THQ Nordic and Mimimi Games have not been quiet about their return to the Desperados series. Desperados 2 came out in 2006 and feelings are mixed among players about it. For the first return of the series in 14 years, THQ Nordic went this time to Mimimi Games for Desperados 3. Mimimi is no stranger to the tactical strategy space. In 2016, they launched a similar style of game set in Japan’s Edo Era to solid acclaim in the form of Shadow Tactics: Blade of the Shogun. There may not be ninja stars and samurai here, but Mimimi Games puts their pedigree to work in Desperados 3 in fantastic ways. It’s not easy, and sometimes it’s downright cruel, but when a plan comes together in Desperados 3’s vast and varied Wild West, it’s supremely satisfying.
The origin of John Cooper & Co.
Those familiar with the Desperados may also be familiar with its longtime protagonist and bounty hunter John Cooper and his gang of outlaws. Desperados 3 once again puts Cooper front and center in its story, but this time it takes a trip back to before Cooper became the hardened hunter fans may know. It tells the story of Cooper’s beginnings, following in the footsteps of his father’s trade and hunting the criminal mark that killed his dear old dad. It also shows the formation of and arrival of familiar partners in Cooper’s gang of outcasts.
Desperados 3 is an isometric real-time tactical strategy game like its predecessors in which you sneak or gun your way through a mission and often take on some special objectives in the process. It plays very much like similar real-time tactics franchise Commandos where you don’t have nameless units and types, but rather specific and limited heroes each with their own specialty and abilities. You start with the likes of Cooper, who has two revolvers, a knife that he can stab or throw at enemies (which he must then go collect), and throw fake coins to distract enemies. But then you get folks like Hector who can deploy a bear trap, whistle to draw in foes, carry two dead bodies around at once, and the like.
Your characters’ abilities aren’t the only things at your disposal too. Each of Desperados 3’s levels from the dusty Colorado to backwoods river towns to the bayous of New Orleans is filled to the brim with colorful and myriad personality. In a town where a particular target likes tangling with the local bull, will you dispose of his men to get to him and kill him directly or piss that bull off enough to fatally wreck your mark for you? These are the kind of fun choices you make in addition to pursuing the objectives of Desperados 3’s vast and varied environments.
The more you play through the game, the more of John’s gang you collect, the more you can do at once with your growing and capable crew, and the more rabid of a challenge the game throws at you to strain your new expanded abilities. It makes for a good point after 14 years because new players of the Desperados franchise can just jump in here without being brought up to speed while people that have played through the other games and know what’s up will get to see something new as well. Players even get to see and use some familiar characters besides John Cooper himself in addition to some new and cool faces.
Bristling with bullets & bodies
At its surface, Desperados 3 offers choice in how you can play the game. Will you go silent or will you go loud? In reality, it truly depends on the situation. Every single level in Desperados 3 is overpacked with bad guys who will alert other bad guys if you get caught by them. And if there are a lot of bad guys left, they can quickly overwhelm you. It only takes one of your characters dying to fail a mission, so stakes are always kind of high. That means going silent is often the best choice until you can thin the herd or are close enough to finishing an objective to make a loud escape.
To the silent end, they have a cone of vision that can be manipulated by obstructions in the environoment (you can make your characters crouch behind small obstacles or in low light to avoid detection) or by character abilities like Kate O’Hara’s temporarily blinding perfume. What’s more, while most of Desperados 3 is played in real-time, there is also a “Showdown Mode” in which you can freeze time (except in the highest difficulty), and queue up actions for all of your characters. Even if you unfreeze time, they only act when you hit execute, meaning you can either do it right away, unfreeze time and wait for more favorable conditions, or even set one of your characters to do an active ability, and then execute your Showdown actions in coordination with them. We’re talking stuff like queuing Cooper to throw his knife at one opponent and queuing O’Hara to shoot another with her quiet derringer in Showdown Mode, and then setting Hector to whistle to lure them into range in real-time before activating the killing blows.
