Stealth games are hit or miss with me, I’m not a fan of the mechanic within horror-based games, due to the anxiety it builds up within me, but I absolutely love it when used creatively in games like Hitman 2, allowing you to play your own way and quietly take people out. Desperados III falls into the latter category, presenting you with multiple ways to complete your objectives, kill your targets, and proceed through the rather long story. I’ve personally not played any of the previous games in the series, so I’m going into this with no prior knowledge, but did it impress me?
This title in the franchise was developed by Mimimi, the developers behind the colourful The Last Tinker (which I loved on the PS4) and Shadow Tactics… Now, I’ve not played Shadow Tactics before but after playing through Desperados III, I need this game – you can clearly see the influences and mechanics which have bled over from that title into Desperados III. So, if you’ve played that game before, you’ll know exactly what to expect from this game; if not, let’s take a closer look…
Despite being called Desperados III, it’s actually the fourth game in the franchise and a prequel to the original game (think Star Wars: The Phantom Menace). It tells the story of John Cooper, a man on the search of his fathers killer, a mission which takes him through various towns, outposts, rivers, and canyons. John isn’t the only one who has an agenda to take out both this man and the DeVitt Company though, he joins forces with four others who all have their own unique skills, abilities, weapons, and personal issues they wish to come to terms with.
Although each character has their own stories to tell and share with one another, their common goals intertwine and bonds all five companions together in their struggle for redemption and revenge. You take control of all of your allies (at the same time or individually) in real-time or via the intuitive Showdown mode, a brilliant mechanic which perfectly combines real-time action with turn-based strategy and forward planning. The choice of gameplay all relies on you and how you want to play the game – you can go in all guns blazing, or you can carefully plan out each and every move as you slowly work towards your goal.
Desperados III is a brilliant combination of real-time action and paused strategic planning. Let’s talk about the real-time aspect…
I was a little sceptical at first in regards to the core gameplay mechanics within Desperados III; how could you possibly control up to five protagonists at the same time whilst playing in real-time? However, my doubts were quickly thrown out of the window as soon as I began playing the game and got used to the controls. You play the game from an angled perspective looking down at the action, with the ability to freely move the camera and zoom in and out to check out your surroundings. Moving the Left Stick actually moves your protagonist which is selected (or multiple if grouped) in isolation of the camera.
That’s the first unique aspect I noticed – the separate movements for the camera and character. Usually, in games like this, the protagonist sits in the middle of the screen and you can rotate and zoom the camera. But, now you can sit in a bush for cover and then look around the entire map, or even carry on walking whilst checking out what the enemies are doing further ahead or behind you – it’s rather intuitive.
To further help with avoiding the view of those you want to be discrete around, holding the Right D-Pad button lets you move the camera and see the viewing cones of each enemy. You can also place a marker on people or locations which will then show you if they’re being watched by someone else – perfect if you’re trying to take someone out without others seeing. The game really pushes you to be stealthy and take advantage of all the tools and mechanics it has in place for you to move without being seen, but you can just shoot your way through if you aren’t patient enough – although I don’t advise this as they’ll call for backup!
This is by far one of the best stealth and paused-planning modes I’ve seen in a while. At any point simply push Up on the D-Pad and the game will pause, putting you into the Showdown Mode. In here, you can give your characters orders by swapping to them and performing an action. For example, push the button then take control of John and have him run up to a guard and kill him then dump his body in a bush. Now, you can either activate this action immediately or you can return to real-time and wait. The action you’ve given your character will follow your target, so if you decide to wait until they’re closer, or out of sight of other enemies, simply push Triangle and John will run out and kill the guy (wherever he now is) then dump his body.
You can also plan multiple actions for multiple people. One I use quite often is when there are two or three guards all looking at each other – so they’ll be hard to take out without being noticed. What you do is place a character behind each guard, crouched and hidden, then you enter Showdown mode and plan each character to kill the guard they’re near. One push of Triangle and all three guards are murdered at the same time, meaning nobody can report the other guy’s death to their colleagues – the amount of micromanagement you have is great considering you’re controlling all protagonists.
You can even take the strategy further and plan out actions for multiple characters then activate them one by one, rather than all at the same time. You can even utilise this method to take advantage of certain skills, such as John firing his gun in quick succession and taking out multiple enemies before they realise what’s going on. Another process I’ve come to love is using Kate to lure the guards to a secluded blindspot and then triggering the pre-planned action of another protagonist jumping out of the bush and killing them whilst they’re infatuated with her!
Each protagonist has their own abilities and weapons which they can use to help you out in various ways.
• John has a silent throwing knife (although the one you hit tends to be a bit vocal about it), his noisy pistol, and he can throw a coin as a distraction – just like Agent 47.
• Kate, as I mentioned above, can distract and lure guards with her charm (as long as you have a disguise), as well as throw perfume which blinds the guards, and she has a deadly silent pistol.
