I never played the original Desperados or its sequel, but when I heard that Mimimi Games was going to tackle the sequel I knew I had to have it. If you’ve not heard of Mimimi, I’d understand, but I bet you have heard of their previous game, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun (my review). After two fairly casual games, they went big on the real-time tactical genre and it paid off in a big way. Could this small team from Munich take everything they’ve learned from Shadow Tactics and make it even better? You’re darn tootin’ they did.
After playing Desperados III I went back and checked out the two previous titles. I’m glad to say that you don’t need to have played those two titles to thoroughly enjoy this one, though there are a few subtle nods to those two games for fans of the originals to enjoy. The game begins with a young John Cooper going on a mission with his dad, learning how to stay stealthy, and how to distract and defeat his opponents. After a short tutorial, we leap ahead as a now-adult John Cooper finds himself aboard a train that is being robbed. As usual, I won’t ruin the storyline for you, but ultimately Cooper finds himself picking up some uneasy allies, and like any good western, aligning against a common threat. Let’s dig into the details, partner.
At its core, Desperados III is a real-time tactical game, not unlike the Commandos series, and more recently, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. You’ll be given a series of objectives in an area and will have to use the unique skills of your team to solve those challenges in any way you see fit. Maybe you’ll use Cooper’s knife-throwing skills to slowly cut your way through your foes, or maybe you’d rather use his coins and Kate’s distractions to accomplish the same tasks without harming a soul. The choice is yours. Below is the first hour of the game, including the introduction and train mission I mentioned above.
To understand the gameplay loop of Desperados III, you’ll want to get to know the cast of characters. If you played Shadow Tactics, you’ll likely sense some familiarity with some of them, but there’s also a completely new addition to the formula. Let’s start off with John.
John is arguably the game’s early protagonist, though the whole team does get at least one mission to shine. Cooper is a capable fighter at all ranges, able to throw a knife and kill silently (though he has to retrieve it to use it again), or unleashing his pair of pistols that can be trained on two separate targets. His counterfeit coins will also distract most enemies, making him the best all-around fighter in your team.
Hector is a big strapping bear hunter and an old friend to John. Using Bianca (because of course he’s named his bear trap), he can quietly take out even the toughest of enemies, luring them to the trap with a loud whistle. There are tougher enemies in the game called “Long coats” (I’ll give you three guesses as to why), and Hector is the only one with the brute strength to take them quietly in hand-to-hand combat courtesy of his massive axe. Failing that, he’s also got a double barrel shotgun that will take out multiple enemies for when things get loud. When things get out of hand, he can also take a swig of his little flask of whiskey to take the sting out of his injuries, though that’s just for him — it’s too strong for anyone else.
Kate O’Hara is the chameleon of the group. She can quietly pickpocket important objects, but she can’t kill enemies outright, nor can she tie them up. Instead she can knee them in the balls, which will knock them out for a bit, but they’ll be plenty pissed off when they wake up. While kneeing thugs in the balls is certainly important, it’s her ability to disguise herself that makes Kate one of the most lethal in the bunch. Able to blend in as a debutante, a scullery maid, and everything in between (as long as she can find the right disguise), Kate can distract enemies by flirting with them, forcing them to face in the direction she chooses, for as long as she chooses. Luring guards from their posts never does work out quite the way they’d hoped, either. Guard dogs and “long coats” aren’t fooled by this, and will see right through her disguise. When seeing is the problem, Kate can also whip a bottle of perfume at an enemy, reducing their cone of visibility drastically for a short period of time.
Doc McCoy is the medic of the group, able to bandage up any one of the five. He’s also got his doctor’s bag rigged with an explosive powder so that, when thrown, enemies will come inspect it only to find themselves blinded for the effort. He also has a syringe of something awful that he can use to kill silently at close range. He’s not all short range, though — he has a scoped and suppressed pistol that he can use to kill at incredible distances. He also carries a swamp gas vial that’ll knock out anyone in its splash radius, minus long coats who will only be stunned for a short while.
This cast of characters are easy to map to their contemporaries in Shadow Tactics. Cooper shares a lot in common with Hiyato, and Hector is absolutely comparable to Mugen, right down to the Sake. Aiko and Kate share a lot of the same skills and tactics. Doc McCoy and Takuma have some of the same skills, but his pet Tanuki Kuma curls up at the feet of the final character in Desperados III — Isabella.
Desperados III takes place in the American south, including the swamps of New Orleans. It’s there that we meet Isabella — easily my favorite and the most unique of the bunch. As a voodoo practitioner, Islabella can shoot an enemy with a mind control dart (at the cost of one of her own life pips) to take direct action with that enemy. That can be unlocking a cage, pushing an unstable object, or otherwise causing havoc without putting her or the team in harm’s way. That said, it’s short acting, and any hostile action causes an explosive response from the enemy, so make sure your subjects go out with a bang. Her cat Stella is Kuma’s contemporary, able to distract most enemies because she’s so damned cute. Easily one of Isabella’s most powerful weapons is the ability to “link” two enemies. If you can get close enough to dart them, you can link two foes in such a way that whatever happens to one happens to the other. That includes dying when she unleashes her sickle on them. Below is a brief demonstration of her powers at play.
