Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

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The Lowdown

I’ll rate this game a 4/5 because if you are looking for a tactical experience peeling back the layers of an enemy fortification, this is pretty damn good. It’s a labyrinth of attrition, but it makes no allusions to being anything else, and that I can respect.

Overall
4

Pros

  • Great, balanced characters
  • Satisfying combinations, especially in Showdown mode
  • Despite doing the same thing in each mission, it didn’t feel repetitive

Cons

  • Mundane scenery and environments
  • Missing a few features and design elements that would have made the BS less oppressive to new players
Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion Listen to this article

A wise man once told me that while getting to your destination is nice, the journey there is the true reward in the end. Spoiler: It’s me, I am that wise man. At the core, Desperados III is a Rube Goldberg machine masquerading as a spaghetti western. It’s the video game equivalent of a packed freeway, with you being a jumped-up motorcyclist who has a perpetual hard-on for “shooting the gap.” You’ve got to be fast, accurate, and adaptable, or this one may not be for you.

I beat this game in 40 hours; here are my thoughts.

Since blazing through Elden Ring, I cannot remember another game I have screamed “F**K OFF!” at the most, besides Desperados III. The only other one that comes close is Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, which is coincidentally made by the same developers.

You could almost use this game as an allegory for life, where no matter how well you plan, things may still get screwed up by things you didn’t foresee or expect.

Desperados III‘s mission structure is very much like playing chess, but instead of 16 pieces, you’re controlling the “A-Team” of the Wild West. You have a group of one to five unique characters with their own special stats, weapons, and skills, and you are given a task to accomplish based on the story narrative.

In typical Wild West fashion, you may be tasked to locate dynamite to clear out a tunnel, to dispose of some would-be train robbers, or you may be escaping town after a drunken night out resulted in you robbing the local bank and bedding the Sheriff’s wife. It all sounds simple and straightforward, right?

Well no, you are very much mistaken.

A still from Desperados III showing two men standing on white fenced, wooden deck on the second story of a rock house.

Desperados III Narrative and Cast

You have your stereotypical array of characters from a black-and-white film from perhaps a less politically correct time.

We have John Cooper the gun-slinging cowboy out to avenge the death of his father, Doc McCoy the Scottish assassin for hire who may or may not have gout due to him handling like a semi-truck on an oil slick, Hector the burly alcoholic from Mexico who has a suspicious relationship with a bear trap named Bianca, Kate O’Hara the young prairie belle with a silenced pistol that I completely forgot she had in her arsenal, and Isabelle the “voodoo” witch doctor from the bayou.

Anyway!

Cooper is the main character, and you are on a hunt for the man who killed your father many years ago. Coincidentally, this guy you’re hunting is an absolute knob and the rich twat he works for has managed to screw over every person in your party.

First, they fleece Doc out of his promised contract pay basically five seconds into the game.

They then move into Hector’s town of residence to build a railroad right through people’s houses.

THEN they steal Kate’s ranch by buying it off her soon-to-be husband and kill her uncle as they attack said ranch.

Isabelle rescues them from a tight situation and in exchange, they help her find an old friend who has disappeared investigating the pricks.

If these lads were any more cartoonish, they’d be dancing to the macarena at Disneyland. Proper robber baron shit.

Based on my experience in this game and Blades of the Shogun, this studio does a really good job at making you want to punch side characters in the schnozz and left me satisfied from a narrative standpoint when they get their comeuppance.

This isn’t a spoiler, it’s a romantic Western; how else was it going to end?

The Desperados III Cast Part II: What Can They Do and Who Do They Do It To

Getting to know what each of your characters can do is essential because the game can be summarised in the following sentence: don’t get spotted.

You see this image below? Consider the green cone to be your sister-in-law’s underwear drawer because you’ll be dead if caught in it.

The green cone represents that particular sentry’s line of sight, and there are a lot of eyes on the map. If you step into it for too long, you best have an exit strategy because every guard in the area plus reinforcements will come over to teach you the meaning of the word pain.

A screenshot from Desperados III showing the overview of a wooden, western town with a green cone at the bottom center of the screen that represents how far a sentry can see

You can only see one cone at a time

The view cone is divided into a solid and a striped section. Solid cone means they can see anything that’s there, striped cone they can’t see crouched/prone characters (or bodies). Navigating this is essentially the game aspect that all others revolve around.

As mentioned, each character is unique in terms of how they are able to remove obstacles from the chessboard.

Each is different enough that adjusting your strategy on the fly is possible based on who is available and where they are located on the map at a given time. You typically don’t get to use all five characters in the same map, but the combinations do afford you enough variety that no two missions feel repetitive.