• McCoy is a doctor so he can heal himself or others, he also has a sniper pistol, a bag which can distract guards and blind them once opened, and a vial full of swamp gas (for knocking out enemies).
• Hector is a big beefy man who can set bear traps, whistle guards to get them to follow him (or walk into the trap), a double-barreled shotgun, and a hipflask for healing himself.
• Isabelle is a Voodoo Priestess who can send her cat to distract the guards, heal herself or others with a weed, and she can also perform two supernatural Voodoo abilities!
In regards to Isabelle and her abilities – this is where the game got really interesting for me. You can sacrifice one of your hit points (you have four) and take over one of the enemies, allowing you to move them about within a certain range and either kill the other guards or let them kill your surrogate by pulling out your gun within their view. The other ability lets you connect two enemies together, like twins in movies and TV shows, so that anything you do to one person will also happen to the other. For example, if you link two then strangle one of them, the other will also get strangled.
Finally, to make things extra interesting and more fun, the developers have given each character certain skills they can and can’t do. For example, John can climb ropes and swim yet Kate can’t – this means you have to work out alternative paths for certain characters or infiltrate the area with some characters in order to allow the others to pass through without being noticed. It’s another level of strategy and tactics which has been perfectly integrated within the game to deliver an even more immersive and clever experience.
On a side note, thanks to the size of Hector, he can carry two dead bodies at once and also run whilst doing so!
Desperados III has a number of different environments to explore and work your way through, each one incredibly detailed and set up for multiple playthroughs with alternative routes and methods of completion in each. The town-based missions even let you pick up hints by standing next to the civilians and listening to what they’re saying, often diverting you to a new way you can kill people or more secretive ways of progressing forward. I absolutely adored Flagstone as you have the choice of killing your targets or going all Hitman 2 on them and eliminating them in various ‘accidents’ so you’re never suspected.
There are a bunch of trophies which also help encourage you to experiment and have fun whilst playing within these murder sandboxes, offering hints on actions you could take in order to unlock a trophy and an in-game badge. One which I found funny was early on when you’re tasked with escaping a house with Kate who was there to get married. Your task is to get a picture of the groom – an objective which isn’t easy seeing as he may or may not actually be conscious. So, you must clear the way in the garden and then literally drag his body in front of the camera and take your beautiful wedding snap. The game has a good sense of humour attached to it.
In terms of size, some of the missions are massive. The game was present to me as a 14 mission (plus two smaller ones) game which will last around 25 hours. They’re not wrong. If you’re taking your time and ensuring no enemies see you as you progress, one single mission can take between one and two hours. This is important as I’ll discuss the ‘badges’ next, a part of the game which forces you to totally rethink how you’re going to approach the levels and complete the missions.
Badges and the grind for the platinum
Badges are the in-game goals for Desperados III, ranging from simple to absurd. The first mission, for example, gives you a badge for saving the civilians, killing three people at a time, and killing bandits with dynamite. There are also secondary goals such as distracting three people at the same time with a coin, NEVER saving in the mission, don’t use guns, and two common badges on all levels – Speedrunning the mission in a silly amount of time and completing the game on Hard mode.
Now, I don’t know about you but having to complete a mission in 17 minutes, when it just took me almost two hours to finish, is quite daunting. All I can think of for these is you must run through the level, try to avoid everything but your target, and hope you get lucky – especially when you have to control multiple characters and achieve multiple goals to successfully pass the mission. I’ve never been a fan of timed missions or speedruns because I hate being rushed, but your opinion may differ as you may love them. Thankfully, for people like me, you don’t need to achieve ALL badges for the platinum, just 90 out of 112.
On a side note, the Hard mode is incredibly tense and satisfying to complete, so I’d actually recommend you play the game on that mode from the start, dropping if you find it too difficult. All it does is increase enemies strength if you’re seen and increase their awareness. But, if you stick to stealth, you’ll be fine.
The three main badges per mission basically force you to change your playstyle in order to achieve them. For example, NOT picking up the disguise means you have to think of alternative methods of distraction, killing everyone means you have to go out of your way to slaughter every NPC for fun, and killing five guards with a certain environmental attack means you have to line up the kill perfectly.
There are so many small details and requirements thrown at you in order to force you to play differently and experiment – it’s brilliant.
Additional features and the difficulty
Once you’ve past mission eight you’ll unlock the Baron’s Challenges. These are special versions of missions you’ve already completed. For example, you have to replay the second mission whilst playing as only Isabelle with a goal to killing everyone with her supernatural abilities. Alternatively, why not return to New Orleans and solve a Lovecraftian murder-mystery – this is quite far from the original plot and story of that particular mission.
At launch, there are five challenges but the developer is planning to create a unique challenge for all of the main missions within the game, delivered by a post-launch free update in the future.
In terms of the difficulty, the game can be brutal and frustrating, but it’s never unforgiving or unfair. Bumping up the ‘set’ difficulty simply makes the enemies more aware of you and harder to kill if you’ve been spotted, but the gameplay itself remains the same. However, aside from having a simple easy, medium, hard slider, there’s also a custom setup to play with. Using this, you can specifically set the number of enemies, how much health and ammo you have, the speed at which you’re detected, and how many times you’re allowed to save! you can even set if Showdown mode will pause the game or if you have to plan out your synchronous actions in real-time.