Now that you know the team, let’s talk about game mechanics. Desperados III, like other games in this genre, is about coordination and cones of vision. Each enemy has a limited distance of vision that they can see clearly, as well as an area they can see moderately well in the distance. You can crouch and move through this hashed distant portion of the cone, but walking into the solid green portion is going to get you spotted. When an enemy thinks they’ve spotted something the cone will begin to fill up with yellow, as well as a dashed line leading to whomever is spotting you. Once it fills up, the alarm is triggered and your goose is cooked. In short, staying crouched will keep you out of trouble, for the most part. This “viewcone surfing” lets you slide into areas you shouldn’t with a little bit of practice, and is a vital mechanic to master.
In the first few levels, enemies will be keeping an eye on things, but you can generally fumble your way through. As you work into later levels, the enemies are keeping a close eye on every square inch of the place, including each other. If you need to take people out, you’ll need to break them away from the pack. It’s always better to see if you can coordinate an ‘accident’. There are a number of environmental hazards that can easily be fashioned into traps, and while they will briefly alarm the enemies, they won’t bring out reinforcements and start shooting. Maybe a boulder can slip off a cliff, perhaps that church bell isn’t attached so well, or perhaps standing in a big puddle of oil isn’t the best idea. Each level has a number of these opportunities, if you are observant.
One of the best improvements Desperados III has made over other games in this genre is that, while there is certainly an “easy” (let’s say “easier” — ain’t nuthin’ in this game easy) way to approach a scenario using the specific skills of a character, that does not in any way preclude you from doing it your own way. Going loud is incredibly difficult, but very possible. Similarly, you can make it through an entire level having never fired a shot or killed a single person. I never felt hamstrung by not having a specific skill or character — I always had viable options.
Desperados III is not a linear game. While each level has to be completed in order (there are 16 in all, plus five bonus missions that unlock after certain conditions are met), once you are in a mission it’s your game, your way. You can tackle any objective in any order and in any way you see fit. You can go in guns blazing and try to shoot your way to victory, though ammunition is limited, and getting more of it via crates in the environment is risky. To help you tackle the world, you can listen in on conversations for hints, which might tell you just how you might, as an example, poison somebody instead of trying to sneak up and kill them up close. The bigger weapon in your toolbelt, however, is Showdown mode.
In Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun you had “Shadow Mode”, and here we see the same mechanic as “Showdown mode”. This allows you to pause the action (a new feature as Shadow Tactics did not pause before execution), plan, and then hit the enter key to launch everything all at once. There are higher difficulty levels that allow you to return to that pause-less world for an additional challenge. Additionally, you can bump to a higher level, but still lower individual difficulty elements you don’t like — again, your game, your way.
There are a few things I wish I could have done differently in certain situations. For example, there is a cotton field full of bad guys. I would have loved to burn it to the ground with a torch, but that’s just not a supported solution. Similarly, there is a point in a town level where I could easily jump through the wide open window in the construction to push over a weak wall onto my target, but instead I have to make my way through a half dozen bad guys and risk my neck. I guess the team couldn’t possibly think of all the devious ways I would tackle my objectives, but a few of these are no-brainers.
Completing a level reveals all of the hidden objectives you could have hit. Some are straightforward such as killing everyone, or no one. Some might ask you to somehow complete the job without Kate using a disguise, or doing it without quicksaving. There are a number of challenges that make a mission worth revisiting, not the least of which being the “Speedrun” which asks you to take on missions under a certain amount of time. I don’t think I’ll ever get the speedrun achievements as my missions take on average 50 minutes, so doing it in under 5 just seems way out of my league.
At the end of the mission you’ll be presented with a very cool isometric look at the entire map, and the route you took to win. It’ll show every kill by every character, the number of times you quicksaved or loaded, what weapons or skills you used, and a myriad of other stats and interesting tidbits. It’s a neat addition to the formula that could help with those who want to tackle that speedrun achievement.
The world of Desperados III is chock full of incredible detail. Truthfully, I’ve not seen a Unity Engine powered game this crammed with environmental objects. Little lizards skitter around on the side of buildings, leaves swoosh in the wind as dust devils kick across the ground, bushes rustle and sway in the wind. The water is some of the best I’ve ever seen from an indie studio. As pretty as the 4K/60+ fps video you’ll see below looks, know that it is even better without the compression that YouTube applies. Desperados III is absolutely gorgeous.
It’s very clear that the Mimimi team utilized motion capture for Desperados III. Character movements are smooth and rich with detail. There’s a genuine momentum that looks natural when someone starts walking — gone is the zero-to-full-speed animation. You can see the windup and the slump of a young Cooper’s shoulders as he throws his knife and fails to connect.
Quicksaving and quickloading are a part of this game, and you’ll do it frequently — especially as you are learning the characters and their skills. If you accidentally overwrite your quicksave, you’ll be happy to know that the game keeps three in reserve. It helps you get out of difficult corners you may have painted yourself into, or allows you to back up and try a new approach from a different save point.
I do have to say, it’s best to keep an eye on your troops when you move them. While you may occasionally want to send a few people in different directions at the same time, you may run afoul of some of the pathfinding. I’ll be focusing on getting Hector to place Bianca while simultaneously having McCoy running over to a vantage point only to hear “What the hell?!” as the good doc just ran haphazardly right in front of a bunch of guards. When every guard has a military-precision interlocking field of visibility on one another, it gets to be a bit much in places.
Desperados III feels both familiar and fresh at the same time. A great deal of the muscle memory and character interactions we learned in Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun are at play here, but a whole host of improvements, and a brand new character in Isabelle, make it all feel brand new. A true refinement of an already excellent formula, Desperados III is a masterclass in real-time tactical stealth, and I simply cannot recommend it highly enough.