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Desperados III

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Strategy
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Developer: Mimimi Productions
Release Date: June 16, 2020


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PC Review - 'Desperados III'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 15, 2020 @ 1:20 a.m. PDT

Desperados III is a real-time tactics game that lets players command a band of Desperados led by fan-favorite gunslinger John Cooper, who’s hunting down his nemesis.

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Desperados III tells the story of John Cooper, a traditional cowboy. He wanders into town one day to find that a corrupt company has taken over and is housing the man he seeks. Before long, he's entangled with a group of other desperados as they travel across the country seeking groups of ne'er-do-wells who've wronged them.

The story is solid, if unexceptional. Aside from some magical elements, it's about the most standard cowboy story you can imagine, and the characters are fun and likable. The game has its tongue firmly planted in cheek, and there's a fair bit of comedy, including a genuinely hilarious mission where your party wakes up after a night of drinking and has to escape a town that is furious at them for things they can't remember.

Desperados III is a real-time strategy title. You can control multiple party members in real time using mouse clicks and hotkeys. It's standard for the genre, so nothing here is too surprising. The game's biggest feature is its Showdown mode, which lets you pause the game and issue commands to each of your characters individually. You can then exit Showdown mode and choose to either trigger all of the actions at once or use hotkeys to trigger them individually. This lets you set up complex combat that you wouldn't be able to do otherwise.

Most of Desperado III's gameplay is focused on stealth and sneaking. Each enemy in the game has a view cone that is divided into solid and barred. The solid part is where an enemy can see you at all times, while the barred section is where an enemy can see you if you aren't crouching down. Once an enemy sees you, the cone slowly starts to fill up with red, and if the red reaches your character's location without you getting into stealth mode, it sounds an alarm. The alarms alert all enemies that you are around, and it also summons additional enemies from nearby guard houses. It's possible to fight your way out of a tough situation, but it's not easy, and it will leave you with fewer resources for your next encounters.

Since Desperados III has a Wild West theme, guns play a big part in the game, but don't mistake it for a gun-focused experience. Each main character has access to a gun or gun equivalent that holds a small amount of ammo — usually five shots on normal difficulty. A gunshot is an instant kill to most enemies, so it's critically important to know when and where to use your gun. Each gun also makes noise, but interestingly enough, this doesn't work against stealth. Only two of the guns in the game are considered "loud," and you're given a very clear blue outline that shows if any enemies are close enough to hear the guns. As odd as it may sound, you can fire revolvers as much as you want and still be in stealth mode.

The first of the main characters, Cooper, is effectively a cowboy. He has two pistols and a throwing knife, and he can toss a coin to distract his foes. He's a good all-around character whose agility allows him to access locations that are inaccessible to others. He's very much a jack-of-all-trades in that he can effectively fill any niche the party needs, but he doesn't excel in the same way the other characters do.

The second, Doctor McCoy (no relation to the Star Trek or X-Men characters), is the team's doctor and sniper. Up close, he can use various tinctures to stun or kill his enemies or heal his allies. He excels in long-distance sniping, so his gun is almost whisper-silent and can reach an immense distance across the map. He's by far the most lethal character in the group and is essential for shutting down enemy lookouts before the rest of your team goes in.

The third is Hector, the group's strongman. A big and burly fellow, Hector tends to favor the strong approach. He has a massive shotgun that can kill multiple enemies in a single shot, but it's insanely loud. He's the only character who can defeat the powerful Longcoat enemies in melee combat. He also offers some stealth options with his ability to whistle to lure enemies and his bear trap, Bianca, which can kill a foe in one hit if they're unlucky enough to step on it.

The fourth character — and arguably the most important — is Kate, the group's stealth-master. She can disguise herself to wander freely among enemy forces and use her charms to distract enemies or trick them into following her. At that point, she can take them out with a single shot from her silent Derringer pistol or a knee to the groin. Unlike the other characters, Kate can't tie up knocked-out enemies, and her abilities won't work on female enemies, so you need to be careful when and where you use her skills.

