Wanted Dead or Alive
Review by Mike Phillips
Dateline: El Paso, 1881. Twinnings & Co. railroad is offering
a $15,000 reward for the capture of a gang leader who is responsible
for the cowardly hold-ups and ambushes of their trains. Think you
have what it takes to catch these banditos? Well, then, grab your
best shootin' iron, saddle up, lock and loadit's time to ride,
If ever there were a game environment that is sorely underused,
it has to be the Old West. Think about how many movies have been
set in that fascinating time, then think about how many games (of
any genre) that utilize said environment. Arguably, not since the
release of Outlaws by LucasArts has a game successfully captured
the "feel" of that bygone era. Does Desperados manage
to dethrone the king? In many ways yes, but it does leave a few
crusty wagon wheel ruts in its trail.
Billed as a real-time, team-based, adventure, strategy game, it
may sound as though it suffers from an identity crisis. Yet if you
are enthralled by solving puzzles and have an infinite amount of
patience, this game is for you. By puzzles, I am not referring to
"those" types of puzzles. There are no slider-tiles, no
mazesall but one fits naturally into the game environment,
seamlessly and unobtrusively, the way it should be in a game world.
But they are difficult, very difficult in fact. Each mission can
easily last an hour, and that is game-time, folks. Calculate into
the equation all the saving and reloading due to failed attempts,
pondering over how you want to approach each situation, and a mission
can chew up your gaming time faster than a trail rider at a chuck
wagon. You'll need a few trips to the outhouse while facing the
often seemingly insurmountable odds stacked against you.
Desperados is played from an approximate 75-degree, top-down,
isometric view. Three screen resolutions are available, from 640×480
to 1024×768. The game also includes a zoom-in and zoom-out
feature, but the 2D sprites and environments look rather horrid
when doing so; however, the zoom is still a necessary feature. A
map for each level is also one of the options in your game toolbar.
It shows where enemies are and locations of health and ammo.
Save slots are unlimited; at least I didn't manage to max them
out. There is also a quick-save, quick-restore feature that must
be used oftenthankfully, it works as fast as a gunslinger
can holler "draw." Controls are fully remappable to suit
your playing needs, but the game can be played with only a mouse
for them yella-belly, horse-stealing cowards. You must set up hot-keys
at the very least to survive a few sticky situations. If you want
to avoid hours of frustration, understanding how to use macros for
each team member is a must. Once you have actions set, a mouse click
and keystroke later, your hero is in action performing several moves.
It makes the micromanagement aspect of your team so much easier.
A thorough reading of the 49-page manual is imperative to understanding
the intricate nature of the game, even though a brief in-game tutorial
is given for several missions.
Enough jawing, cowpoke, it's time for some action.
A Fistful of Dollars
Enter one John Cooper, the proverbial stranger, gunslinger, bounty
hunter extraordinaire who likes strong whiskey, loose women, and
is one hombre you do not want to tangle with. He is the first playable
character you meet during your journey. Cooper wants the reward
money, but he has to assemble a posse of compadres before he tracks
down the leader of the banditos. Problem number one, all of Cooper's
former associates are in precarious predicaments. Samuel Williams
is being held as a slave on a farm. Doc McCoy is about to hang.
Kate O'Hara has a penchant for dealing from the bottom of the deck
while playing poker. Townsfolk tend to frown upon that, even from
a filly with legs as purty as hers. Nothing comes easy in these
times, pard. The other members of this nefarious bunch are Mia Yung,
a teen who is an orphan thanks to a certain lawman who is always
on Cooper's trail, and lastly, Sanchez, a shady character as wide
as he is tall. If his horse ever gets tired, he could probably carry
it, or perhaps eat it.
This is where the game shinesevery member of your assembled
team, which happens slowly over 25 levels, has differing skills,
resulting in almost infinite ways to solve a level. Cooper can use
his fists to render either a citizen or an enemy unconscious for
a short time; he's also very handy with a knife. He can stab someone
up close or throw his knife with deadly accuracy. Of course, once
thrown, you have to retrieve the knife before it can be used again.
Cooper can also carry bodies into buildings in order to hide them
so they won't be discovered and alert those who may pass by the
area. About the only commonality members of your team possess is
a firearm. Cooper uses a Colt, Williams a Winchester rifle, and
McCoy has a Buntline with which he can use modified sniper bullets.
All of the requisite locales are covered, saloons, box canyons,
a paddlewheel ship, forts, even an underground lair ... I guess
the designers got drunk one night and watched an Austin Powers flick.
The Telegraph Trail
Stealth is a major facet of Desperadosby midgame,
most of the lawmen in New Mexico are after your hide. So what's
an outlaw to do? That's basically the crux of the game, be neither
seen nor heard. Not since the Thief games have I encountered
situations where sound plays such an active role. Cooper's spurs
jangle while walking on streets; the only way to avoid making noise
is to crawl. Or you can use the petite Kate or Mia to do your bidding;
they both glide over any surface with minimal noise. If you decide
to use that polecat Sanchez and go in with shotgun blazing, there's
a price to pay. You'll have fellers crawling all over you within
At times environmental noise will drown out sounds you make, even
gunshots if you happen to be near a waterfall. The game gives an
option to check sight lines of enemies, yet the only way to test
hearing is to try something and see if it works.
While on the topic of the environment, weather and time of day
also have an effect on various abilities. Kate is adept at flashing
her legs to a potential victim, which turns them into drooling imbeciles.
Once they stop tripping over their tongues and get close enough,
a swift kick to the ... as much as I used that trick, it causes
me to cringe when describing it. However, at night that doesn't
work, naturally. Cooper's knife-throwing abilities also diminish
in the dark; you have to be much closer for a deadly throw.
Sam is an explosives expert, yet he can't light a stick of dynamite
when it is raining. Doc has a great trick of loading a balloon with
some of his knockout gas. It can be launched, then shot when it
passes over an enemy. The fun part is that you have to observe windmills
or smoke from chimneys to see which direction the wind is blowing.
If all of this sounds extremely complex, well, it is. Considering
the game is a 2001 release and now can be found in bargain bins
for under $15, Desperados is a must-play ... for some.
Hardcore action gamers may not care for Desperados, as there
is no way to shoot your way through a mission. Guns overheat and
are inoperable for a period of time if you rely on them too often.
The reticle is difficult to position over a moving target, and gunshots
usually invite many enemies to join the party.
Strategy gamers may not like Desperados, either. There is
no building of a base, troops, etc. At the start of each mission
you are given a team, and that's it. Deal with it and figure out
how to meet your objectives.
Basically, it is a game that adventure gamers should enjoy. It
is slow-paced and requires much thought and planning to get through
While not a blockbuster release by any means, it certainly deserves
a solid thumb up.
The Good ...
- A very well-crafted, challenging game.
- No bugs encountered.
- It's set in the Old West.
- A great mix of game environments and character skills, giving
a staggering number of ways to complete each mission.
... the Bad ...
- There's a very steep learning curve mastering the control scheme.
- Despite the excellent story, FMV cutscenes, and incredible locales,
an immersion factor doesn't exist. The mechanics of the game never
give a "you are there" feel.
- No multiplayer option. A few co-op missions would have been
a great addition.
... and the Ugly
- There is no AI for playable characters, nada, zilch, zip; they
are as bright as an inbred mule. If under attack, and you aren't
controlling them, they stay put until you see the mission-failed
Error establishing a database connection
Release Date: April 2001
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium II 266 MHz or K6-2 processor
64 MB RAM
SVGA 640×480 or better with 16-bit color
4X CD-ROM or better
DirectX compatible sound card
Mouse and keyboard
Where to Find It
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