Desperados III Review
German Developer Mimimi Games is back after making their mark in the hardcore stealth tactics genre with Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun. While the era and setting are radically different with Desperados III being set in 1870s USA and Shadow Tactics in Edo Japan, they are similar enough to the point that Desperados feels like a fantastic spin off standalone expansion rather than its own rebooted series. Despite the lingering feeling that this is just Shadow Tactics with a fresh coat of dusty desert brown paint, the gameplay is still so far above and beyond anything else in the genre making you desperate for more of Mimimi’s perfected tactical recipe.
John Wayne or The Man With No Name, you decide
You play as a man named John Cooper, with a name that is clearly inspired by some of the most famous Western actors of a now bygone era; John Wayne and Gary Cooper. Although John Cooper tries to play the role of a stoic leading man, he tends to have an aura of immaturity about him. This is compounded by the fact that you start the game as mini Cooper, a spoilt
brat kid who can barely hold a knife steady. He tries to step out of the shadow of his father in the hopes of finally using a gun. By the end of the mission, Cooper soon learns that he should be careful for what he wishes for with an event that changes the course of his entire life.
Years pass and you play as the now fully grown Cooper who has become an expert gunslinger and takes the law into his own hands. As a perennial bounty hunter, he has a thirst for vengeance that can’t quite be quenched no matter how high his body count grows. Cooper is extremely nostalgic for a childhood he never got to live through, as the most emotion he shows is always for the usable in game items he holds dearly. A fake golden coin, a hunting knife and a Colt .45, all inherited from his father; there’s pride mixed with a touch of loneliness every time Cooper lines up his knife and repeats the words his father instilled in him, “15 feet, that’s all I need…”.
What surprised me most about Cooper is that he’s quite the anti-hero even compared to Western classics such as Fistful of Bullets or Butch Cassidy. Cooper isn’t so much morally ambiguous as he is straight up obsessed with his goal of killing Frank; a tale as old of time, this is the one bounty that got away from him. His actions both in game and in cutscenes show that his motivations are singular; on multiple occasions he will abandon his own gang in critical moments to further his own goal of finding Frank rather than lend a helping hand. Instead of being a John Wayne, Cooper is much more akin to Dirty Harry where he takes silent delight in gunning down both civilians and gang members alike.
Do you feel lucky, Punk?
As you progress through the game, you soon realize Cooper’s values tend to reflect in the teammates you collect throughout act 1. If you took the most morally ambiguous side characters of each Western movie and threw them into a gang, they would resemble what I would call the Western Avengers. We have Kate O’Hara, a sexy deceptive temptress obsessed with money who has no problem using disguises and her seductive powers to woo men into a stupor. Kate seems to forget the first part of her backstory as soon as she look into Cooper’s dreamy blue eyes and eventually tries to be the yin to his yang. Then we have Hector Mendoza, a trapper in love with his bear trap who he affectionately refers to as Betty. He is built like a lumberjack and uses an axe to boot, having no issue splitting skulls in half and having a grand old time while doing it. Mendoza loves strong alcohol and brothels, always interjecting conversations with memories of either one or both subjects. Next up is Doc Mccoy who greatly resembles a plague doctor and is backed by the fact that he uses gas grenades on his enemies. Luckily, the Geneva Convention hasn’t been written yet. Rather than being a doctor, his skills are more akin to a stealthy rogue as he doesn’t heal anyone on the battlefield but instead uses his syringes to lull his enemies into a permanent coma, can lockpick any door and has a custom pistol that acts a silenced sniper.
If you have played Mimimi’s previous game, Shadow Tactics, then all of these abilities will sound far too familiar to you. That is quite frankly because in terms of abilities, they are clones of their counterparts in Desperados. The sexy temptress, the trapper, the sniper and the all rounder that is John Cooper. There is one character that is a notable exception but she is a very late game addition that practically ends up being a crutch as her Shamanic abilities are so strong that all your strategies revolve around her any time she’s around. If Shadow Tactics is your first entry into the genre, then it is easy to forget that it was the first Desperados game that kickstarted this. Shadow Tactics refined the real time tactics formula and perfected what made the original game so special. For me personally, where it really starts to become muddy of where to draw the line between past inspiration and almost outright plagiarizing itself is the story template both games follow. Desperados follows the same three act format as Shadow Tactics and hits all the same emotional beats as well. Although it’s been almost four years since I’ve played Shadow Tactics, I still remember the extreme ramp up in difficult in act 3 which is right after your whole squad gets captured and lose their weapons/skills. The exact same situation happens in Desperados III down to having to rescue your squad mates one by one with no weapons or skills. Putting that aside, despite the fairly forgettable typical revenge story the game follows, the writing truly excels during the moments of banter between teammates. They get intimately personal through in game conversations where you learn each character’s motivations and agendas as you cross through the giant mountainous landscapes created for you to navigate through.
I tried being reasonable, I didn’t like it
Because of the difference in eras between Shadow Tactics and Desperados III, there is a huge disparity in level design that solely comes down to the fact that your entire team will be wielding guns from the get go. To counter the extremely agile and rangy use of guns, the levels are enormous and there are a lot more enemies to be found guarding each area. Not to worry though since Cooper has dual pistols and a throwing knife, giving him the rare ability to take out three enemies almost instantly from close to medium range. The early missions actually feel like a walk in the park as his abilities are so easy to abuse especially when used in tandem with the rest of him team. The game quickly ups the difficulty by throwing very clever viewing angles and vertical building design where enemies will cover each other’s blind spots to a frustrating degree. This forces you to plan out each encounter as if every enemy has eyes in the back of their head because you know someone else is watching from afar. Depending on the difficulty you choose to play on, you can ‘cheese’ the mechanics of the enemy viewing cones through the careful use of your characters unique abilities. This felt like it was expected and intentional game design once you’ve made it to the late game or play on higher difficulties where it is almost impossible to not get seen but could still avoid actual detection status and raising alarms. Thankfully Mimimi took the time to design a world that rewards the player that explores as there are a ton of environmental traps that you can interact with which allow you to cull the herd while typically staying completely anonymous. It’s always fun to drop a giant church bell onto unsuspecting enemies during a funeral.
Unlike Shadow Tactics, the badges and challenges were a lot less generic and felt hand made for the missions you were playing. Most of the badges you could earn in Shadow Tactics boiled down to not being caught, not killing anyone, hiding all bodies etc. Desperados III took the time to make quite a few of the badges surround actual unique mission events that a player could easily miss depending on the route they took. If a player wanted even more of a challenge, you unlock Baron challenges which have a weird twist for each mission. For example, you basically play where’s Waldo in one mission with only a portrait of a character you need to capture. Except the fact that every single enemy is dressed almost identically to the portrait given with very minor differences to their clothes. It’s a hilarious quest which gives you the choice of spending the time actually finding Waldo in a sea of clones or just brute forcing it by taking down everyone like the mass murderer you’ve always wanted to be.
Big Iron On His Hip
Simply put, Desperados III stands in a class of its own in the real times tactics genre. Nothing even comes close except Shadow Tactics but even that feels dated in comparison. Desperados III is the perfect blend of reviving a dead genre and modernizing it with incredibly vast levels and smooth controls allowing you the freedom to create intricate moments of mayhem that you spent ages to execute flawlessly. But when it does go flawlessly, you feel like the architect of mass destruction, and no other game can replicate that feeling.