In general, your skills can be used to distract, delay, and most importantly, eliminate your targets.

One fewer set of eyeballs makes a huge difference while navigating this metaphorical minefield. Each skill has a particular efficacy, but each character also has different speeds at which they can perform basic actions, like picking up a body.

Some characters can only drag bodies, meaning they move slower but are invisible when in striped view cones. Hector is the only character who can carry two bodies at once and run with them, but since he can’t crouch while doing this, you better be sure he’s unobserved.

To further complicate things, each character’s standard kill animation also takes different allotments of time to execute. Cooper is the fastest, followed by Hector, then Isabelle, then Kate (although she just knocks them out), and finally McCoy. Sooner or later you’ll develop a feel of who can get away with what in the window of time available.

These view cones can be obstructed by the scenery and the level of light available, which is why I particularly enjoyed the night missions; in them, the lanterns and fires lit around the map provide you with varying degrees of cover.

If you snuff them out, you can even lure unsuspecting enemies to reignite them, setting up a juicy ambush.

A screenshot from Desperados III showing a man standing in a series of concentric circles looking at various reclining bodies that are most likely dead.

“Fruits of my labour”

You’ll learn the striped view cone can be your friend because bodies on the ground cannot be seen in those sections. However, you don’t want to leave the fruits of your labor lying about for prying eyes to notice so you should hide them when you can.

Bushes, wells, and even roofs are good options for making sure your various “accidents” never panic the guards.

While not complete, to give you some idea, here is a brief rundown of the various pros and cons per character:

John Cooper has two loud guns that can be fired simultaneously, a throwing knife, and a coin to distract people in a given area. Very balanced, his knife may be the most satisfying weapon in the game, especially when it’s thrown; this is a really quick way to make sure someone stops breathing, but it comes with a drawn-out gurgling death animation.

Don’t worry, your boy Flint has a way to get around this, so stay tuned. John Cooper is probably the character who can operate in most situations by himself, and that’s why he’s the main protagonist, I suppose.

McCoy has a doctor’s bag that can lure people to where it is placed, two vials of knockout gas, and a silenced sniper pistol; this is a pretty versatile kit when it comes to bringing people out of position and downright lethal at long-range.

I found McCoy one of the most helpful at breaking sentries out of the patterns and opening that initial hole to exploit. However, you will want to have support nearby to do anything with dexterity because the dude may or may not be holding in a shit at all times, his movements are so labored.

Hector is jacked and moves corpses (or “cargo” as I call them) like a full-on shipping company. For someone so lumbering, his axe has the second-quickest kill animation in the game, and his aforementioned bear trap will destroy anyone that steps on it.

To give you a better idea of the size of this thing, this bear trap is canonically the reason he cannot swim as it is that cumbersome and heavy. As most bear traps I’ve met aren’t exactly mobile, he can whistle to draw people to his last position, AKA right on the trap.

When all else fails, Hector has the option of blowing away everything with a shotgun. Straight forward, no frills, and efficient when you can hide his big ass properly.

A scene from Desperados III where characters are walking through puddles.

Puddles make noise so be quick

Kate is a tricky one. She’s the subterfuge character and thus has no way of killing targets or tying up knocked-out enemies in melee. Yes, everyone has a nonlethal option if you desire. She is able to temporarily blind people with her perfume so that their view cones diminish drastically, but her true unique skill lies in disguise.

Upon dressing up as someone else, she is able to meander freely around causing havoc. In this mode, only one enemy type can identify you, and she can actually entice male guards to follow her short distances.

Should you be in a stationary mood, Kate can also fixate the enemy’s gaze on her, presenting a chance for a more lethal party member to complete Operation Blue Balls by snuffing out the poor sod. She has a silenced pistol as well, which I completely forgot about. More on that later.

Isabelle (my fave) can call upon the spirits to do some truly whacky stuff. She is the fastest character while crouched; this may seem like a nothing burger, but you’ll quickly find out in a game of microseconds how valuable that is.

She is also able to take control of an enemy by dealing one damage to herself. This possession fades after a certain time period or if you kill someone, but it is obviously very useful.

What’s more, Isabelle can also “connect” two enemies together so that whatever happens to one happens to the other. This even works with distractions, so be careful, you may get spotted unexpectedly when someone looks in the same direction as the person you are distracting. She also has a cat that can get people’s attention, but for much shorter periods of time than Kate would.

Now that you have a basic understanding of what your crew can do, who are the blocks of meat we’ll unleash them on?

