What sort of games tend to emphasize narrative and writing? Of course, any game can place an emphasis on such things, but what are the trends? We see a lot of third-person action games, first-person titles, and RPGs with a clear focus on storytelling, to name just a few. What about an isometric stealth game with incredibly robust mechanics, a game with sprawling levels, and guard patrols that you can eliminate with an ever-growing toolbelt of tricks and tactics?
Surely, such a game would relegate narrative to a couple of cutscenes between missions and leave it at that, give some broad characterizations, a generic plot, then go back to focus on level design. But that’s not how Mimimi Games operates. Between 2016’s Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun and this year’s Desperados III, the studio has demonstrated an uncanny talent for delivering an effective, character-driven narrative alongside a delightfully intricate playground of stealth and subterfuge.
- What is Desperados III? It’s a tactical stealth game with a strong emphasis on its narrative and characters. Use traps, distractions, and good ol’ American firepower to take out bandits and gunslingers, and be sure to hide the bodies.
- Reviewed On: PC
- Price: $49.99
- Developer: Mimimi Games
- Publisher: THQ Nordic
- Release Date: June 16, 2020
- Website: https://desperadosgame.com/
Thrice Upon a Time in the West
Now, there are a lot of different ways to tell a story well. The heart of Desperados III’s narrative success is the characters. The banter between characters like Hector and Doctor McCoy (yes, that’s his name) is delightful, and there are real drama and stakes to Cooper’s backstory. Many plot elements are borrowed from films like Once Upon a Time in the West, particularly those related to Kate’s situation and Cooper’s past. This could be seen as derivative, but there’s enough of a twist added to proceedings to make Desperados III feel distinct and effective. And that’s not to mention the unique flavor provided by the game’s pulpy, adventurous tone, like the moment where McCoy and Hector are competing to kill the most thugs and earn a bottle of O’Hara’s famous whiskey.
On that note, Desperados III also does something very smart with its storytelling. While other games that share a perspective and/or control scheme with it would mostly relegate plot details and character development to the cutscenes, Desperados III instead opts to keep up the character interactions throughout the levels.
Thus, a moment like Hector and McCoy’s contest isn’t just a funny interaction for the player to watch, it’s one that they’re actively encouraged to play out themselves. I myself wound up with a tie and the fact that the game kept a running stream of banter as the characters announced their tallies and ribbed each other made everything feel more personalized and memorable.
It also helps when you’ve got a strong sense of aesthetics and direction. The character design almost brushes up on silliness, particularly where Bianca (Hector’s gigantic bear trap) is concerned, but they all feel at home in the larger visual landscape and everything fits into a cohesive style. Voice acting is also great, bringing each character to life and adding emotional weight to the story, something that is additionally aided by the stellar soundtrack.
And within scenes themselves, there is often clever use of the perspective (cutscenes remain within the isometric viewpoint) in order to establish blocking and scene composition. Frankly, the writing and accompanying production values of Desperados III outstrip many games whose entire focus is on a deep, emotional narrative.
Those of you who played Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun will feel right at home with Desperados III. For those of you who haven’t, a quick primer: gameplay typically consists of taking control of and issuing orders to a small group of characters, each one with a unique set of tools and abilities they can use to distract, lure, or neutralize targets.
Cooper fills a very similar role to that of Hayato in Blades of the Shogun, being the all-around stealth character that serves as a midway point between light, subtle characters like Kate and mountains of muscle like Hector who can haul two corpses and still proceed at a brisk jog. Each filling out a specific role, these characters are fun and unique to play, and it’s continually rewarding to combine and coordinate their abilities.
The most climactic instances of teamwork and coordination occur in Showdown Mode. On Normal difficulty, Showdown Mode pauses the game, allowing you to issue orders to each character, setting up an intricate mousetrap of murder and mayhem. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as meticulously constructing a surprise attack, then watching as enemies are shot, stabbed, poisoned, or otherwise butchered in a matter of seconds. The sheer number of abilities at your disposal, paired with environmental interactions and Showdown Mode, makes for an engaging, absorbing stealth experience that encourages forethought and experimentation.
As for the level design, it’s creative and expansive and evocative. Classic Western locations like frontier towns, homesteads, and railroads are on full display, and it’s fun to see how the devs take the inherent dangers of the time (dynamite lying around, the near-constant presence of huge animals, precarious construction and mining equipment, etc.) and turn them into murderous implements for the player to discover and delight in.
One moment that delighted me: in disguise, I had Kate lure one guard over to an ox, which Cooper pissed off by flipping a coin onto its back, resulting in the wonderfully horrific goring of the guard. It would be enough to have either moment like that or a compelling story. Luckily, we don’t have to choose between them, because Desperados III charges out with its superb narrative and gameplay like a pair of guns blazing.
Zoom Out: Verdict
Stealth Mechanics - 9/10
Level Design - 9/10
Narrative and Characters - 9/10
Audiovisuals - 9/10
Desperados III is the whole package for anyone who’s itching for some tactical stealth action that’s basically set in a Hollywood Western. If that sounds strangely specific, I’d only recommend that you give it a good shot. Mimimi has delivered a cast of fun, likable characters, a rash of huge levels jam-packed with satisfying stealth puzzles, and a profoundly enjoyable framework for its tactical stealth mechanics.
- Mechanically delightful
- Great level design
- A fun Western tale, well-told
- Some annoyances with character pathfinding
- A few instances where controls are imprecise or clunky
- Some derivative plot elements