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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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PS4 Review - 'Desperados III'

by Andreas Salmen on July 29, 2020 @ 2:00 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.

Buy Desperados III

If you had asked me a few years ago about the game or genre that I miss the most in today's gaming landscape, my answer would've surely entailed a remake or sequel to either Commandos or Desperados — or any other game that marries stealth and isometric real-time strategy. Here we are, as if my prayers were heard, with another main entry in the Desperados series courtesy of Mimimi and THQ Nordic. If you're as eager as me to see whether the team captured or surpassed the quality of Desperados, fret not, because Desperados III turned out better than I could have hoped on the consoles, including the PS4 version that we're reviewing today.

Desperados III tells a prequel story about how gunslinger John Cooper met key characters of the cast, and the title eventually leads up to the first two entries. While I would've loved to see an actual sequel, a prequel makes a lot of sense, since the last entry was released more than 14 years ago. In case you were concerned, you won't need any background in the series before jumping in.

The story is bare bones and slightly cheesy, but it remains engaging throughout, and the latter half has some interesting moments. The story often felt like a means to an end, since it throws your characters into a lot of overwhelming situations and then you need to dig yourself out. From that perspective, it works incredibly well, and short cut scenes moved the story along at a decent pace. All of the characters you encounter are stereotypical, but they have unique personality traits that are also reflected in the gameplay, which hasn't changed much over the years. We still have a bird's eye view of a sprawling map and can command one or several of the characters to kill, sneak by or sabotage the environment to achieve a goal.

The undisputed star is the level design and gameplay, which thoroughly impressed me at Gamescom 2018. Desperados is a tactical stealth game where, from an isometric perspective, we guide a group of characters to complete objectives on expansive maps. While it includes a few frantic shootouts on the dusty streets of typical western scenery, your weapon of choice is usually anything but a firearm. The order of the day is stealth, which works similar to the recent Hitman reboots but with more difficulty. It's not necessarily about realism but about adhering to the game's rules to stay undetected while solving the puzzle.

View cones, safe zones, and restricted areas are always clearly marked. Your characters are dropped onto the map and given a handful of objectives to complete. The mission maps usually have a few features, and enemies are everywhere, making each encounter feel like a puzzle. Terrain and enemy positions are usually well thought out, so we need to carefully avoid or take out key characters to create openings for our group to slip by — or kill them all, if that's your prerogative.

The characters are also part of the puzzle. Your group grows to a maximum size of five, but the game decides who you control in a given level. Sometimes, you start alone and need to meet up with other characters at a specific spot, and other times, you start with a small group. The way you tackle missions depends greatly on who is in your party, since characters have specific strengths and weaknesses.

Kate O'Hara cannot stealth kill enemies, but she can knock them out. She can also use disguises or flirt with enemies to lure them away from their post. Cooper dual-wields revolvers, has a throwing knife, and can use his coin to distract enemies or startle animals. Hector can whistle to lure enemies into a bear trap, and he has a shotgun to take out several enemies at once. Doc McCoy is an actual doctor and a capable sniper, and later in the game, we meet a new character, Isabelle Moreau, who's skilled in voodoo practices. Isabelle is a double-edged sword. While I can see people being slightly irritated by the inclusion of supernatural abilities, it opens up the gameplay in a fun way. For example, she can link two enemies and have them share the same fate when you hurt or kill either one of them. It adds a tactical layer that is fun to mess with.

A character's physique also determines how well they can move deceased enemies to hide them. Characters like Doc or Kate can barely drag a body while in a hunched state, Cooper carries them standing up with no issue, and the bulky Hector can carry two at once. Since your visibility changes when you're standing or crouching, even tasks like hiding a body have to be thought through to ensure you're in nobody's line of sight.

Desperados III isn't a walk in the park. Even the medium difficulty, which is the second of four presets, can be punishingly difficult if you don't play it smart. Nowhere is this clearer than in the default settings, which displays an on-screen prompt to remind you to save your game if you haven't done so in the past 60 seconds (this can be adjusted). I like how you can customize the difficulty level with more granular settings, but even with these options, Desperados III was clearly designed to challenge you from the very beginning.

The game couples the difficulty with a wealth of options and mechanics that are slowly introduced as you progress. The most important part is that enemy view cones change based on the distance and environment. If an enemy is looking down a dark corridor, you'll be able to pass through a view cone when crouching, but in a well-lit area, you may be spotted. Walking behind cover and the distance to a target also have an impact on whether you're visible to foes. The game then layers much more on top of that: the ability to carry torches, use environmental hazards, and the wealth of different character skills. The elevated difficulty means that to survive, it's vital that you use the various skills in the correct way.

You'll eventually get stuck in situations that may seem impossible, and it'll send you down a frustrating path of trial and error. It feels like there is a critical path in most stages, and less important is the order in which you complete certain objectives. While I enjoyed the challenge and depth, the game didn't make it easy to experiment with different types of play styles. As initially mentioned, you are unlikely to use firearms due to their noise level, so anything but stealth is often a very bad idea.

Desperados III has its origins on the PC, and a keyboard and mouse are undoubtedly the best way to play this game. At the same time, Desperados III has one of the best control schemes I've seen on the PS4 for a title of this caliber; it's just more finicky than a mouse and keyboard. The right thumbstick scrolls across maps, while we control one or several characters with the left thumbstick in real time. Actions are selected with handy weapon wheels and executed with the face buttons. It even has a very handy and necessary tool to place flags on the map to see which enemies can currently view the selected location, so you are aware of what to pay attention to as you progress. It is perfectly serviceable, but when things start to go wrong, the limited control scheme doesn't quite cut it when compared to mouse controls and keyboard shortcuts in its PC counterpart. This is where Showdown mode comes in handy.

Desperados' Showdown mode essentially lets us queue actions for all our characters, so we can execute them at the same time or slightly delayed with a few simple button inputs. It's often a godsend to rid an area of several enemies without raising the alarm, as we can instruct all our characters to perform actions at roughly the same time. It makes up for the sacrifices of playing on a console, but it's still not as intuitive and responsive as it should be, since an incorrect decision can easily get you killed.

That doesn't negate the fact that Desperados III is a fun and challenging experience if you're into stealth or real-time strategy. It takes the existing Desperados formula and tries to improve upon it wherever it can, with mostly great success. It's also an experience that you can play for an incredibly long time. Each stage can take an hour (sometimes much longer) to complete on your first try, making the campaign about 30 hours long, depending on your difficulty settings. Even if you manage to complete the game, every stage has a wealth of additional challenges to master, ranging from speed run challenges to finishing it on a harder difficulty. If you're into completing games, Desperadoes III will keep you busy — and potentially frustrated — for a long time.

Desperados III's aesthetics help it to stand out. The game is beautiful, even though we are talking about an isometric view that is zoomed out most of the time. Animations are smooth and recognizable from afar, and environments are vast and filled with activities. Something's going on at every corner and displayed with great detail, such as civilians giving you hints about good approaches to your target, or enemies going about their everyday duties. It immerses you in the world, and it makes solving the map puzzles a great deal of fun.

If you have the means, do yourself a favor and play Desperados III on the PC. If you don't, the PS4 version is a deserving alternative that isn't as great to control but makes the right compromises to work with the limited input options. The rest of the game is excellent, no matter what platform you choose. It's a challenging title that isn't afraid to frustrate or overwhelm you, and that can sometimes sour the otherwise excellent gameplay. If you have thick skin and an unquenched desire to solve stealth puzzles in the Wild West, Desperados III is the best real-time tactical stealth game that I have played in a long, long time.

Score: 8.6/10

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