These standard obstacles are known as Gunmen/women, Ponchos, and Long Coats; these are thrilling monikers to be sure, but it is pointless to know the names of dead men anyway.

What you do need to know is that all of them have eyes and therefore view cones, and they all have guns. Upon spotting you, they will shoot to kill, and each shot will take away one bar of health from your character.

You cannot dodge this, and they are all dangerous. However, they have three distinct behavior patterns to learn.

An overview of a railroadin the center of a western town in Desperados III

That’s a lot of bullets

Let’s start with Ponchos. Identified by their wide-brimmed hats, these men and women are diligent to a fault; they are defined by their unnatural ability to — almost in defiance — stick to their posts or patrol routes.

Your skills cannot draw them away, and they will be distracted for a minimal amount of time. It is probably more helpful to think of them as robotic sentinels watching their designated areas. Fret not, should you get to them, a good stabbing in the face eliminates them all the same.

In contrast, we have Gunmen/women; these folks look very much like Ponchos but sans the hat. In addition to lacking their compatriot’s fashion sense, they are much more manipulatable. They will fall for every lure you throw at them and come trudging along, like wheat to a thresher. The problem is there are a lot of them, and they are all gunning for you.

Lending another layer of complexity, Guards and Ponchos come in two types: male and female. Except for one narrative instance, in this version of old America, women are not attracted to women. Therefore, Kate cannot use her wiles to lure or distract female Guards or Ponchos.

In any case, Long Coats are certainly the meanest of the trio. They are just bad news all around. Long Coats can spot Kate’s disguise, but they also have three health points as opposed to just one.

Hector is the only person who can take them out efficiently in one swing. The other team members have to find environmental hazards to squash them or have to execute an elaborate “shoot first, stab them in the back later” combination.

Keep in mind that all the while you’re doing this, everyone else may very well be watching you.

It’s a mess.

Besides the skills and enemy variations, there is one more trick in your arsenal: “Showdown Mode.” In most difficulties, this means that you can quickly pause the game and queue up actions on each of your characters that will immediately enact upon hitting the “Execute” command.

It’s important to take into account if a character has to walk to perform that action because timing is everything, but it will allow you to in theory distract, kill, and dispose of several enemies at the same time.

They can be as simple as this:

ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

But in reality, they will probably look more like this:

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

After you take a second to marvel at my ingenuity, those are the main obstacles and the various tools at your disposal to reach your objective. This brings us to:

Desperados III Level Progression and Design

Ok Cowboy, what has that double-dog-darned douchebag Frank done this time? WHELP he’s gone and constructed a “camp for the discontented” out in the bayou, and you’ve gotta rescue your friend! You’ve gotta infiltrate, gotta assassinate, and get-the-hell-outta-there-before-it’s-too-late! Your various team members are dropped off; at this point, it might look like an impossible situation.

Check this out, this is how many potential people can spot you on a mission. This mission isn’t even halfway through the game, and already it looks like some pockmarked kid having a really bad outbreak.

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

Before you put down the mouse and resign yourself to playing something simpler, like tic-tac-toe, you have to view this carnage like a gigantic onion waiting to be peeled.

This isn’t a race, you must take your time to observe the patterns in enemy movements and patrols. There is always a weak link in the chain and that may come in the form of an isolated enemy, someone walking in a brief blind spot, or a blindspot you can create with your skills.

It is hard to explain via text, as a lot of it will just come naturally as you play more (and the game does a good job of gradually putting you in trickier situations), but let’s try a scenario.

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

Take the situation above, three guards are in a triangle formation and cover the entire courtyard with their view fields. They will all sweep their vision onto each other at a steady pace, and none of them look away long enough to kill one and get them into a hiding spot before they notice.

Removing one from the equation opens up the floor dramatically, so assessing the targets available leads you to conclude that the furthest away is the easiest to eliminate.

McCoy and Cooper hide in the bush where they can’t see you while Kate goes up in disguise and distracts the guard previously watching that area. That poor idiot is now facing the completely opposite direction. Then, figuring out just where the left guard can’t see, throw McCoy’s bag to act as a lure.

The furthest gunman will stagger towards it out of curiosity and upon reaching his reward, will promptly be stabbed to death by a very cantankerous doctor. Having effectively neutralized two out of three of the obstacles, Cooper and Kate can simultaneously incapacitate the remaining two using “Showdown Mode” at the same time.

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

Here’s another example I set up. These lads are all watching each other’s backs, and you need to get through them. After a little bit of observing, you would recognize that just behind the dead tree is a blind spot for someone to crouch in, as the other two guards do not have eyes on that area.

