A long time in the making. Desperados 3 comes galloping over the horizon. Dive into John Cooper’s origins story in this compelling strategy game.
Real-Time Tactics (RTT)
Developer: Mimimi Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Release date: 16 June 2020
In this long-awaited prequel to the beloved classic Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive, John Cooper will join forces with the runaway bride Kate, the shady hitman Doc McCoy, the giant trapper Hector, and Isabelle, a mysterious lady from New Orleans. On Cooper’s quest for redemption, his adventures lead him and his gang from rural towns, over swamps and riverbanks, and finally to a dramatic showdown worthy of Wild West legends.
Drifter, gunslinger, and natural leader Cooper can kill quietly with a knife, or take out multiple foes with his revolvers. Strongman Hector carries a giant bear trap and can slay the toughest opponents with his trusty axe. Cold-blooded bounty hunter McCoy likes to be methodical, using lures, knockout gas, poison syringes and a custom long-range pistol. Kate can fool almost any man with the right outfit and kills discreetly with her hidden gun. And then there is this mysterious woman from New Orleans, Isabelle…
It’s been a long time coming. The original Desperados game was released back in 2001. This was Spellbound Entertainment’s western-inspired take on the template that was created by Pyro Studios with their superb Commandos series. A sequel of sorts was released 2006 but due to financial pressure and time constraints, it didn’t live up to the original game’s quality. It was a good game but didn’t quite reach the lofty heights of the debut.
I thought the genre had run its course until I played Shadow Tactics. This was a love letter to those great games of the past. Here was a developer who took the solid foundations of the past and brought Real-Time Tactics into the modern era. Beautiful environment art coupled with a tight gameplay loop with deep strategic possibilities. It was obvious that this studio understood what made these old games great. Not only had they respected the origins, but improved many system facets, adding their own unique concepts. I immediately marked Mimimi Games as a studio to watch out for.
Fast forward to 2018 and the announcement from THQ Nordic that a spiritual prequel was in the works. Not only that, but they had enlisted the expertise of Mimimi as lead developers to create the game. For me, this was a masterstroke in publishing business management. Obtain the rights to a much-beloved franchise and assign the premier studio to apply their considerable creative talents to the task. Job done.
Anyway, enough of this hyperbole, let’s put some meat on the bones of this review and get weaving.
The story is set in the intervening years before the original game. You follow the tale of John Cooper and his quest to find the elusive “Frank”. This winding yarn is punctuated by the recruitment of more members to the posse. Each of these lively miscreants has a set of unique abilities which help bolster the overall effectiveness of the gang. First to join the fray is Arthur “Doc” McCoy. A medicine man with a spooky demeanour and excellent sniper vision. Next is the massive Hector. This fur trapper uses a bear trap to lure unwitting foes to a gruesome demise. Kate brings her feminine charms to the party, to bedazzle gullible guards. Isabelle Moreau rounds out the gang. Her skills are based on the arcane art of voodoo and mind control.
The mission designs in Desperados have come a long way since the early days of this genre. Gone are the get from point a to point b without detection cookie-cutter fare. Some of the later chapters have so many moving parts, you could compare them to a swiss watch in their complexity. The environments are the star of the show. From the red rocks of colorado to the swampy bayous of the deep south. Superbly crafted landscapes with a striking amount of detail.
Whatever the final goal of the mission. It’s in your interest, not to go in guns blazing. The odds are generally stacked against your small team. That being said you have the option to play the game any way you feel. You are free to transverse the arenas in however you see fit. Due to the impeccable design of the landscape, there are always multiple ways to solve problems. The majority of the adventure is dealing with guard patrol paths and static sentry positions. Unfriendly eyes are everywhere. These are displayed as the classic green view cones. Getting one of your team caught in these beams and it spells trouble with a capital T. Sticking to the shadows and planning your next move carefully is always a wise option.
“You see, in this world, there’s two kinds of people, my friend; those with loaded guns and those who dig. You dig! “
On your adventure, you will bump into several types of bad guys and ruffians. Guards come in three flavours. First off you have your common grunt. Stupid as dirt. These can be easily lured by shiny coins or an attractive lady’s presence. Secondly, you have Poncho wearing outlaws. These are a bit more steely and won’t abandon their assigned guard positions. Lastly, you have the Longcoats. These are tough hombres. They can only be taken down with an axe or stunned and then blindsided.
One of the early levels is set in the town of Flagstone. This adds a new feature to the game. Namely; neutral or civil zones. In these areas, your party is allowed to move freely as long as they don’t do anything unlawful or suspicious. These safe sectors permit your gang to eavesdrop on conversations which may unearth some vital information about local outlaws and also reveal some dastardly accidents waiting to happen.
