Wild West games: “Desperados III” (PC)

Mimimi Games and THQ Nordic‘s strategy game Desperados III is a great revival of the Western series and a love letter to the genre.

Desperados III (PC)
(Germany 2020, developer: Mimimi Games, publisher: THQ Nordic, platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One)

Bounty hunter John Cooper is in pursuit of bandit leader Frank who killed his father when he was a young boy, but he’s not alone in his endeavor, with his own band of misfits helping him out.

What happened before and what happens now in the West
Being a prequel to Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive, the story of the third installment of the series does a great job of giving Cooper an emotional background story and establishing his relationship with runaway bride Kate O’Hara and hitman Doc McCoy who have their own reasons to join his cause. Mexican gung-ho bandit Sanchez and Indian Hawkeye don’t make a return, but are suitably replaced by Voodoo practitioner Isabelle Moreau and trapper Hector Mendoza.

A bloody and emotional storyline with believable characters
The violent revenge story is reminiscent of Italian Western movies and doesn’t shy away from showing plenty of blood being spilled by both the good and bad guys (and gal). But the game isn’t without humorous moments thanks to Hector’s disposition of drinking and talking too much, something that stands in stark contrast to the calm Doc McCoy during conversations. More contemplative scenes between the group crop up from time to time as well, adding more depth to the characters.

Some parts of story are often told in flashbacks, e.g. how Cooper witnessed his father’s death or how he met his friend Hector, but these segments aren’t confusing, instead enhancing both the suspense and drama elements of the overall storyline, even if it’s not the most original and memorable one. With characters also talking to each other during missions, one soon finds a real connection to them, e.g. with Hector and Doc counting the number of enemies they killed, being reminiscent of the Gimli/Legolas relationship in The Lord of the Rings.

New characters to play and enemies to be annoyed with
The new characters are a lot of fun, as Isabelle can shoot darts at two enemies to connect their minds, thus making the one experience what the other does, offering the chance to silently kill two people at the same time. It’s also possible to take control over an enemy’s body for a while who can freely move around and shoot one of his or her pals, although this costs one life point for the heroine.

Hector can set traps and whistle to draw the enemies’ attention to the current location, and he’s the only one who can kill a special kind of enemy none of the other characters can. The introduction of these new types makes some of the levels challenging, e.g. with one seeing through Kate’s disguise and her charms not working on women guards, so that one has to rethink some strategies in certain situations.

Mission goals with a handful of options
Each mission starts with an overview of the level layout and characters commenting on the main objectives as well as possible paths to go or strategies to use, so one always knows what to do. These in-game cut-scenes make the experience much more cinematic and engaging, giving each objective meaning, e.g. with Hector waking up after a night of heavy drinking and having to find both his weapons and friends.

In another level taking place in New Orleans one has to find a certain marshall who disappeared. By listening to conversations one finds different suspects who might have a letter stating the whereabouts of him. As only one of them has the correct letter, one might succeed at first or has to try again, which can obviously be frustrating, especially since it can take a long time to clear an area of enemies, something that can be seen in other levels with too much opposition as well.

Mission objectives are varied, can sometimes be completed in any order and in various ways, e.g. taking different routes to reach one’s destination or even dispose of enemies. The best example is a level where one has to kill four targets that can be approached independently from each other. Putting poison into a whiskey barrel from which a barmaid pours a drink and gives the fatal potion to a gunwoman is as viable an option as storming into her well-guarded house or taking care of them one by one before going for the final kill.

In general, the levels feel like puzzles that aren’t simply solved by the characters’ special abilities, but by using the environment to one’s advantage. For example, one can drop a church bell on top of an unsuspecting group of bandits, which also works with a big boulder with another target. If the heroes or heroines aren’t seen by the enemy, patrols simply inspect the area, but will return to their routes, as they think it was an accident.

Creative kills
Finding ways to kill enemies for good in creative ways never becomes old, rewarding the player with a keen eye for the environment by making some segments of levels much easier, e.g. throwing them down wells or into the river so that their corpses won’t be found. In another level, one can light a torch at a bonfire and then throw it on a pool of oil to set enemies aflame or one shoots a torchbearer with Doc’s sniper rifle and watch the ensuing carnage from a distance. This again shows how the player’s problem solving skills are always put to the test.

High Noon Showdown
The most important and fun game mechanic is the Showdown function which was already part of the previous games, but is much more intuitive here. By pausing the game and giving each character an action that can be activated at the same time, coordinated attacks are so satisfying when pulled off correctly, one won’t play the game any other way. In the final level, it also becomes essential to use it in order to dispose of many enemies in one single moment, so one should learn it as soon as possible.

Seeing is surviving
Another useful function to plan each new step is the option to highlight points of interaction, e.g. grass to hide bodies or oneself in and walls to climb, which is important due to the detailed environments where it’s often easy to overlook them. This doesn’t prevent some problems with small objects, though, as the former can be easily overlooked, while the latter has to be rotated in order to have a better look at some parts of the level that are otherwise obstructed by the scenery.

New challenges
The game is already very long with around 30 hours of playtime, but if this wasn’t enough, one can revisit levels with the Baron challenges. These offer new mission objectives, even though they’re not obligatory for completing the story.

Replayability is a keyword, as after each finished mission, one can watch (and save) a replay that shows the various routes the characters took on a boardgame-like screen. There are also many bonus objectives called badges, e.g. saving civilians, one can chase after or earn. However, these are only explained or made visible after one has completed a level.

High-class presentation
The game’s graphics feature very detailed backgrounds, fluid character animations, and some nice atmospheric effects like fog, water reflections or the shadows of eagles circling above the heads of the heroes, in addition to impressive lighting effects that make some of the vistas like New Orleans or a villa where a party is held simply beautiful to look at. Special mention has to go to the in-game cutscenes, as these use all the tricks in the cinematic book, including zoom-ins and -outs as well as circling the camera around the protagonists for the most dramatic effect.

The music and voice acting are excellent throughout with some excellent Western tunes that are put to good use during cut-scenes, complementing each emotional or suspenseful scene, while the actors and actresses do their best to give their characters personality. Compared to the forced delivery of lines in the English version of previous titles, this is as perfect as it can get.

Best of the best
Desperados III is without doubt the most accomplished entry in the series, as its controls are more refined and presentation-wise, there’s no other (strategy) game that can better convey the brutal Wild West feeling with its fantastic soundtrack, convincing voice acting and cinematic cut-scenes.

It’s certainly not an easy game, but with adjustable difficulty modes and a good learning curve, even those new to the genre should give it a try, as plot and character development are top-notch (despite offering nothing new in the Wild West genre) and one rarely has a dull moment because of the excellent open level design that rewards creative problem solving like few other real-time strategy games do.

Score: 9/10

Buy the digital standard edition for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the digital deluxe edition (includes extended soundtrack and Season Pass) for PC on
GOG
Steam

Buy the digital standard edition for PS4 on
the PSN store

Buy the digital deluxe edition (includes Season Pass) for PS4 on
the PSN store

Buy the digital standard edition for Xbox One on
the Xbox store

Buy the digital deluxe edition (includes Season Pass) for Xbox One on
the Xbox store

Buy the retail version for PC on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA (import)

Buy the retail version for PS4 on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Buy the retail version for Xbox One on
Amazon Germany
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

Official website

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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