Publisher: THQ NordicReleased: June 16
Developer: Mimimi GamesPlatforms: PC (reviewed on), PS4, Xbox
(Distributor provided review copy)

The Frontier at the end of the 1800s. The expansion of the west has reached its zenith and much of the old way of life is fading fast. In the blitz of new forces rising into power, John Cooper chases his nemesis and demon, the mysterious Frank, across the last remains of the wild west. On his journey he encounters Arthur ‘Doc’ McCoy, a bounty hunter looking for a big score, who agrees to join Cooper on his quest for vengeance. The duo is further aided by Cooper’s old friend Hector Mendoza, a bull of a man never known to back away from a fight, and the mysterious Kate O’Hara who has butted heads with local cattle barons vying to steal her family’s land. 

Borrowing heavily from an assortment of western cinema, lore, and pop-culture, DESPERADOS 3 is a prequel to the highly praised but sadly forgotten real-time tactical strategy game series from the early aughts. As such it serves as an almost reboot of the series, introducing old favorites again with slight revamps, and allowing for the series to expand in any way it sees fit in the future. 

The main mechanics are still as great as ever. Cooper and his friends each have an assortment of skills at hand, none of which are the same for any character, forcing the player to change their play style to suit the needs of both every stage differently. Doc, for example, is slow and meticulous, but can pick off enemies from afar with his custom revolver, while Mendoza is far harder to hide due to his size, but can carry unconscious or dead enemies out of sight at ease. 

For fans of games like METAL GEAR SOLID the actual gameplay loop should feel like second nature. Enemies will follow set patterns around the levels, complete with a cone-based field of view which players will need to avoid if they don’t wish to be spotted. Get close enough to a villain and a prompt brings up options to either kill or subdue them on the spot. Harder difficulties remove visual cues entirely and make the experience one of endless trial and error. This doesn’t take away from the experience, but rather modifies it the way an alternative rule set for chess would. 

There’s a genuine thrill at every step of the way in outsmarting the capable and well coded AI. The terrific level design is filled with Easter eggs, alternative paths, and clever solutions at every turn, each leading to an unexpected result. One mission finds Cooper having to take out a group of renegades holding an entire town hostage. A single fired shot would ignite the entire situation into a new OK Corral, so the work must be done in secrecy. Lucky for Cooper, much of the frontier settlement is still under construction, and accidents tend to happen when buildings are being put up. Like in the HITMAN series, the entire world becomes a tool for completing your missions at any cost.

True to the series’ previous high standards, the levels are highly detailed, complex, and huge playing fields that will require multiple passes to discover everything that is hidden in them. They range from homesteads to mountain passes, frontier towns, and swamps in the deep south, each with a unique look and feel. The beautiful and evocative soundtrack helps to set the tone, and the audiovisual experience is faultless. 

The only area where the presentation slips up is dialog and voice acting. While for the most part everything is serviceable, early narrative choices and some colloquialisms grate and there’s a tendency to lean on trite clichés a little too heavily for my tastes. In-game dialog on the other hand is a treat and the mutual bickering is one of the more entertaining aspects of the game. The character of Moreau, a southern black woman heavily embroiled in voodoo, would have felt dated twenty years ago and much more so now. But around the fifth level of the game the narrative picks up pace and moves along much more pleasantly towards the end. By the time the credits rolled, I was entirely ready for a new adventure with this gang of misfits. 

Over the course of 15 long and varied missions, DESPERADOS III offers an insane amount of value for its cost. The main game can take anywhere from ten to twenty hours to complete depending on the difficulty level, and additional missions, challenge modes, and achievements double that time easily. The higher the bar you set for yourself, the greater the feeling of accomplishment in the end. 

I previously played through DESPERADOS III on the PlayStation 4, and while my experience there was slightly marred by the finicky controls, no such problems were present on the PC. The keyboard layout feels natural and manipulating the map with a mouse comes like second nature. Even after an initial console play through, I happily jumped right back in for a second round on the PC.

This is the definitive experience you’d want to have for the game. It takes every aspect of the already good console port and solidifies DESPERADOS III as the best real-time strategy game of the year.