The original Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive set a precedent for Western-style strategy games way back in 2001. It combined a wonderful story-driven atmosphere with a tough, intelligent tactical system. Desperados III, now from Mimimi Games and THQ Nordic, is heavily inspired by Wanted Dead or Alive and, from my time with it, it delivers. You can root, toot and shoot your way through it later this year on Xbox One, PS4, and PC.
Desperados III functions as a prequel to the previous two Desperados games, a smart move on their behalf. Whilst Desperados still holds something of a cult following, starting from as early as possible is a great move for a series 15 years dormant. Desperados opens up fairly simply. You are introduced to seasoned bounty hunter James Cooper and his son, John. You play the role of young John, merely a child. Long time fans of the series might know him as a central character of the original games but the beauty of a prequel is this isn’t necessary information. The two arrive at Devil’s Canyon, their goal: sneak past the bandits guarding the area to take out the outlaw Frank.
This level sets up Desperados very well. It functions as a tutorial but also offers some of what will make Desperados III stand out among its competitors. James has gone on ahead, giving you time to acclimate to the surroundings before being given the controls. It teaches you basic movement and camera control. You’re told basic mechanics like how to read an enemy’s sightline and how to traverse the environment. Desperados III almost functions like a puzzle game.
The next area has a man staring at your direction – you must throw a coin at the right place to distract him, letting you sneak by (or kill him). It then doubles down on this playstyle by offering two guards staring in your direction. True to its tactical origins it gives you “showdown mode”. This is a mode that pauses and allows you to plan your parties moves in advance.
The implications of showdown mode are fascinating. Being able to control multiple gunslingers, all working independently from one another, attempts to offer a level of satisfaction rarely seen in videogames. This sense of tactics is something I noticed throughout my time for this preview piece. In the previous puzzle, I sent a guard near a horse with a distraction, then used a thrown item to make the horse kick that guard, knocking them out. This distraction gave me the opportunity to slip by unnoticed. Sorry for getting you in trouble, horse.
After this, Desperados starts to open up. You realize, as you play, that practically every path has two or more ways of finishing it. If the rest of the game, on release, has this style, I’ll be very impressed. I love the idea that the path I choose may not be the most efficient and replaying it or taking a step back might give light to the entire area. Desperados’ puzzle elements are made clearer here, as you must attempt to sneak past certain enemies or distract others. It is suave and cool, helped tremendously by its sound design.
As well as character voices and general noise from your actions, the music in Desperados is fantastic. It often offers a nice mix of orchestral Spaghetti Western music – tremolo-driven blues guitar, with some minimalist orchestral moments. This ramps up around the story but knows when it should be soft, enunciating the narrative-driven moments in fantastic ways. Given my experience with this preview, I’ll be picking up both the game and its soundtrack.
After traversing through the level and making your way to Frank, John is told he can’t come with him to get the kill. If he can finally hit a tree with his knife, he’ll finally be allowed a gun. The music swells, the screen goes black and it’s left ambiguous as to the fate of both his knife and his father, James. The mixture of narrative and music here gave me goosebumps like I was watching a movie. This narrative is something I’m already incredibly invested in. The following level opens up on a train being robbed: you are treated to some great visuals as the camera pans down the train and settles on the last carriage; we are informed the story is now “Many Years Later”. It is slowly opened by a bandit before being hit with a vicious knife to the throat. This is all the story I’ll give you going forward. The rest will have to wait.
From my experience with Desperados III on Steam, it offers a fascinating and challenging strategy game with a large focus on its theming and narrative. I am already invested in its story and can’t wait for its release on Xbox One, PS4, and PC later this year. Massive thanks go out to THQ Nordic for access to Desperados III.