a strategic in the Far West


What do feudal Japan of the Edo period and the Far West have in common? Nothing, absolutely nothing. Except perhaps that Mimimi Games, a small software house from Monaco, has decided to reinterpret both imagery in salsa RTT (Real Time Tactics). It is not for me to explain the origins of the genre, now very remote, nor to tell you how many hours I spent at the time on Commandos and derivatives (here, I did it again), but you cannot even talk about the new Desperados 3 without first at least nominate Shadow Tactics (retrieve the review of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun).

Four long years have passed since the latter, and although the profile of the production was all in all indie, critics and the public were positively impressed. Mimimi Productions churned out a real-time strategic with flakes, complex and brainy as they hadn’t seen in a while, completely focused on the “microscopic” management of stealth. For those who do not know what I mean, I refer to the fact that in the RTT, unlike the cousin RTS, only a handful of units are used, and there is no room for the calculation error, under penalty of immediate failure. With a few small changes, the German team managed to update the formula already in 2016, but with the return of John Cooper and his partners a new degree of perfection was expected.

Especially since the publisher, this time, is THQ Nordic, which evidently provided a significantly more substantial budget, and in terms of improvements, in fact, the result can be seen; the playful skeleton remains unchanged, of course, but in terms of cleanliness, graphics and refinement, Desperados 3 surpasses Shadow Tactics on many fronts, giving the player a complete experience and an admirable level of challenge. And then, gentlemen, we are talking about a Sergio Leone Far West, and at least for myself, (Shogun, forgive me) there is no story …

The man with the harmonica: in the footsteps of Sergio Leone

Is the story in an RTT important? Good question: generally those who spend about forty hours in such a game are interested in other things, for example the gameplay and the level of challenge, yet Mimimi Games think differently; also in Shadow Tactics there was already a certain attention for the narration, but with Desperados 3 the intent is definitely to improve.

There are a lot of cutscenes, at the beginning, at the end and during each of the sixteen missions, and they don’t just serve to explain the objectives, rather they strive to characterize the characters as much as possible, with sketches and exchanges that despite their simplicity allow themselves to be appreciated. The cast is perfectly timed, and not only the old guards like Cooper, Mc Coy and O’Hara, but also the new arrivals like Isabelle Moreau and finally Hector Mendoza, who is practically a more violent and sadistic version of Bud “Child” Spencer .

A perfect alchemy is generated in the party, which grows over time, with the journey, and thanks to the numerous dialogues in game after a while you realize that you know that party better than you think. Good Italian translation, excellent dubbing in English, full of fiercely American shades and accents, from Colorado to Bayou, and the acting also hits the spot, with a theatrical and almost picaresque look. “They are just details“Some would say, and that is precisely why they should be named. This is because in a title like Desperados, narrative is not the main course, essentially because of an essential direction that always remains external (indeed,” from above “) , and yet the plot does not shine particularly for originality.

In any case it is a prequel of the old man Wanted Dead or Alive dated 2001, a history of origins, and therefore represents an excellent starting point for the new generations. Once again, she is the one who drives the destinies of frontier men: revenge. In the far west, however, it is always a good start for a long journey, which in this case touches three visually different regions, from the rocky mountains of the hinterland to the swamps of Louisiana and then down to the red canyons of New Mexico. There is a lot, indeed a lot of that masterpiece Once Upon a Time in the West, and perhaps even more the spaghetti western mood, therefore more European than American, which knows how to add that touch of irony to every meeting and, above all, a bunch of anti-heroes who don’t do too much scruple. Pretexts and plots do their job: they also create secondary objectives to drag the player around, and despite the limits of gender (both Western and RTT) the result is more than good. Could more be done? Of course, and perhaps it was also in Mimimi’s plans, and yet later more than 35 hours in the countryside we became attached to that rabble of cowboys who ran away from home, so something will mean.

Give your cowboy a penny: when gameplay matters

Imagine a huge West scenario, rigorously taken from above and distributed on at least three levels, full of alleys, obstacles, and above all enemies (and we are talking about seventy opponents in the scheme). Now imagine crossing it with a party of five characters, all characterized by completely different abilities, weapons and pitch; one is armed with shotgun, and when he opens fire they feel him from the other side of the map, the other is elderly, and to hide corpses it takes a lifetime, yet another cannot swim and so on.

At the first noise you are dead, they see you and you are dead, they find your tracks on the golden sand and you are dead. Obviously we can also shoot left and right, completely caring about the stealth, but it would be a bit like driving a Lamborghini with the limit of fifty, and then let’s face it: with the fuss you wouldn’t go very far. Here, this is what awaits you in Desperados 3: a real-time strategy game full of rules and situations extremely complex and particular, which will take you for at least thirty-thirty-five hours, despite Mimimi declaring twenty-five hours.

