Despite being around since 2001, Desperados III marks the series’ console debut – it’s no surprise, especially since the real-time strategy genre has been one that has often struggled to make the transition from being played with a keyboard and mouse to a controller. Fortunately, Desperados III’s console endeavour can’t be seen as anything other that a success, with the sublime tactical gameplay and intuitive controls making for a thoroughly enjoyable Wild West escapade for PlayStation 4 gamers to dive into.
The narrative behind Desperados III will probably feel familiar to anyone who has watched a Western before, with series protagonist John Cooper working with his band of would-be ‘heroes’ as they look to take down some of the baddies roaming through the Wild West. Ultimately, it’s a quest for revenge, though I’ll leave the reasons for John’s seeking of blood for the player to discover…
It’s an easy tale to get on-board with and it sees you roaming through a wide-range of environments, whilst the characters you meet are certainly a colourful bunch – sure, they’re made up of a lot of the clichés you’d expect from a Western, but they certainly feel at home in Desperados III’s narrative. It’s also worth noting that this acts as a prequel to the other games in the series, so newcomers to the games certainly won’t feel like they’re missing out on anything as far as the overarching story is concerned.
Desperados III offers a strategic gameplay experience that sees players leading their group of heroes through an assortment of levels, with the typical goal being to reach a specific point or kill a specified enemy. Levels are flexibly designed to be approached in multiple ways, be it through taking out each and every enemy you see, sneaking your way around and distracting foes, or simply winging it and hoping for the best. I can’t deny that there were a few occasions where I progressed through on sheer luck alone, though there’s no doubting that co-ordinating a well-orchestrated plan and succeeding through the use of skill is the most rewarding way to experience the game.
Whatever way you decide to approach a level, there’s no denying that there’s a real buzz of excitement to be felt as you progress through Desperados III. Figuring out the best route to take through an area or carefully waiting for an enemy’s attention to be diverted elsewhere to sneak past always kept things feeling tense, as does working out the best way to actually take out any enemies in your path. Whilst some of your characters have weapons that can prove an effective way to dish out some hurt, sometimes it felt more satisfying to make it seem like an accident – plus, it ensures you can still linger in the shadows and not grab the attention of your foes. See an enemy behind a horse? Startle it so it kicks out and knocks him unconscious. See enemies lingering in a group? Look for a nearby crane full of crates to drop on them. These are just some of the examples from the opening mission too, with plenty of fun and unique set pieces to be found across Desperados III’s assortment of levels. Believe me, luring an enemy into the path of a train NEVER stops being fun…
There are five different characters to use throughout missions: John Cooper, Doc McCoy, Hector Mendoza, Kate O’Hara, and Isabelle Moreau. Each bring their own different skills to the fray that can prove vital during gameplay, with some focusing more on attacking, some on being sneaky, and some on being completely devious. On the attacking front, Cooper can take out two characters at once with his duel-wielding pistols whilst Hector can deal some heavy damage with his shotgun. If you want to be sneakier, Kate can blend in with other characters in the environment thanks to her outfits whilst Doc can use a special gas to knock enemies out. You know how I also mentioned some are devious? Well, that applies to Isabelle, who uses voodoo to do things like mind control or to even connect enemies with each other so they both share the same fate.
Between all of the characters, there are a multitude of ways to approach encounters with enemies and there’s an assortment of clever ways to actually take them out. You could play the same mission on three or four occasions and approach them completely differently each time, which just goes to show how varied they all actually are – what makes it better is the fact that each skill is actually satisfying to use and none feel tacked on for the sake of it. It’s good stuff and keeps Desperados III feeling fresh and exciting throughout.
Outside of your character’s skills, there are other things you can take advantage of to make your life easier in Desperados III. For one, you can always keep track of what your enemies can see, with their view cone displayed with a button press that shows the direction their facing and how far their view extends to. Using this is vital to your success, especially when being sneaky, and it also demonstrates how good of a job you’re doing in distracting those around you.
Then there’s your Showdown ability, which pauses time temporarily and allows you to assign actions to each of your characters. This gives you a chance to really think each situation through and take advantage of all of your different skills, all without the risk of being attacked or caught out in the process. It’s especially useful when you’ve got a full party at your disposal and want to quickly sync all of their skills together – seeing it play out makes for some of Desperados III’s most satisfying moments.
Before playing, I was a little concerned that Desperados III might not play that well on a controller given that it’s typically enjoyed with a keyboard and mouse, but it has made the transition to consoles really effectively. Moving characters around with the left-stick and controlling the camera with the right-stick feels intuitive throughout, whilst pulling off abilities only takes a few button presses too. Whilst I won’t deny that it’s probably at its most comfortable to play with a keyboard and mouse, it’s DEFINITELY easy to enjoy Desperados III with a controller in your hand.
One thing that’s certainly worth noting is that Desperados III can be a VERY challenging game. It actually encourages players who are inexperienced with the genre go straight to the easiest difficulty at the start of the game, with it warning that even the standard difficulty setting isn’t necessarily for the fainthearted. It’s a pretty clear indicator that you’re in for a tough time battling through the game’s Western setting.
The challenges do come at you thick and fast too, with it often taking a fair bit of trial and error to overcome some of the set pieces found in levels. This could actually be a little bit frustrating, with some areas of the game taking me close to twenty minutes to figure out what exactly I had to do with plenty of deaths suffered in the process. In fairness, things like the enemy view cone and the Showdown ability do make life easier, whilst it never feels like Desperados III is ever unfair in design either – it can just be a touch TOO tricky at times to be comfortable for anyone who isn’t experienced with the genre. Still, when you do overcome one of those tougher moments? It’s exceptionally rewarding.
It’s also worth noting that there’s a quick save function that just takes a tap of the touchpad to activate too, so it’s easy to give yourself a checkpoint if you’re about to do something a little dangerous and risky. It certainly alleviates a lot of the pain that comes with the constant deaths in some of the game’s more challenging segments and it ensures you won’t be left pulling out your hair (too much).
Those who find themselves overcoming Desperados III’s levels with ease will be glad to see there are additional difficulties to play through, with the toughest even dropping the pause function when using the Showdown ability. There are optional challenges to complete in levels too, with players given things like time-trials, no-kill, and kill-everyone tasks to spice things up a bit. Most of these were beyond my own capabilities, but they add some extra replay value to the experience outside of the already lengthy main campaign.
Desperados III offers a brilliant real-time tactical Western experience that manages to feel intuitive and fun to play on console. It does have a few things that annoyed me here and there, mostly with the trial-and-error elements of the game and some of the overly-challenging set pieces, but they weren’t enough to ruin my time with what is otherwise a fun and satisfyingly strategic Wild West romp.
Developer: Mimimi Games
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
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