Naming a game is a surprisingly tricky business. Do you go with numbers or numerals for a sequel? Do you have a flamboyant subtitle? Where does the colon go, or will you simply not have one? On the one hand, mimimi and THQ are keeping things simple with Desperados III, but it’s actually the fourth game in the series and a prequel to Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive.
The name doesn’t make the hugest amount of sense then, but this ought to still be a great jumping on point for newcomers. A huge part of that is simply down to, well, the fact that it’s been 18 years since the first game and a decade since the third game Helldorado. Mimimi have cut their tactical action teeth elsewhere though, making a name for themselves with 2016’s Shadow Tactics, and it’s really this game and what they learnt from it that makes the basis for Desperados III.
This game acts as the origin story for John Cooper and his increasingly infamous gang of outlaws. You’ve got bounty hunter Doc McCoy, the hulking trapper Hector, Miss Kate O’Hara, the Voodoo techniques of Isabelle Moreau, and of course John himself. We’ve been introduced to them in a string of introductory videos over the past few months, each offering a very particular set of skills to the group that makes their interplay fascinating through a level.
The one we were shown saw the group split up and ensnared, with Isabelle able to take centre stage as you try to bring them back together and rescue John who’s holed up in your river boat. She’s the last of the characters to have been introduced, and by far the most intriguing for the way that her supernatural powers can manifest themselves. Things get pretty darn witchy when she’s about!
First and foremost, she’s able to connect to an enemy and mind control them into acting for her. As the level opens and she’s trapped in a cage with no other hope of escape, it’s purely through this ability that she can be set free. As with so many stealth games, you have to wait for the right opportunity to strike, flinging hypnotising darts when your unwitting prey is out of sight of their buddies.
From there, you can walk them around and interact with things, but any mischief you want to manage you’ll again have to try and do when out of line of sight. This is very much a shoot first, ask questions later world, so even a mild moment of indiscretion can see your puppet offed and have you reloading to start again. They’re also not simple pawns, but might try to resist you when you force them to kill another guard, throwing an element of added peril into your plans, but you can always cut the link and knock them out with a mental shock.
Once escaped, Izzy’s – can we call her Izzy? – second main occult ability can come to the fore, with Connect creating a dark bond between two people so that they share the same fates. If you then kill one of them, the other is killed in exactly the same way, no matter what it is. It’s an ability some of you might remember from Dishonored 2, and it opens the door to so many ridiculous possibilities. As the devs said when I asked if I could link two characters together and possess one to walk off a cliff, killing the other, “all of that shit works!” Later on, they even engineered a similar situation, to get a guy to effectively shoot himself via a voodoo link.
All of that sounds ludicrously overpowered, right? Well it is, but it comes at a cost, as Isabelle has to give up a blood sacrifice to use her powers. Not anyone’s blood, but her own. Not only that, but the unforgiving nature of the game’s stealth means that a slight slip up can see your pawn die, forcing you to step back and reassess a situation.
Once you have several characters in your control, the patrols of several enemies to try to avoid, a rising kill count and number of bodies that can be discovered to worry about, and when death is just a bullet or two away, occult powers can only take you so far.
This was ably demonstrated by a scenario deeper into the level, which had to be retried and reloaded several times over. With half a dozen enemies wandering around, their vision cones sweeping back and forth, one on overwatch with a machine gun, others giving occasional shots to keep John holed up in his boat, it took a lot of patience and precise timing to get the plan to come together without the alert being raised and a bloody, game-ending gunfight to ensue.
With a sandbox-style puzzle ahead, it could be to come at this with Isabelle’s powers just part of an ensemble effort, hijacking a linked enemy, timing a sniper shot from Doc McCoy when an enemy’s out of sight, and giving two short sharp shotgun blasts with Hector’s shotgun to finish the rest off. Alternatively, put her front and centre, possessing the man on the machine gun to simply sweep across the scene with a wash of bullets. Either way can be just as fun.
In those real clutch moments, the game will throw you a lifeline as well, pausing and entering Showdown Mode to give you an opportunity to plot a course out of trouble. It’s something that they took away from all the player feedback they received from Shadow Tactics, where the similar action-queuing Shadow Mode didn’t pause the game, leaving players with the frustration of trying to link together actions while time progressed. Desperados III took that and no doubt countless other lessons on board.
Desperados III is just all sorts of my kind of game. A smart, stylish, stealthy, tactical action game that’s as much a puzzle game? It ticks all of the right boxes for me, and makes me realise I should have been paying Mimimi more attention over the last few years.