No two missions are the same. The developers have kept the adventure fresh by continually swapping in and out the basic composition of your brigade as the yarn unfolds. This removes the reliance on certain characters. It compels the player to use all the attributes of your gang in order to progress the story. It’s a clever move and stops the game becoming predictable, using the same tactics over and over again.
“Dyin’ ain’t much of a living”
When your gang is in a truly tight spot you can engage Showdown mode. This freezes the action and allows you to coordinate your individual team members’ actions in a precise manner. You can plan diversion tactics with one character, whilst another sneaks past a guards gaze. These manoeuvres can be then synchronized to a single button press or mouse click. The more dewds you have in your posse, the more intricate these operations can become. The sense of quiet satisfaction when a complex plan pays off is fantastic.
“Saving John Cooper”
Save scumming for the want of a better phrase, is generally frowned upon in mosy hardcore gaming circles. To continually reload/retry sequences until they plan out in your favour is considered weaksauce. Well, this game turns this logic on its head and positivity promotes this exercise without any of the associated guilt Straight from the get-go, the opening tutorial encourages the player to quicksave before attempting any tricky tactics. This feature is burnt into the DNA of the title. Whilst pondering your next move, a save game timer pops up once 60 seconds has elapsed since your last checkpoint. If you forget to follow these instructions the timer box will change colour to further highlight your indecision.
“We’ll give you a fair trial, followed by a first-class hanging! “
After finishing a mission you are greeted with a truly remarkable amount of stats. Every tiny detail of your gameplay has been logged. the number of saves, loads, and deaths, to the exact amounts of time spent with each character and how many kills, were achieved with each unique ability. The cherry on top of the pie is an incredible overview of the level with your gang’s individual movements and actions. It’s like a post football match tactics screen but for nerdy gamer strategists. All this information can be saved as a replay and shared with your friends for bragging rights.
Once you have completed a level for the first time, several hidden challenges are revealed. These are only for the very hardcore of players, as some of the tasks require absolute perfect planning in order to succeed. So even if you manage to burn through the main campaign there’s plenty of replayability on offer.
“Every gun makes its own tune”
If you are a fan of spaghetti western soundtracks then you will not be disappointed with what Filippo Beck Peccoz and his team have created. Twangy guitars, lonesome whistles and rousing orchestral crescendos are the order of the day. These tunes beautifully fit the vibe and general aesthetic of the visuals. The tremolo soaked guitar main theme sets the scene. Even before you start the game. It conjures up images of silhouetted guns for hire, framed in the doorways of run-down cantinas. It’s a fantastic sonic tapestry that uses clever instrumentation to evoke a bygone era of the American West.
“In a big country”
Classic western movies were always shot in widescreen cinemascope. Desperados’ levels echo this grandeur in their vast epic landscapes. If my memory serves me well the original commandos maps were pretty large. Well, think of them and times that area by a factor of two or more. These are not barren affairs filled with copy and paste art assets. They show off an incredible amount of detail. Miniature dioramas, bustling with life, as good folk and outlaws go about their day.
Animation has taken a giant leap from the original game. New motion capture technology has been employed to give all the characters and NPCs a fluid presentation. This is particularly noticeable in the cut scenes which dovetail between the action. These are superb little theatrical segments which embellish the story in a very entertaining manner.
“Options, for days.”
I haven’t seen such a comprehensive suite of options in quite some time. Normally Unity projects by enlarge have very sparse user settings. This is definitely not the case here. By habit, on the first boot of every new game, I do a quick cursory check, to make sure my graphics card has been detached properly and that the resolution is correct. I should not have bothered as the game automatically sets the optimum output and for once got the refresh rate right. No faffing about forcing settings from a PC system driver level. Excellent.
This is now the new benchmark for any aspiring Unity projects in the works. The bar has been set high. I hope fledgeling developers will try to match what Mimimi have delivered here. If a relatively small team can produce such a rich suite of options then is no excuse from any of the big players in the industry. Quality of life options such as colourblind modes, subtitles and multiple language voice settings should be a given in this day and age.
Mimimi have once again displayed their prowess in strategy games. Shadow tactics was no fluke. They have continued their ascent of the development hierarchy with an impressive re-imaging of the Desperados series. This is no tired cash grab. It is a superb new chapter in the western tale. Not only have they brought the franchise screaming into the modern era with lots of quality of life features. They have added many new gameplay facets that are fresh and inventive. It’s a saddlebag of treats for any fans of the genre. Highly recommended.