The challenges of the BaronThe baron is a strange character: he will contact you about halfway through the campaign, after completing the eighth mission, with a very strange request (and voice). With an all too affable tone, the mystery man will propose to replay some missions, which however have been completely distorted and rethought, obviously characterized by an infinitely greater difficulty. You will have to complete a certain mission only with Isabelle’s Voodoo magic, or another without the use of lethal abilities, relying exclusively on environmental kills. There is also an investigative mission (very amusing) and another where one must “simply” set fire to the dust. They might seem like simple recycled missions, and instead it comes out with an excellent endgame content, perfect for all those who are looking for the ultimate challenge. As post-launch support is also expected the arrival of other missions, and no one will have to pay a single penny more to play them, not bad eh?

The maps, all different and truly huge, were built like a time bomb, and require a very careful study (and lots of patience) at every step. The articulated level design and a careful disposition of the enemies guarantee in themselves a great level of challenge, and to complete the picture also contribute the numerous variables built ad hoc for each scenario. Rough terrain, civilized in the middle of the feet that become eyewitnesses in the blink of an eye and even chickens, which do not fail to flutter as you pass. The key to everything is the skills of the characters, and their ability to create diversions in real time: throwing Cooper’s coin will give you a window of five seconds, Kate’s blinding perfume vial another four seconds, while Stella, Miss Moreau’s white kitten, will leave you free to act undisturbed for another 5 seconds, but obviously not all cowboys like kittens, so you will have to get by with what you have.

It’s all a matter of moments, and being in real time this means acting very fast. Otherwise you fail, and you need to reload the quick save and retry until you reach perfect execution. There is also the convenience replay function at the end of each mission, where to study and prepare for a possible speedrun, definitely perfect for veterans of the genre. The boys of Mimimi have managed to create extremely stimulating situations, where new ways and solutions must be continuously tested to get the best of it.

It is not just a matter of fitting the pieces as in a puzzle game, because we are also guaranteed a great freedom of approach, and it is not uncommon to see the perfect plan fail, while the best benefits can arise from chaos. There is perhaps some burr on the front of the pathfinding of the characters, but nothing that a concentrated mind cannot deal with, while the angularities of the camera have been almost all resolved, so much so that the pattern is almost always very readable.

At normal difficulty we tend to focus on very simple stratagems, which involve only a couple of characters, so towards the end of the adventure you may feel a slight sense of repetition. In that case we recommend the game in hard mode where the situation changes both in number and for the life points of the enemies, and it is precisely there that the game pushes you to use the full potential of the party, in the name of a creativity that sometimes turns out to be literally spectacular: Desperados 3 reaches its peak right in those moments, where every effort is extremely satisfying.

The tactical pause, initially unattractive, over time it becomes essential, because it allows you to reach levels of coordination otherwise impossible: you can kill even ten enemies in one fell swoop, with the least orthodox of the plans, and I guarantee you that it is a real pleasure. The greatest pleasure however remains that of variety, because the game continually introduces new mechanics and rules, accessory dialogues or even long alternative paths, and at the end of each scenario there is always a great desire to discover the next.

A huge thumb raised therefore for the tactical facility (and its interface), which once again confirms its potential even after twenty years from its golden age. Desperados 3 is certainly able to satisfy all the long-standing gringos, and we could have imagined this, but in short: if such a game can be played well even on the pad, it means that it deserves seriously.

Spaghetti Unity: respectable graphics

It is worth spending some praise on the technical sector of Desperados 3. On the positive side animations certainly stand out, which compared to Shadow Tactics are light years ahead: for the first time, motion capture was used to move the characters, which now in fact seem much more credible and pleasant to look at. We are talking about actions, not faces of course, because those remain practically motionless, but given the distance from the camera it is something that nobody should worry about.

Unfortunately though, despite the zoom level, many textures are below average, especially those of the rocks, and honestly the reason for all this is not clear, also because most of the surfaces are instead excellent, if not even perfect in the guise of 4K. Water, soils, and more generally lights, explosions and reflections also improve a lot; in practice Mimimi games tried to squeeze to the max from Unity, an engine that – notoriously – certainly does not shine for richness, yet in this case the level of detail on the screen is impressive.

A change compared to Shadow Tactics is also the style, which previously made abundant use of cel shading, while now adopts a more realistic but still lightened look, which perfectly paints all the power of the colors of the far west. There are some maps that are truly applause, both for richness and for characterization, such as the De Vitt mansion or New Orleans, where there is such a density of lights and colors that everything seems to come to life, and in a game with a top down view it is no small thing.

The audio sector is also of excellent workmanship: in this case, given that the missions can last up to two hours, more than a soundtrack they are long accompaniments, and yet the adventure is full of super-sharp guitar riffs, which manage to make you breathe all the dust of the west, until you finally enter the skin (or lungs).

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