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In a month where we've already had Command & Conquer come back from the dead, it's amazing that we also have a new Desperados game. If you don't remember or are not familiar with the games, I can forgive you, as it's been 14 years since Desperados 2: Cooper's Revenge. The real-time tactics series is sort of like a squad-based Hitman. You have a team of outlaws, each armed with different weapons and abilities, that you have to guide through massive levels chock full of enemies, to complete objectives like assassinating a mayor or robbing a bank safe.
Despite the 14-year gap (I don't count 2007's Helldorado) and change of developer, Mimimi's Desperados 3 is a thoroughly modern sequel that picks up the reins as though not a day had been missed.
There's a wonderful moment at the start of each level where you sit back and just pan the camera over the map. The sandbox you play in is often vast and none of it is hidden from you in a fog of war, so you can see all the different enemies on patrol, you can see the clockwork of the mission at work. You know what your objective is and where each member of your squad is; but you need to start planning how you're going to weave them through the mechanism of the level to complete your objectives. If you've played any of the Hitman games you'll be familiar with the feeling. And, like the Hitman games, there's many ways to complete each mission.
In your gang are characters like Cooper, who uses coins to distract guards and throwing knives to dispatch them quietly; Hector, a wall of muscle who carries a bear trap on his back and a shotgun at his side; and Kate O'Hara, who can slip on disguises to walk past guards unaccosted. And each of their skills is essential to overcome the mechanism of each mission.
So far, I've tried to take on every challenge stealthily and leathally - I use my different outlaws in tandem to isolate an enemy, kill them quietly, and throw their body in a bush, hidden from passing patrols. But, I could also try and complete the mission without killing anyone but my targets. What's more, there are additional challenges that are only revealed after you complete the mission, that tempt you to replay it and find another way to win. The most enticing of these are the speedrun challenges. When I complete a mission in an hour and I see there's an optional objective to complete it in just seven minutes, well, I can't help but think how in tarnation am I going to do that?
And, while I love the Hitman games, Desperados 3 offers something that series doesn't: compounding complexity. In Hitman you play just one character, meaning you have to work that one person through the sandbox and you only have access to Agent 47's skill set. In Desperados 3, you can choose to work with just one character at a time - but when you start combining different characters' abilities, you open up some really fun combos. For instance, Hector can place a bear trap that will kill anyone who steps on it. He can whistle to draw in guards - but they'll head to where he whistled from, not straight for the trap. But if you throw down Doc McCoy's medicine bag on top of Hector's bear trap, then soon as the guard spots the bag they'll walk directly into its waiting metal jaws.
In the early missions you'll only be controlling two characters at a time, learning ways to combine their abilities. But in the later missions, when you have a larger squad, the options of how to game each encounter multiple exponentially.
Each mission takes place in a different, richly detailed location, full of secrets to discover. For instance, in one early mission you need to kill four targets around a town that's having a railroad built through it. You can listen in to conversations to find out about the characters you're there to kill, as well as ways in which to kill them. The woman running the town's brothel likes a particular whisky that she keeps in the establishment's storeroom. If you can steal some laudanum hidden in the town and poison the whisky, then one of her staff will bring her the deadly drink without you needing to get anywhere near her.
I was already a big fan of the series when I started playing Desperados 3, but I've been so taken with how well this old series lives up. The real-time tactics genre was big in the '90s and '00s, with games like Commandos and Syndicate being well-known names on PC, but they'd largely disappeared over the last 15 years. It's a real joy to dive into a wholly new game that shows how engaging a style of play it can be. Hopefully, this won't be the last of its kind.
Desperados 3 is out on June 16th for PC. Code for review was supplied by the publisher. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.
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