Aside from the requirement to complete each mission on ‘hard’ for a badge, or completing a single mission on ‘Desperado’ mode for a trophy, there’s no other requirements or trophies for playing on anything other than Easy or Custom. So, if you are struggling, feel free to play with these settings and find the balance you prefer.
Desperados III has one of the best mechanics I could ever have asked for – a very easy and fast quick save process. I know some missions have a requirement to not use a save but sod that, my average is around 30-40 saves per mission! When you’re about to try something stupid or see if a pre-planned showdown action works, simply tap the touchpad and it’ll create a quicksave. If the experiment goes horribly wrong, press Options and you’ll see the last three quicksaves – simply hit Cross and it’ll reload for you.
For some reason, the last quicksave usually loads back up within around 1-2 seconds but older quicksaves take about 10. This superfast save and load process encourages you, even more, to experiment and be brave – you can always ‘undo’ if it messes up!
Learn from your mistakes
Another brilliant addition is the conclusion screen. Once you’ve completed a mission you’ll see the entire map on the screen with various dots representing the enemies and your characters. It’ll then replay the entire mission in front of you at a sped-up rate which you can increase or decrease. This overview basically shows where you went, when you saved, when you loaded, who you killed, and what routes you took. If you’re aiming to grab the speedrun badge, this will be crucial in planning out your most efficient routes and looking for shortcuts you may have missed.
The video above is one of my playthroughs…
Let’s start off with something I wasn’t expecting, on the PS4 Pro (it may also be on other models) there’s an option for either Resolution or Performance mode. Now, the developers have done the thing I really hate and not actually told us what these options are – either in the press kit or, more importantly, in the game itself! A simple bit of text saying what to expect from both of them would have been a much-welcomed function.
I’ve played the majority of the game in the resolution mode, which I would say is 1440-1620p (at a guess, as I’ve not had a reply yet in regards to the exact numbers). The framerate seems like it’s 30, but so does the other mode if I’m being honest – it’s a strategic game, framerate isn’t that important or noticeable. Performance mode looks like it’s running at 1080p, again though, it may also be 30fps. I didn’t notice ANY frame drops, stutter, freezing, or jerkiness in either mode.
In terms of the visuals themselves, the game looks gorgeous. There are a few muddy textures here and there, but the vast majority of the game is very well-detailed with an authentic and realistic look to the character models and environmental assets. Nothing is hard to make out and you can tell each of the stages were put together with lots of love and care for the franchise. I personally like the small attention to detail aspects you see throughout the game such as colour coordinating the protagonists so you know who is who, the little eye you can plop down to ensure nobody is looking at that spot or person, and the character animations…
Speaking of, the developers have said they used full motion capture and you can really tell. When a cutscene starts the game brings up a top and bottom border – just like early PS4 games did to deliver that ‘cinematic experience’. This, along with the smooth-moving characters and brilliant voice acting, makes each cutscene really enjoyable to watch. My only complaint is that during these the camera is still quite far back – I would love if the camera went in a bit further so the action is even bigger on the screen.
Music – can’t fault it, it sounds very ‘Western’ and gets you in the mood for killing some bandits. Loved the voice acting, nobody sounded off or ‘phoned-in’.
Desperados III is by far one of the best stealth-based games I’ve ever played, offering multiple ways to not only complete your objectives but also kill your targets. The brilliant Showdown mode further enhances the immersion and strategic gameplay by letting you simultaneously control all five protagonists in a synchronised string of events, single-handedly set up by the sole gamer. The very challenging badges, difficult goal criteria, and multiple routes will all have you replaying each mission numerous times until you know it like the back of your hand. Plus, once you’re done with the exciting and thrilling story, the Baron’s Challenges allows you to take on new mysterious and even more challenging missions – if you’re brave enough!
Although I’ve never played a game in the franchise before, which doesn’t matter as this is a prequel, I thoroughly enjoyed the story and didn’t feel like I needed to know any prior information. I also totally adored the Western setting and the unique mechanics Mimimi has incorporated within the game. I’m personally going to pick up Shadow Tactics later this week as it seems like it has similar gameplay – I can’t stress how addicted I’ve become to this game and how much I want to get back to playing it right now!
Desperados III £49.99
- - Stealth, strategically kill everyone, or cause mayhem, it's up to you!
- - Beautiful environments and overall visual quality
- - Showdown mode allows you to strategically pre-plan actions for all of your self-controlled protagonists
- - Interesting story with various agendas going on at once
- - The bizarre and exciting Baron Challenges are lots of fun
- - Some of the badge requirements are quite difficult if you're not that good with stealth
- - No indication of what the two modes in the visual settings do (I'm really picking for a negative here!)
- - You can't pet the dog...