Desperate Times Call for Desperado Measures

There is a certain type of game I love. Real time/with pause, action-tactical-strategy genre titles float my boat and find a place in my wheelhouse every single time. It began years ago with Commandos and the refreshing mix of World War 2 and puzzle-like play that meant clearing an area, or accomplishing an objective meant you had to really think to get the best and most optimal resolution for the mission you were in.

One mistake might not be the end, but it was devastating often for the squad and caused the whole area to go on alert.

I always wanted a refinement to this genre, making it more accessible to players who might not have tried it due to a brutal difficulty, or a less-than-stellar save system.

Along comes Mimimi with the excellent Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, blending the old-style Commandos game with some solid refinements.

I always felt there could be more done with it though, and so did Mimimi.

So; when I heard they had Desperados 3 planned, my ears perked up and kept my eye on it.

I was lucky to get a code for review and I've been playing the heck out of the game, want to know what I think of it without hammering through the rest of the review?

It's a Must Buy, a solid entry in the genre and the best use of the genre since the aforementioned Shadow Tactics. Seriously good!

Third Time's the Charm

Mimimi have brought their A-game to this one. Out of the gate it's highly polished and I've had zero issues with it on the Xbox One X. Smooth, fun, no crashes, no glitches and no broken objectives. It's a pleasure to play the game and experience the story that Desperados 3 offers.

I'm not going into spoiler territory at all here. You will assemble a cast of misfit characters in the Old West and experience a solid, well-told adventure from start to end with numerous chances to flex your brain-cells and indulge in some of the best stealth play in this genre period. John Cooper's new bounty hunting gang can sneak and kill with the likes of Solid Snake and Sam Fisher.

What's it all about though, if you have never played one of these before? Sit back, and I'll spin you a tale of just that.

Thrice Upon a Time in the West

Isometric 3d is the name of the game, with excellent controls and numerous camera options. You can pan the map, freely rotate and get the lowdown on every angle to spot hidden guards and check an area for sight-lines and more. The game does a fantastic job of getting you into the various systems through in-built tutorial markers and mini-tutorial videos which you can review at any time. It is easily the most accessible of the titles set in the Desperados universe. You can freely swap between any of your characters that are available for the mission, and use them how you see fit. Your objectives are clearly marked on the map and in world for the most part, unless it's a hidden mission objective or the character only has a vague idea of where something might be. You must then choose how you're going to tackle this HUGE map and make your way from objective to objective.

This is where each encounter is a micro-puzzle in the grand puzzle-tapestry of the whole game.

The game, like Shadow Tactics before it, has several things to bear in mind when you work on clearing an area. Enemies are not (for the most part) stupid, they will investigate and they will call for help/raise the alarm if you give them a chance. They have set patrol paths; set behaviours and they will continue doing those unless you give them reason not to.

They all have sight lines; vision cones and they watch out for each other. The puzzle comes in working out how to circumvent the vision cones, how to move through an area to get to the goal or how to kill/knock-out everyone in that particular map section and move on to the next.

Vision cones work differently during the night and the day, obviously during the day they're much longer and enemies can see further. At night, they're stunted and enemies have a harder time detecting things that are untoward.

The bright area of the cone is their actual vision, they can see you there even if your crouch. The darker area, greyed out, that's their weak spot. They can't see you if you crouch there, nor can they see bodies if they're left in that area too.

They can hear and they can react to changes in their environment. Put out a light, they'll spot it if their vision cone comes into contact with a doused lamp for example. Fire a gun and if they're in hearing range they'll know. So will you, the game is really good at communicating the vision and sound ranges of the guards.

Their strengths are also their weakness though and can be exploited.

Once you get how sight lines/vision cones/AI works you can use this to plan your strategy. Tricking the bad folks into making a detour on their patrol, moving into an area they shouldn't normally go and ending up dead or hogtied. Plus, if you remove a partner and their friend gets suspicious, they go looking around and investigating... this can also be used to get the AI where you want them.

There are different enemy types too, and these require certain ways to deal with them due to how they react. Regular folks won't be too much trouble, Ponchos won't fall for objects or things that are out of place such as McCoy's bag. Long Coats are lethal and need Hector or several shots to down them for good.

At the base level it's a case of clear out the bad folks, however you want, then get to the objective. If someone spots you, or a gunfight starts, they'll raise the alarm and you'll have to deal with more bad folks coming into the map from alarm areas and this will complicate matters a lot. It's not game over for the most part, but it can lead to it as your character is gunned down in a hail of bullets.

Character Driven Advanced Tactics

This is where Desperados 3 is the best in the genre. There are five characters you'll meet in the course of the game, with the most powerful coming in later on. A quick rundown of these follows:

John Cooper: Bounty Hunter, two guns, a knife and a coin means that John is a tricky character for the bad guys to deal with. He can take down two enemies at once, or sneak-throw the knife to murder a bad guy before they know what's hit them.

Doc McCoy: Doc has a Colt Buntline for long range kills, a syringe or chloroform to deal with folk up close and personal. He can heal, himself or allies, and throw his doctor's bag to catch the attention of a nosy guard before he sends them to oblivion.

Hector: Fun guy, big heart, bear trap, huge axe and a penchant for whistling up trouble. Hector can use Bianca (his bear trap) and lure regular opponents to their doom. He can also carry two bodies whilst running and is very useful to clear up an area before another guard spots the dead.

