If you’re familiar with the Desperados series, then it probably triggers memories of sneaking around the hay bales and arid farmsteads of the American West. The real-time tactics series is distinctly western, and part of its charm is the solitude of its frontier setting. But Desperados 3 developer Mimimi Games (who made the excellent Shadow Tactics) had bigger ambitions when it came to scale and level design, and the sprawling New Orleans level illustrates that beautifully.
But first, let’s set the scene. You get to New Orleans about halfway through the second act of Desperados 3. Until this point, you’ve spent much of the game in the thinly populated wilderness of the West; all scrublands, ramshackle frontier towns and the odd wealthy rural estate. So when you reach the bright lights and bustle of New Orleans’ famous French Quarter, it’s kind of a culture shock.
In Desperados 3 you can control up to five characters simultaneously, but one of the interesting design choices is that for some missions, you only control some of them. In the case of New Orleans, those are sniper and poison specialist McCoy, master of disguise and temptress Kate O’Hara, and Isabelle - easily the most unique character in the game thanks to her mystical abilities like mind control and ‘linking’ enemy characters so that if one dies, the other does too.
Your mission is to find a letter containing information about the whereabouts of Isabelle’s associate. You have free roam of the French Quarter and can gain information by listening in on conversations, or by taking out three well-guarded targets - one of whom has the letter.
The streets of New Orleans are packed with pedestrians wandering around, flogging goods on the market, and even getting zonked out in an opium cafe. That cafe might be a good place to start given the dopey state of its clientele, and the fact that all three of your vagabonds can wander in there without raising suspicion.
New Orleans is a city of bright lights, but that also makes it a city of dark alleys and hidden corners - perfect for your deadly deeds. Lighting affects how well enemies see you, so you can lure them into the shadows using Kate’s charms or McCoy’s stun-gas-filled bag. You can even put lights out in certain areas, which will reel confused guards into the darkness.
Once you get a disguise for Kate O’Hara, you can freely walk around restricted areas, distracting enemies and taking them down with groin kicks and a secret pistol. So adept is Kate at blending in, that she won’t raise suspicions if, say, an unlucky accident were to befall some patrolling guards.
Another way to get into the heart of a restricted area - beyond good old dastardly sneaking - is with Isabelle’s mind-control ability. Yes, like something out of fellow stealth masterpiece Dishonored, you can possess an enemy, walk around with them, and even use them to shoot other enemies. For maximum effect, you could try using Isabelle’s Link ability on two other enemies first, then use your possessed puppet to shoot one so that the other dies too. McCoy, meanwhile, can watch over the action from the rooftops through the scope of his long-range pistol.
But remember to tidy up after yourself, because one wrong step or discovered body can quickly turn the French Quarter into a warzone.
The above is just an example of how you can approach missions in Desperados 3. New Orleans may be a highlight, but each mission is similarly vast, and can be tackled from multiple angles with any combination of characters.
It’s good tough stuff. With Shadow Tactics and now Desperados 3, Mimimi Games are leading a real-time tactics renaissance.