Whilst I never really clicked with the Desperados series when it first launched almost twenty years ago, I remember considering it to be fairly important because it followed on from the hugely successful, unique Commandos games. Desperados III, however, is as much the sequel to developer MiMiMi’s last game, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, as it is a prequel to the much older Desperados series.
Shadow Tactics didn’t really have the brand to make it a success, but goodness me, it was a fantastic game. A bloody and visceral stealth tactics game that really captured the spirit of what this genre is about, I found myself glued to it for its full duration. With the role of making Desperados III in hand, MiMiMi has really gone to town, improving not only on everything that Desperados and Desperados II did but also surpassing their previous labour of love in the process.
I will just come right out and say it — Desperados III is fantastic. It begins with a series of ever-larger tutorial missions that introduce the five lead characters, but even during these missions, the intensity of the experience is clear. A very early mission has two of the heroes meet during a train robbery, and they must then fight their way up the full length — across crumbling ravines, bridges, and ultimately atop the mouth of a tunnel into which the train would run.
Another of the early missions (still a semi-tutorial) introduces one of two female characters that make up the quintet. She finds herself in the middle of a heist at her own wedding (from which she intends to abscond) and in a level that spans two distinct halves, she must first break into her would-be husband’s office, and then escape from the estate once things turn messy.
Desperados III plays out like this from start to finish, with hugely creative levels that are as vast as they are interesting. Many of them feature large areas filled with civilians, and of course as you traverse these areas, you’ll see a lot less trouble. Similarly, you can’t cause trouble either, but you can use some of the environment to your advantage in order to cause the occasional accident.
From signs, walls, boulders and minecarts, there are many ways to dispatch enemies in specific places in a way that will cause a distraction, but probably won’t raise the alarm like a shootout would. When these methods of dispatch are not available, however, you’ll find that your team is usually capable of dealing with enemies more directly.
All characters can at least knock others unconscious, but some have their own deadly weapons, traps and distractions. Throwing knives, a beartrap and a very creative poison dart all feature, as do more creative approaches like luring enemies into danger, possessing them directly (yes really) and sniping them. When all quiet methods fail, a couple of the team members can simply shoot their way out of trouble, but whilst powerful, it’s not often the optimal way to go.
One really smart feature in Desperados III is the showdown mode, which basically allows the player to pause the game (on lower difficulty levels) and plan a series of actions before pressing a button to execute them all at once. This might mean that one character throws his knife, another chokes out a bad guy, and then the third snipes the watching gunman who might have seen the previous two offences. It’s a quick and simple system, and it makes the player feel really clever when it works.
Of course, Desperados III wouldn’t be very interesting if it couldn’t scale for player skill, and I’m glad to say that this is one area where the developers have clearly focussed. There are something like four basic difficulty levels, ranging from fairly easy but by no means a pushover through to ridiculously hard. In addition to these presets, the player can also customise four or five elements of the gameplay to make certain things fit their skill set — or their reactions (because playing on a controller is less accurate, for example) and I really liked this aspect of the game.
The in-game enemies, whilst having fairly average AI, are quite varied, which further expands upon the challenge. The run of the mill bad guys are easily distracted and easy to kill, but en-masse can become a problem. Others, such as the “poncho” guards can’t be distracted, whilst another set can see through disguises. Each of these different forms of enemy are signposted, but not in such a way that the information is forced upon you – so a watchful eye is always needed.
Another thing that I really liked — even though I’ll never make use of it properly — is the action replay. When you finish a level, you can rewatch the entire thing unfold on a minimap – showing everything from the kills you made to the saves and loads. This must be a speedrunner’s dream, and over and above the missions themselves, each level has a number of challenges for players to complete.
Personally, I really enjoyed picking my way through each level over the course of perhaps an hour or two (and achieved a mixed bag in terms of challenges) but to think I might do a level in ten minutes and bag all the challenges — possibly without saving? I can’t imagine how you’d do it — but I can’t wait to see someone else try.
When it comes to the more technical aspects that a reviewer must discuss: How a game looks, sounds etc, I can only really report that Desperados III gets more or less everything right. Visually, it is detailed and very realistic, with a bright theme and a lot of visual variety that I really appreciated. The sound, including music and voice acting, is very well done and I didn’t see anything that broke my immersion throughout the game.
Overall then, Desperados III is easily my most enjoyed game in 2020 to date. I’ve absolutely loved pouring my hours into it between work and other commitments, and I suppose if I have any criticism, it’s probably only that each level becomes quite a time sink. You can’t easily drop a level halfway through and pick back up again, but if you can commit the time, Desperados III will reward you for it.