of Desperados III’s missions gives you access to a selection of these characters, with a few allowing you to control all five. The more available to you at once the more creative you can be, especially when combined with Showdown mode. After getting to grips with the game’s mechanics – which can take a while to get your head around – you’ll regularly be freezing time and strategically setting up actions for each character. Then, hitting the execute button, you’ll witness them play out like a finely choreographed play.
Sometimes things go wrong, though. In fact, things are often expected to go wrong in Desperados III. It’s very much a game based around trial and error until you’ve studied every guard and explored every nook and cranny of each mission. Thankfully there’s a dedicated quicksave button which you’re coerced to use frequently, and once you’re in a mission it doesn’t take long to reload after making a misstep. It’s just a shame there’s no autosave feature, as if you do forget to save it’s easy to lose a considerable amount of progress.
On its default difficulty level Desperados III is a challenging game, but players will be happy to find that they can make it easier or harder according to their skill level. On the hardest difficulty, Showdown mode doesn’t even freeze time. For further replayabilty, the majority of missions also have eight badges to collect, obtained by completing optional objectives such as rescuing civilians, killing a number of guards at once, or even completing the mission without making use of saves. Once you’ve reached a certain milestone in the game’s story, Baron Challenges are unlocked, too. These take you back to previously completed missions and task you with completing new objectives, often with unique constraints. More of these are planned to be added in the future.
“Desperados III is an accomplished real-time tactical stealth game that is practically flawless”
Those who gel with Desperados III’s trial and error nature will find the experience it provides hugely absorbing and rewarding. They’ll visit missions time and time again, trying out new strategies across various difficulty levels while vying to obtain all available badges. Those who don’t have a great deal of patience, however, may not get on quite so well with it. Playing on Xbox One X for review, screen tearing is also an issue. It’s not all that noticeable during gameplay, but it mars story scenes, along with a fair amount of judder. On the whole though, Desperados III is a fine-looking game which performs fairly well. It has a decent soundtrack, too.
Coming from Mimimi Games, the developer of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, Desperados III is an accomplished real-time tactical stealth game that is practically flawless outside of some minor technical issues. Those seeking a title that they can really sink their teeth into, learning the ins and outs of its world so that they can master it will find a hell of a lot to enjoy here, especially if they resonate with the Wild West theme. Players will need to accept that failure is a part of the process, however, as is dealing with occasionally fiddly controls.