Nothing says Old West more than a train heist.
On paper, Desperados III, the latest entry in the series from publisher THQ Nordic, checked a lot of boxes for us. It promised to bring together an Old West location and story and meld it with real-time, stealth-based tactics. That was enough to raise our interest level. Now it’s time to find out if it delivered on those promises.
All of the basics handle competently or better, allowing you to cycle through characters, employ their unique abilities and quietly dispatch frontier justice to hundreds of armed baddies. Pressing up on the d-pad enters “showdown mode,” which pauses the action and allows you to queue up actions for as many of your characters as you’d like to execute simultaneously. Setting up a particularly well-implemented plan creates the game’s most satisfying moments.
What does hold Desperados III back from full marks, however, is the camera. Like most games, you control it with the right analog stick, allowing you to rotate and zoom in and out. You can also hold down a shoulder button to untether the camera and traverse the level to get a read on what lies ahead. It isn’t bad per se, but even after 20-plus hours it still felt like we were fighting against it and struggling to consistently line it up the way we wanted.
Thankfully, those issues never undermine our ability to progress. The game encourages liberal use of quick saves as trial and error is your constant companion. As noted, this is a stealth game, and raising alarms typically resulted in swift failure (or at least swift reloads). Even with that, the down time is brief, allowing you to alter your tactics, execution or both with a fresh attempt. It gives the game an addicting “one more time” quality as success always feels like it’s just around the corner.
Desperados III features a pleasant aesthetic, and while it’s by no means a graphical powerhouse, the level design feels detailed and varied. There are consistently different ways to move through areas along with new twists on the gameplay (such as leaving footprints in the mud that can be tracked) that keep things fresh. Enemy variety is underwhelming, though, as you cycle through the same handful of foes.
Things are solid on the audio side as well. There isn’t a ton of voice acting, but what’s there is well done and helps give the various characters some personality. The soundtrack hits all the right notes for a Western and the sound effects are impactful.
Serving as a prequel to the previous games, Desperados III focuses on the origins of series protagonist John Cooper, who finds himself hunting down the man that killed his father in the Old West circa the 1870s. Along the way he’ll link up with four others: Doc McCoy, Hector Mendoza, Kate O’Hara and Isabelle Moreau. Together, they’ll try to overcome the odds and deliver a sense of closure and justice for Cooper.
It’s a tried-and-true storyline, providing enough impetus to sit through a fairly sparse collection of narrative moments, but it nestles squarely into the background and lets the stealth-based action take the reins. Thankfully, the action is up to the task, providing a stiff tactical challenge across a variety of terrains and scenarios.
Each character possesses their own strengths and weaknesses, and it’s up to you to deploy them in the most advantageous ways possible. The levels are designed with this in mind as well, as one character might be able to swim around a patrol, while others will have to stay on dry land. Such a basic encounter suggests the obvious tactic of circling around and wiping them out from both sides, but they get far more complex.
Characters also have unique skills. Cooper can shoot two enemies at once, McCoy can snipe enemies at range in relative silence, Kate can don a disguise and flirt with guards to allow others to operate behind their back and so on. Everyone has a vital role to play, though the mid-game addition of Isabelle brings with it the ability to “tether” two enemies together in which anything that happens to one, happens to the other. It’s incredibly helpful.
Even with all of these special talents at your disposal, Desperados III is tough thanks to its smart design and generally solid enemy A.I. If you’re detected, an alarm will be raised and reinforcements will pour out of designated (and inaccessible) areas, which means you can’t simply pick them off and then not worry about a lone guard getting wind of you. It is possible to kill the reinforcements; their presence just makes everything harder.
As noted earlier, the game is designed for trial and error. To that point we lost track of the number of times we’d think we were ready to silently take out a guard only for a vision cone to appear from another guard we never saw. Our best-laid plans often came up short, but the frequency of saves and quickness of reloading help mitigate the frustration.
If the core elements of Desperados 3 — namely tactical stealth in an Old West setting — sound like fun, you should absolutely pull the trigger on this one. It accomplishes what it set out to do and delivers a tough yet addictive experience.