Showdown Mode feels like a symphony of glorious action when you do it well. But this is also a game of best-laid plans. You will fail. A lot. And some of it feels technical, some of it cruel, and some just downright frustratingly unfair. Sometimes an enemy spotting their killed or tied comrade and starting their randomized patrol just doesn’t put them in the place you need them to be. Sometimes you miss an enemy cone of vision that has an extremely far range and puts the hornet’s hive right on your butt, and sometimes the game just doesn’t react the way you think it should for any random number of other reasons.
That last one feels particularly troublesome with Showdown Mode. See, even if you hit Execute to start your Showdown Mode actions, if you activate the freeze in Showdown Mode again afterwards before your characters finish their actions, they will not complete the action they were told to execute. This can be embarrassing (or enraging) when you activate O’ Hara to blind a foe, then activate Showdown Mode again to put Cooper into play before she does it. Suddenly, she'll stop her action and leave Cooper out in the open, alerting guards, and taking bullets to the chest when he goes for his move. Even the slightest mistake can ruin you in Desperados 3 and there are a million and one ways to fail that are a fair share of logical and upsetting to discover. It makes success when you finally get past a particularly difficult chokepoint in a mission all the sweeter.
How the West was quick-saved
It’s worth noting, Desperados 3 also offsets its insanely lopsided opportunities for error with one of the easiest-to-access quick-save features I’ve ever seen in a game. Press the quick save key and you lock a snapshot of your exact moment. Press the quick load key and you’ll go right back to it. You can also make manual saves, but the quick save system remembers up to three previous quick saves and even reminds you of how long it’s been since you last saved your game in a mission - a notification that you can turn off anytime, but very much comes in handy in the thick of things because this is a game where you do not want to forget to save if you've just completed a difficult part.
It can be said that Desperados 3 knows exactly what it is asking of you when you pit your one to five gang members up against armies of outlaws that will swarm you the moment you make even the slightest flaw. It dares you to be loud when you shouldn’t. It demands that you be methodical to the degree of a mad man, and defeating it’s challenge gives you a brief moment to turn your cries of anguish into sighs of euphoric joy as you press forward. And if you really feel like taking yourself to insanity, Desperados 3 packs on higher difficulties and level challenges (everything from not quick-saving at all to completing an objective a certain way or in a certain amount of time) to ensure there’s almost always a harder task you haven’t conquered. The quick save system doesn’t make things trivial, but it does save this from being an otherwise endlessly frustrating experience if heaven-forbid you had to rely on predetermined checkpoints.
It’s us against the West, gang
Desperados 3 was gone for so long, folks have had a while to get any bad taste about Desperados 2 out of their mouths. Even then, THQ Nordic going to solid strategists like Mimimi Games was arguably the right call. Desperados 3 is nail-biting tough, yet with enough depth and accessible cushion to make the journey more than worth it. Its characters are fun to utilize alone and in tandem, its story is an engaging romp, and its environments are chock full of good reasons to explore them in full. Whether you’re new to John Cooper and his bounty-hunting gang or an old hand on the quickdraw, Desperados 3 may be one of the most fleshed out mixes of challenging, accommodating, and satisfying tactical strategy experiences around, Western or otherwise.
This review is based on a digital retail copy provided by the publisher. Desperados 3 is set to release in the US for Steam on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on June 16, 2020.
- Solid variety of characters & skills
- Vast & gorgeous levels full of tactical opportunity
- Intensely difficulty with a high ceiling of challenge
- Unique level challenges provide replayability
- Enjoyable story that invites newcomers & fans alike
- Best & most handy quick-save/load system ever
- Showdown Mode's flaws can be frustrating
- Failure is ridiculously easy in this game
- Little reward outside pride for challenges
TJ Denzer posted a new article, Desperados 3 review: Quickest save in the West
Man releasing this and Last of Us 2 on the same day is cruel.
Did you play through Shadow Tactics? I really enjoyed that game, but I'm wondering if this is just Shadow Tactics in a western theme (which can still be good) or if there's more.