Kate O'Hara: Kate is good at distracting menfolk, can wear disguises, throw a vial of perfume to cloud folks' vision. She can also fire her hidden gun, and lure men into ambushes where they can be killed or tied up.

Isabelle Marau: With her mastery of powers beyond the knowledge of most regular folks, Isabelle has the ability to make a puppet out of even Long Coats (as long as they're stunned first). She can fate-link two characters together so that what happens to one, happens to another. She can use her cat to distract bad guys, and heal herself and others with her knowledge of herbs. She is one of the most powerful of the characters due to her link ability. Want to kill three guards? Have Isabelle link the first guard you want to control to another you want to kill, then have the first guard shoot a non-linked guard in full view of the others. If you do it right, you'll kill the non-linked guard and the others will kill the controlled guard. As he or she dies, the other you wanted to kill that's linked also dies too... mysteriously.

So now you know about the characters and what they can do. There are other nuances you'll discover as you play, like who can climb, swim and so on. What you can do though is combine these characters together to clear an area and accomplish the goal. This is what makes the game so special and allows you to experiment with ways to solve these mini-puzzles.

Five Gun Showdown!

Controlling these five characters, either in small groups, or when they're all together can only be done one at a time. However, there's Showdown Mode, an evolution of Shadow Mode from Blades of the Shogun. When you press up on the d-pad you'll enter Showdown Mode and here you can set up a single action for a character to do when you press the Y button. Rather than go any further into this, I'll give you a simple example.

We have a courtyard, there's a sniper on overwatch on two chatting guards. There's a patch of shadow behind them, and two characters, John and Hector lurk there just waiting to kill the two talking cowboys. The problem is: the sniper, she can see the guards, she's a Poncho and not easily distracted. If they die in her line of sight and vision cone, she'll raise the alarm. One of the guards will see the sniper die if she is killed... tricky.

We need to make several things happen at once, or at least quickly.

We have Doc Mcoy on a roof, he's got a clear line on the sniper. So, we enter Showdown Mode and have Doc take aim on the sniper for his action. Meanwhile we switch to John and Hector and tell them to move up and kill the guards.

We leave Showdown Mode and wait for the right moment. Tapping Y triggers all the planned actions. Doc shoots the sniper; the two others kill the guards and the puzzle is solved. We quickly hide the bodies and we're on our way.

There are other ways to deal with this, especially if you have Isabelle. There might also be some environmental kills you can do, which will never raise the alarm and it's always funny to drop rocks on bad folk's heads. Especially if you linked up a second guy with Isabelle only to have his friends see him crushed to death by an invisible fate.

Wild West Fun

Desperados 3 is a fun game, one that will tax your brain and make you think as you try and clear the zones in different ways. With different difficulties to play with, a bunch of options, and more you might be wondering how the heck you can ensure you get through each particular area without frustration. Enter the save system and the quick-saves.

With a press of a button you can quick-save (there are three slots) and load up if make a mistake. The game is designed for you to do this, so don't think you're save-scumming. They want you to try again if you mess it up. You can set reminders to ensure you don't forget to save too. You can also make a hard save in case you overwrite your three save slots and leave yourself with no way back.

It's this approach that makes Desperados 3 a pleasure to play.

Quality Western

It looks gorgeous and the character designs are excellent. The maps are superbly realised and you can see the amount of detail, love, attention, and heart that's gone into this game. Mimimi are masters of this genre now and it shows. The cut-scenes are extremely well done, and the animations for the characters ooze life and bring the titular folks alive. The aesthetic and atmosphere of the Wild West has been captured here in miniature form, and these are like elaborate play-sets that bring out the kid in me every time I see them.

Twanging Guitars

The West has an aesthetic visually, and a feel with the music. The music in the game captures that perfectly and it matches the various locations with some great guitar work. I especially love the themes you get when you first encounter Isabelle.

Sound of Gunfire

Another area where the game shines is the sound design. It complements the visuals completely and the crack of the pistols as a gunfight breaks out brings me back to playing games like Red Dead Revolver, or Redemption.

The Voice of the West

I have to commend the voice actors in the game. They are an excellent cast and the whole performance is spot on. There's not a single duff voice or line throughout Desperados 3 and the writing as a whole is excellent, with the right kind of feel and aesthetic for this great Wild West adventure.

The Long Game

Whilst you can speedrun Desperados 3, if you take your time, the missions will take over an hour to complete - this probably includes various retries and re-iterations on the way to clear an area. Perhaps you're trying for a non-kill run, or at the very least limited kills, or perhaps you just want to see what is in that old shed and why there's a dozen guards outside with an angry bull. It's a big game in terms of map size per level/mission.

You can see how big at the end, when the game gives you an overview map of the whole mission and then shows you the timeline of what you did as each character and how you fared/cleared the zone. Brilliant stuff for anyone who tracks stats.

The Golden Bullet

Desperados 3 is a breath of fresh air for more reasons than the ones I've outlined above. There are still things I haven't touched on, things like Vision Mode on the left d-pad which lets you pop a marker in world that you can use to see who can view it. Or fast-forward patrols to save you waiting for the thirteenth time for a guard to get into the right spot for a quick takedown. There's plenty of variety, more to see and do and more content coming to the game so I'm told.

Well worth it, if you're a fan of this genre, or you just want to wet your whistle with a new game you might never have played before.

This is the golden bullet for Desperados, and whilst I didn't think Shadow Tactics could be ousted from my #1 action-tactics game. They did it with Desperados 3.

Now I'm off to make someone's day worse by linking them with a drowning friend...