You may notice Hector’s titanic ass lurking in the top center right just outside the gunman wearing blue’s vision range. Upon distracting the bloviating duo with a coin, Hector can sucker punch the top Poncho into next Tuesday, while Kate and Cooper can do the same to the couple.

These are just two microcosms in a much larger puzzle, as you will be able to create and exploit situations like this constantly.

In fact, you’ll need to. As any chef would tell you, this onion ain’t peeling itself.

As you eliminate more eyes, you find yourself with additional freedom of movement and eventually, be able to make your way toward the mission objective. It’s slow, it’s painful, and it’s a process, but each small victory in the journey is a rush of adrenaline for me.

Perhaps that’s why I put up with the frustration.

Desperados III missions can be completed any way you choose, but for an extra hint of zane, after finishing one, you will get to see a selection of fun challenges that you can opt to do while completing a second run-through.

There will always be a time limit challenge and a “hard difficulty” challenge, but the others can really change the way you play. For example, some missions do not let you touch bushes, robbing you of a staple hiding place. Others may not let Kate use a disguise. Some are actually opposed to each other, like requiring you to use dynamite to splatter a certain number of enemies while another medal on the same level forbids you from using dynamite at all.

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

These medals unlock instantly so you can in theory reload to a previous save if you knew in advance what each mission badge would entail and get it done in one playthrough. If you’re a completionist, that’s what I would recommend. It’s a pretty neat way to prolong content shelf life in my opinion.

After each mission, you are given access to a time-lapse presentation of your movements and actions. It is kind of cool to see where momentum really started to shift in your favor, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it as a report card as additional analysis to shave seconds off my time wasn’t my main priority.

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

While I cannot teach you how to fish in Desperados III, I can show you a few ways that I’ve discovered to swap out your grandpa’s old fishing rod for the tried and true practice of using TNT to blow up the pond. These tips may give you an edge; some may be obvious, but others definitely aren’t.

1. Get rid of evidence in any way you can. I cannot stress this enough. Hide bodies and go out of your way to eliminate sentries in any area that you think you may return to. If this is a first playthrough, you may not realize the story will have you backtrack through previously passed areas in order to complete the level. This can lead to unforeseen consequences where corpses you’ve left behind are spotted by freshly spawned reinforcements. Clean up after yourself stinky, and also kill everyone. It’s great stress relief.

2. Kate may seem useless, but that little pistol is dynamite. I actually forgot she had access to a one-shot kill weapon that was also SILENCED until 75% of the way through the game. A great way to eliminate a pesky sentry is to disguise your way (or perfume bottle) behind them and shoot them in the back. Since other guards probably won’t hear you, if no one sees you, they won’t catch you. The perfect crime.

3. Ponchos don’t move by design, BUT you can lure them with bodies. I’d recommend hogtied enemies (AKA not corpses) because this will draw Ponchos right up to the wriggling bait so you can bushwhack them. If it’s an actual dead body, they’ll get about halfway to them from their original positions before sounding the alarm.

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

4. Hector’s kill-grab-throw combo is incredibly fast. He may not be the swiftest on foot, but when you’re not at all concerned about keeping people alive, he can use his axe to end a non-Longcoat enemy, pick them up, and throw them into a bush before crouching out of sight before most view cones punish you.

5. Maximise Cooper’s Knife. Cooper’s knife throw has zero windup time, is pretty silent, and means instant death to non-Longcoats from a distance. However, he always aims for the neck, so your victim will spend a few seconds rudely choking on their own blood IN VIEW OF EVERYONE. Having a team member nearby allows you to immediately interrupt the death animation and put the body into “carry mode.” If this is a character who crouches while moving a corpse, the killing will be practically invisible at a distance if you time it right.

6. As Hector, you can knock out your own team members by tossing a body on them. “Why on earth would you do this,” you scream at me through a fistful of Doritos. It’s because Hector can carry the unconscious team member and throw them onto a roof or over a fence that under normal circumstances, may not be able to be accessed due to watchful sentries. Just like in real life, sentries are there to keep people out, not to keep people in.

7. The game is an AI, so can be tricked in very stupid ways. Sentries killed by environmental hazards do not provoke an alarm when spotted. In fact, you can move these bodies to a completely different location, and the game will always treat them as having been killed by an accident. Portable lures, portable lures, get your portable lures here!

8. Take your time with it. It is a frustrating experience but taking a step back and trying a different approach is essential to getting the most out of this game. There is always a way out.

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

These are just 8 I rattled off, but there are more! Exploit the system, don’t let the system exploit you.

Desperados III Criticism

If you’ve made it this far, you can guess that this game is the epitome of frustration. That’s what makes it a little difficult to analyze what I felt didn’t work because you could argue that these are “features” designed to keep the weak and insipid away.

