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Desperados III is the sequel to a long-forgotten video game series that I never knew I wanted. A follow-up to a franchise whose last notable entry was back in 2006, nobody batted an eyelid when it was announced that THQ Nordic had acquired the publishing rights to the rootin’ tootin’ strategy game, with developer Mimimi Games being handed the keys to carve out a new slice of real-time tactics in the old west.

At first glance, Desperados III might strike you as Commandos with a wild west flavour, but to look at the game in that light is to do it a massive disservice. What Desperados III absolutely nails, is a feeling of tension in the air that’s thick enough to empty a fully loaded Smith and Wesson revolver into. Think of all the best western movies, from Sergio Leones staging an epic gunfight in The Good, the Bad & the Ugly to mid-90s classics such as Maverick and Tombstone.

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Films whose key moments, came down to instances of luck, strategy and a quick hand slapping iron that led to a room full of corpses and the smell of gunpowder in the air. Desperados III is very much that pivotal cowboy movie moment, amplified and playing out multiple times across any of its various levels at any given time.

Every action within Desperados III matters, as they all lead to one of three inevitable conclusions: Either legging it and making a run for it using pinpoint stealth, cocking up massively and drawing a line in the sand or a combination of the two that plays out with blood, bullets and a stagecoach full of cussing.

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That’s the real beauty of Desperados III, as Mimimi’s take on the game is one of opportunity and danger, risk versus reward and an emphasis on using every single cell within your grey matter to chart the best path forward. That’s something else you’re going to need to get used to, as trial and error forms a key part of the Desperados experience.

There’s no getting away from the inevitable catastrophe, when the best laid plans unravel and you’re suddenly facing a posse of ornery gunslingers who sure as heck aren’t going to wait for you to whistle Dixie. But when you find yourself in that moment, where all your careful strategy has paid off, you’re able to execute a plan amongst multiple party members and the odds are ever in your favour, Desperados III is a work of art encapsulated by a single moment of triumphant thinking.

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To get to that point however, requires expert tactics. Your band of outlaws, bounty hunters and Southern belles may be able to take down most of the opposition in their way at any given time, but they aren’t impervious to harm and one slip-up could easily see them kick the bucket when all hell breaks loose. Desperados III excels at creating a sandbox with multiple paths to victory, some blindingly obvious others incredibly obtuse.

It’s up to you to figure out how to use the human weapons at your disposal to clear a path forward. John Cooper’s a dab hand with a throwing knife, his trusty revolvers and a bag of fake coins that can be used to distract the enemy. Kate O’Hara is able to use her feminine charms to lure slack-jawed yokels away from their patrol routes and then silence them for good with her adorable Derringer pistol. Hector’s a brute who can lay a massive bear trap to take down gunmen, Doc McCoy is the team’s resident medic and sharpshooter, and Isabelle Moreau is a Voodoo master.

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Every character within Desperados III has a function, a unique place in the narrative that you need to use in the most efficient way possible, with their skills regularly complementing one another in the most unexpected of circumstances. That subtle layer of strategy is further punctuated by the ability to freeze the game, plan moves in advance and execute them all at once in a glorious moment of perforated planning. Most of the time at least, if you’re not planning to roll back to yet another quick save in case your scheme goes tragically awry.

Which is where Desperados III may be off-putting to some. Make no mistake, this is a game that revels in brutal difficulty and rubs its hands with glee as it waits for you to make a single aspect. There is a slightly forgiving cushion of being able to cheese your way out of a high noon showdown lest you catch the 3:10 train to the afterlife, but more often than not a simple bungle can lead to swearing, teeth gnashing and hitting F8 to start all over.

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That level of challenge extends to Desperados III’s antagonists, rough ‘n tough bandits who come in a variety of flavours. Regular gunslingers keep an eye open as they go about their business, poncho-wearing sharpshooters have a greater range within which to spot you and longcoat grunts are smarter than the average man-bear, requiring cunning and guile to take down before they pounce on you.

There’s no sense of hand-holding within Desperados III either, as the vaguest of clues do little but point you in the vicinity of a direction swarming with gunmen, leaving you to figure out how the heck you’re going to work your way through it. The environment itself even conspires to end your life early, with muddy footprints being a dead giveaway that some varmint is up to something or the dead night making your stealth trek that much more dangerous.

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But in turn, these elements can also be used to aid your efforts, ensnaring enemies in a carefully calculated plot to knock them out and dump their bodies in the nearest bush. There’s also not that much of a story to be had, but the adventure that Cooper and his fellow misfits share is one that is built on genuine trust, camaraderie and bonds forged in blood. It hits a few high notes along the way, reminiscent of some of the best westerns to ever grace the silver screen with moments of action, revenge and the mother of all hangovers.

So who is Desperados III designed for then? There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a niche game at heart, focused like a laser on reviving a genre long since left to the sands of time but brought back into this century with some gorgeous enhancements. Besides looking as pretty as a peach in action, you’re given full reign of the map and you’re able to manipulate its viewpoint to your heart’s content, further entrenching your mind-set into a wickedly addictive game of chess where you need to think several steps ahead of the outlaws around you.

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Desperados III delights in that preparation, it excels at giving you tools in which you can blast your way to victory or deviously plot the demise of a ne’er-do-well with a method that looks like the wrath of god applied to unnatural causes. It is absolutely punishing to charge into without a hint of forethought for the domino effect that your actions will cause, but it’s also proof that there’s gold in them hills thanks to its characters and worlds being rich with possibility and fun.

Last Updated: June 12, 2020

Desperados III
Desperados III is an absolute hoot. The best strategy game of the year, cowboys and chaos never felt this good and this revival is one for the ages. It may be lethally challenging, but its gung-ho strategy is a masterpiece of design that’s accentuated by lovable rogues, lively levels and a dedication to its genre that can easily outdraw any challengers to its throne.
9.0
Desperados III was reviewed on PC
86 / 100

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