Sunday 6 September 2020

Desperados III

Desperados III is the latest entry in the Western-themed real-time stealth series and the first since the 2007 spinoff Helldorado. Serving as a prequel, players will find themselves in the Wild West of the 1870s, exploring the origins of the protagonist John Cooper. 

Utilising squad-based action, you have to coordinate plans however you see fit to solve puzzles and eliminate your enemies. This humble reviewer went into the experience having never played a Desperados game before, so hoped that the prequel nature of it would help make it accessible to greenhorns such as myself. But is Desperados III any good? Read on to find out…

Firstly, the biggest strength of the game is the maps; they’re rich, varied and require real lateral thinking to beat. You’ll go from the swamps of Louisiana to the rugged landscape of Colorado and even south of the border to Mexico. The sense of scale is unlike anything I’ve seen in an RTT game before. There are so many puzzles to solve and ways to utilise the environment to take out enemies, that you can expect to sink at least 30 hours into it. 

Some of our favourite sequences came from non-combat zones. Here you can walk around without drawing attention to yourself, listening out for clues to help you with your next plan. For example, you might overhear that the heavy sign two pesky guards are standing under is a little loose, and it wouldn’t take much to make it tumble down on top of them. 

And with this grand scale comes plenty of variety, both in terms of content and the ways you can approach gameplay. Naturally, as a largely stealth-based game it’s better to coordinate attacks to take out targets before they even know you’re there. However, playing purely stealth will require constant quicksaving and restarts as the AI is pretty spot on. A split second can be the difference between a flawlessly executed plan and a total catastrophe! 

But if you haven’t got the patience for the sneak, you can always rely on your sheer firepower to blast your way out of trouble. I found myself relying on this a tad too much, but I can’t argue it doesn’t fit in with the whole cowboy aesthetic. 

Now normally in these reviews, I’ll tell you what I enjoyed and then dive into the bad. But the gameplay difficulty of Desperados III falls somewhere between the two. Maintaining a full stealth run can be extremely difficult, and at times I found the constant quicksaving and restarting really frustrating. It does feel good to finally succeed, but I wonder if I would’ve stuck with it, had I not had to review it. Of course, this is very much a matter of personal taste, and I’m sure more seasoned players of tactical stealth games won’t suffer the same pitfalls I did. Over and over and over and over again!

What is a little less contentious is the lack of a narrative. Most missions are as simple as getting from point A to point b. This isn’t a huge deal, as it’s the sandbox gameplay that rightfully takes centre stage and actually makes it easier for new players to jump into the series without having to catch up on reams and reams of lore. Just don’t go in expecting a sprawling story ala Red Dead Redemption. 

I did find it less excusable how the emphasis on gameplay occasionally comes at the expense of immersion. The main culprit that kept coming up for me was the way your team can talk it hushed whispers despite being on opposite ends of the map. In a game where every detail of a mission feels as fine-tuned as a grandfather clock, these cross-map conversations felt like an irritating oversight.

To wrap up, Desperados III is one of the most ambitious real-time tactical stealth games I can remember playing, both in terms of scale and ways you can approach the game. The gameplay completely steals the show; a tight, rewarding experience if you’ve got the patience to persevere and not be a scrub like me. I’m really excited to see clips of the inventive ways players manage to beat levels. 

Sure it might not be that deep on story, but that’s not the reason to play Desperados III. This is a sandbox through and through, and a damn fun one at that. So to answer the title of this video, should you play Desperados III? If you’ve got more patience than a dummy like me, it’s a hard yes!

Tom Baker

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