Sound familiar From Software fans? If I hear one more person telling me Dark Souls jank is great for the game experience, I’m going to lose it.

My big criticism can be summed up into the following sentence: the game sometimes seems more focused on messing you up than challenging you to succeed.

How so?

For example, in a game that requires precision and map awareness simultaneously due to the scale and the large number of watchful eyes, you’re somehow only able to scroll out so far before the camera locks. I found that this level of distance wasn’t enough to make sure my actions weren’t being seen, as I would get caught by someone literally off-screen.

In other instances, you’re navigating guards on multiple levels, like rooftops versus the street. This is a game of microseconds, and misclicking means a reset in most situations because the window of opportunity is that tight.

While you are able to rotate the camera, I found that there were some map designs made it extremely difficult to execute a kill in the one safe spot the map allowed while still maintaining visual awareness of what another team member would be doing.

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

More witnesses than your average murder for sure

This could be either because the angle of the map necessary to see my team members didn’t allow me to click on my target properly, or it blocked another sentry from view that ended up shooting me. In a nutshell, I found it occasionally frustrating to line up plays based on things that I felt shouldn’t impact them.

Speaking of map design, when compared to Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun, I found the environments much more lackluster than feudal Japan. Yes, a lot of America at this time was as dusty and barren as grandpa’s grundle, but that’s no excuse. I would have loved a lot more vibrancy in it. Even Prometheus wasn’t turned on by this much clay palette.

I think a few features were also missing that would have been a really wonderful addition without making the game that much easier. For example, when you’re executing commands in tight succession and jumping around between characters all over the map, you would not believe how many times I messed up a pretty good plan by moving the wrong character.

I don’t think it would have been so beyond the pale to add an option to “lock” a character when they’re not in use to prevent extra reloading, because lord knows you’ll be doing that plenty.

Each small deviation in clicking, enemy movement and small flickers in their attention can butterfly into massive changes in timing and planning. There is enough randomness already to deal with than to also be saddled with the above bullshit.

In short, sign me up for a puzzle, not an “if the stars align” simulator.

Desperados III Review: A Big Damn Onion

Conclusion:

This is where I feel the game has its biggest issue for the average gamer. I personally love puzzles, I love being frustrated, and I love vindictively going around the map and erasing every enemy that made my life difficult throughout a mission. The team members seemed balanced, and I enjoyed my time playing this, but I doubt most people would.

Desperados III is quite simply not an accessible game to play or even talk about. While I hope my humor kept most of you through to the end, I’m sure at least half dropped off due to thinking”why would I subject myself to this torture?”

And you know what, I don’t blame you.

Being a fan of the real-time tactics genre is one thing, but being forced to reload a quick save 10 times because somehow the same thing you did the previous nine didn’t work on the 10th attempt can be a turn-off.

In total, the story wasn’t complex, but it was fun. The animations/art design on characters were satisfying and polished. I beat every mission in the main game for this review and have started the DLC missions and quirky challenges at my own pace.

Some missions were ho-hum, but others were really cinematic experiences and enjoyable for me. Watching myself slowly progress along the map filled me with smug glee and hopefully, you will feel the same.

I’ll rate this game a 4/5 because if you are looking for a tactical experience peeling back the layers of an enemy fortification, this is pretty damn good. It’s a labyrinth of attrition, but it makes no allusions to being anything else, and that I can respect.

Buy it if you want to give it the old college try or if this kind of experience is your cup of tea, but it’s ok to give this one a miss if anything I’ve written above isn’t for you. Excellent at what it does, pretty much exactly as advertised, and with the potential to send your laptop flying out of your window.

Desperados III pricing starts at $10.98 on Amazon for PC, PC Online, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4; it is also available for $29.99 from Steam and Epic.

Source: Personal Purchase

Developer: Mimimi Games

Publisher: THQ Nordic

What I Like: Great, balanced characters; Satisfying combinations, especially in Showdown mode; Despite doing the same thing in each mission, it didn’t feel repetitive

What Needs Improvement: Mundane scenery and environments; Missing a few features and design elements that would have made the “bullshit” less oppressive to new players

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About the Author

Flint Pickleback
Just some guy who plays video games to disconnect from the world. Wine is often involved, which thoroughly enhances the experience. I'm playing these games on an custom build, with 32GB RAM, 13th Gen Intel Core i7-13700KF, and a NVIDIA GeForce RTX 4070 Ti 12GB Graphics Card. Please send pitches to "[email protected]" with "[email protected]" cced.