Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive

Review by Mike Phillips
March 2003

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 load—it's time to ride, partner.

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 mazes—all 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 often—thankfully, 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 shines—every 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 Desperados—by 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 seconds.

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 each mission.

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 screen. The End

The Verdict

The Lowdown

Developer: Spellbound
Publisher: Infogrames
Release Date: April 2001

Available for: Windows

Four Fat Chicks Links

Player Feedback


Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

System Requirements

Windows 95B/98/98SE/ME/2000
Pentium II 266 MHz or K6-2 processor
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

Links provided for informational purposes only. FFC makes no warranty with regard to any transaction entered into by any party(ies).

Copyright © Electric Eye Productions. All rights reserved.
No reproduction in whole or in part without express written permission.