Perhaps the weirdest of the main characters is Isabelle, a "swamp witch" from New Orleans who uses the art of voodoo. This means that she has magical powers, but in particular, she has two major skills: connect and mind control. Connect allows her to link two characters together, so anything that happens to one happens to the other, from distractions to death. This skill can help you clear out difficult roadblocks with ease. Once she hits an enemy with mind control, she has complete control over them. This can be used to easily move a difficult-to-avoid enemy or to access certain environmental traps that would otherwise be almost impossible to reach.

Each level in the game gives you a different selection of characters, and you'll occasionally have the full group together, so you need to plan out how various characters interact to get the most from them. Isabelle and McCoy make a horrifying combo, since every one of McCoy's shots can take down two foes for the price of one. Kate goes well with everyone due to her ability to lure enemies away. Generally, the character choice is tailored around the stage, so you won't have a public, stealth-heavy stage with only Cooper and Hector.

Each level is designed as a puzzle, so you're given a task and have to figure out how to complete it. The task can be escaping from an area, rescuing prisoners, or gathering information. Regardless, no two levels are the same. Since you have different characters on different stages, you'll need to consider how to best leverage each one's abilities. A stage with Cooper and Hector allows you to go loud a lot more easily than a stage with Isabelle and Kate. On the other hand, any stage without Kate means you have to be far more careful because you're giving up your best method of enemy control, and that makes target choice critical.

The toughest are the Poncho and Longcoat enemies. Poncho enemies are immune to a lot of your less-lethal abilities. Kate can distract them with small talk but can't lure them away, and Hector's whistle won't work on them, either. Generally, you need to find a way to eliminate enemies around the Poncho before you can take them out. Longcoats are basically mini-bosses, so they are immune to most of your abilities and have three hit points, so the only way to take them down is either to use Hector, damage them three times, or use one character to stun them with a bullet while another sneaks up from behind. Since they can see through disguises and recognize traps at a glance, this is easier said than done.

Despite the variety in level design, Desperados III runs into the issue of being repetitive. Once you get a few basic tactics down, you'll probably repeat them over and over again.  There are times when the stars align and you can pull off an amazing gambit using all of your characters, but in between, those moments tend to be about slowly luring guards away from their position so you have enough freedom to make an amazing shot. To the game's credit, it tries to break this up by offering optional, customized objectives for each stage. One stage might challenge you to defeat it without killing anyone, and another without using specific powers, while a third has two of your characters challenging each other for who gets the most kills. You can't possibly get every objective in one go because some are mutually exclusive, so it adds a fair bit of replay value to each level, akin to Hitman.

Overall, Desperados III is fun. The only level I genuine disliked is at the start of Chapter II, where you're thrown into a complex town with most of your tools taken away, which exacerbated the problems with repetition while offering much less in the way of flexibility and choice. The flexibility and choice is where the game shines, and figuring out your own solution to puzzles is the most enjoyable part. The more choices you have, the more fun the game is, and any moment where you have all five characters is among the best, even if it's also among the easiest.

Desperados III looks nice. The environments are well crafted, but it can sometimes be difficult to tell exactly what certain objects are supposed to be. The main characters stand out well, and the game provides the ability to add optional highlights to enemies and interactive objects. It's not super visually impressive, and the low variety of enemy types begins to stand out after a while. The voice acting is quite good, with each character turning in enthusiastic and energetic performances that help them stand out. The soundtrack is pretty standard Western tunes, but they do their job of setting the mood.

Desperados III is a solid and enjoyable RTS. The fun of setting up combos in Showdown mode can't be underestimated, and the variety in level design keeps the game feeling fresh long after its basic mechanics become repetitive. If you're looking for a Wild West-style game that's more about subtlety than shootouts, Desperados III fits the bill.

Score: 8.5/10

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