Interestingly, after writing an article about its predecessor, I was asked to take a look at Desperados III. To be fair, I was planning to purchase my own copy and check it out anyway but ended up being given a review copy for free. I have to say, this kind of tickled me. I don’t really write negative articles, but I felt like the last article was distinctly negative for me. Despite that, I was asked to do a review of the newest game, and I have some serious respect for that.
Of Dust and Spurs
Let me tell you, there are a few things that the developers of Desperados III got absolutely right. I don’t know the budget of this project, but I wouldn’t have expected it to be huge. I went into the game thinking that voice acting would be okay, but nothing to write home about. I’ve actually found the voice acting in the game to be surprisingly good and it’s the first of a few things I like about this game.
The characters feel complex and interesting, and not nearly as contrived and superficial as they might have been expected to be. The actors feel natural in their rolls and add a lot of audible depth to the game through their craft. Good character actors are complimented by good writing and solid character development. Don’t expect storybook depth out of these characters, but in video game terms, the characters are very adequately established. This gives the player a sense of each character as an individual and makes you care about them and their story more. I found this aspect of the game in particular to be very well done and wanted to specifically compliment the writers and actors on doing a good job.
Each new mission starts with a cut scene introducing the scenario and new characters. Dialogue and acting elevate good writing and just make for a generally enjoyable experience.
Another well-executed component of the game is the visual design in general. Desperados III is set in a relatively under-utilized time and location. Obviously, some games jump to mind with western themes, but not that many. I feel this allowed the artists to stretch a bit with color and content, which they did very successfully.
On the practical level, scenes take only a little liberty with period validity and do a good job capturing clothing, architecture, and dressing (the nit knacks scattered around for visual interest) that matches the setting well. They also chose color palettes that invoked that sense of dust and loneliness that hallmarks a good western, but while not feeling so dirty that the game comes off as unpolished or cheaply done. That’s a really hard line to hit, but the graphical style and artistic choices tell as much of the story as the dialogue and are accomplished with equal competence.
Of Campfires and Stars
The quintessential western is defined as much by its score as it is anything else. A campy soundtrack can easily ruin an otherwise excellent game. This is one of the areas where I feel Desperados III ran into a strange mire of success and not-quite-failure mixed together in an odd concoction of the sort one might peddled from the back of a wagon. It seems like it works, but you probably don’t want to look too close at the ingredients.
The game’s theme starts things off on the right foot with an iconic composition telling us this will be a tail of epic western adventure. The game is scored throughout with themes that I would typically think of as “dark country” and that fit the game and scenes very well. As I may have mentioned in other articles, the mark of success for me is a soundtrack that doesn’t get turned down or off after I’ve been playing the game for an hour or so, and Desperatos III easily passes that bar as I am several hours into the game and haven’t touched the sound controls once.
The problem is that mixed in with several specific tracks of well above-average quality are several more that are either just okay or in some cases, a slightly less than that. I don’t expect every track to be as complex and plot-defining as the opening theme, but I do expect some sort of melodic theme to be repeated and re-used through the game. I expect each track to tell me some sort of story, and several just didn’t do that for me and instead some actually felt like cowboys sitting around a campfire inventing tunes on their harmonica, and not really in a good way.
Each challenge has myriad solutions, and sometimes it takes trial and error. Can’t attract the NPCs to your laid trap? Try pushing the lose bell onto them.
To be honest, it really feels like I’m listening to two or more different composers where one was paid significantly better than the others. Several tracks are repetitive and a little too simplistic. Granted, these are supposed to be general background tracks for the game levels, but they should still tell us a story about the scene through their composition. Instead, some of the tracks are just really uninteresting and I found that to be a wasted opportunity. To be fair, I do take the sound in games more seriously than most and that has to factor into things to some degree, but it was something that bothered me.
Otherwise, the sound design was pretty good. I spent most of my time trying to be stealthy, rather than engage in shootouts with company men, but I made my share of mistakes and had plenty of gun battles before reloading to try again. Guns and environmental sounds are all complimentary to the excellent game, and I felt they added a lot to my emersion. I don’t know that there was anything about it that quite stood out to me, but that’s often a good thing with sound design. Everything sounded right, and that’s about the best compliment that I think sound engineers could ask for in a relatively under-appreciated field.
Desperados III is a good game. It’s a bit niche, as is its genre, but if you enjoy tactical stealth games, this is probably one you should be looking at. For me, I felt there were a few misses with the music and I also think I would have liked the controls to be just a bit more typical for a top-down third-person screen.
That said, the controls were infinitely better than the title’s predecessor and the controls are not so much of a problem that you won’t be fine once you’ve played a bit and gotten used to them. There’s an obvious logic in the way the controls were chosen, and that understanding made it less of a pain. My only real complaint is that each time I come back to the game and try to scroll around with my WASD keys, there’s a moment of irritation.
Even the maps are visually interesting and are designed to reinforce the immersion of the game.
Only a moment though, because I have greatly enjoyed this game. The characters are interesting and unique both in background and acting, but also the copious options in abilities make each character particularly suited for playing the maps in different ways. I’ve really loved this because I think it makes the game far more interesting and replayable, offering the opportunity to solve each scene slightly differently.
If you’re not a fan of this genre or haven’t had much experience with it, you need to know that you’ll spend a lot of time hiding in bushes and studying enemy activity. That’s going to be boring for some people and those folks should probably pass. For me, I found it incredibly relaxing. This might be the most relaxing game I’ve played in a while precisely because each step was a prolonged period of observation followed by planning and then aggressive execution. It’s a familiar pattern to me, but without the consequences that normally come with it.
I’ve found myself wrapping up stressful days with an hour or two of Desperados III, and that’s really helped me unwind. It may seem odd because this game can be hard and there will be portions of each scene where every enemy seems to be over-watched by another, but the reloads are so fast and easy that it never really bothered me. Besides, once you execute an action to clear out a particularly problematic spot, there’s such a sense of accomplishment that it’s all worth the frustration.
I’d say that for me, Desperados III is a relatively easy buy at retail price. For most of my friends, it would be worth picking up on sale, and for a few who aren’t really interested in this genre typically, I don’t think this is the game that’ll change their minds. For most, I’d say follow that general guide. If you’re a fan of this genre or just have an intense itch for a good story set in the Old West, then this is probably an easy recommendation. Otherwise and unless you really just don’t enjoy this sort of game, I think it’s still worth picking up the next time it’s on sale.
Full Disclosure: Copy of Desperados III was provided to MMORPG from PR for the purposes of this review.