John Cooper was hired for a simple job; to put a stop to the repeated raids on the local railroad. Easily enough, the wily, sharp shooting Cooper apprehends one of the wanted thugs, a fellow named Inigo Sanchez, and begins to travel back to town for his reward.
Along the way Sanchez speaks of the king of the bandits, a villain called "El Diablo" who seeks to unite the frontier underworld in a unified assault against the good people of Cooper's New Mexico home. Though skeptical by both nature and necessity, Cooper begins to wonder if there might be some truth in Sanchez' ramblings.
As they progress through the western adventure, Cooper and Sanchez are joined by four other characters, as diverse in personality as they are in the special talents and abilities that they bring to the group. The unlikely band must discover the mysteries behind the figure known only as El Diablo before it is too late.
Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive is designed to present a rich narrative through an immersing, multimedia presentation that uses scenery, sounds, and full-motion video to advance the plot through certain key stages. The game offers an isometric perspective on hand-designed scenery as players guide the team of unlikely allies through real-time missions that challenge strategic thinking and move the plot forward.
Even though this is a game that did not promise to bring many novelties, as it was only supposed to use the Pyro's Commandos, gameplay in a wild-west setting, it really made my mouth water. So, what we have here is a real-time strategy with very few units that cannot be used for cannon fodder. In order to complete a mission (which usually comes down to exterminating a huge number of enemies), you will have to cunningly use all the advantages of your characters.
In this western variant of the good-old Commandos, you will get to control several characters gathered around the hero of the story, John Cooper. This Bruce Willis-like macho cowboy is in fact a bounty hunter on a difficult mission: He has to catch a bandit called El Diablo. And as he cannot face the numerous Diablo's henchmen alone, he first sets on a quest to gather his old friends. In the first couple of missions he'll try to find the members of his team: Samuel Williams, Doc and the dangerous Kate O'Hara, and only later when things really get tough, he is joined by Mia Yung and Sanchez. I loved the way all characters had been introduced in the story (even if it meant that I had to wait until the second half of the game to get Mia and Sanchez). Each time you get a new character you will get to play sort of a tutorial mission to get acquainted with his/her capabilities.
Now, what's so characteristic about this little team? Cooper is a typical cowboy good with his faithful Colt, knife and musical pocket-watch, which he uses to lure his enemies. He is also very strong, so he can carry unconscious enemies around (any similarities with Tiny are... intentional?). Doc, well it's not too hard to guess that he's a physician, but he also likes to carry several handy items around, like his sniper-rifle, the poison-gas capsule or his coat, which he can use to make a scarecrow. Sam is an expert for explosives and tying unconscious men, he is the fastest in the team and his 12-bullet rifle has just a bit shorter range than Doc's sniper. Kate O'Hara was still my personal favorite, probably because of her capability to neutralize the enemy by showing her legs... When the enemies spot her, they just start towards her, which frequently ends in a low blow. She can also blind her enemies with a mirror or shoot them with her little handgun. Mia Yung is a cute eighteen-year-old girl who is not much of a fighter. Her only offensive weapons are poisonous darts. However, she is very useful for confusing enemies. She is very good at hiding and luring the opponents into traps with her monkey, firecrackers or whistle. Finally, another one of my favorites, a Mexican called "Grizzly" Sanchez. "Grizzly" is an extremely strong hombre, capable of bursting into a house filled with enemies and cleansing it, carrying two enemies at once, firing his shotgun and fooling enemies with his siesta trick...
Looking at the list of offered characteristics I can tell you I was more than pleased with them. I personally did not use Kate's blinding ability too much or even Sam's snake, but I guess that's just a matter of taste. The character abilities may seem like they were directly taken from Commandos, but playability sure tells a different story. Spellbound programmers really paid a lot of attention to details while working on this game. Practically nothing in this game depends only on one parameter. For instance, Cooper however tough he might be, can hardly be expected to solve things the way Tiny did. There are many parameters that are used to determine if the enemy can see him, and then even more to determine the outcome of the fight. The way you move, the time of day (you are more easily spotted at daytime, yet more easily heard at night), weather and terrain directly influence the chance your opponents have to detect you. It requires craft and cunning to sneak up to one adversary, let alone several of them working together. And once it comes down to fighting, you'll have to take care of your distance from the enemy, the number of bullets left, the temperature of your gun, and finally, ask yourself one question: do you feel lucky... All of the situations have many outcomes; you just have to get to the right one. I do not know if this amount of verisimilitude seems frightening or appealing, but it almost made me quit this game at one point. I managed to complete most tasks without being seen or heard, but at times that was too difficult, and it would only work after several tries; and I for one certainly did not want to play the game in which I would have to spend more time in the save/load menu than in action. The Commandos were far easier and far less complex (OMG! And that was one tough game - Ed.), but you could count on being able to finish a mission without having to restart or load. In Desperados, this is virtually impossible...
As for unit selection and issuing basic commands, that remained more or less standard. The game features a large number of keyboard shortcuts for practically anything, but I still had a lot of trouble when I had to complete a task in limited time. It took me some time to get used to some little things... like the fact that choosing an action momentarily stops your character and makes him stand up, unless if you're holding left Ctrl at the time, or the fact that you have to hold some other key if you are approaching a house from the back, but do not wish to enter it. On the other hand, the game features a very useful quick action command that enables you to "save" an action (like throw knife at that character) and then efficiently perform it by pressing a single key.
I loved the fact that the characters know how to hide behind corners, pop out to shoot and then return to cover immediately, and the fact that you have to calm your hand for some time before you can fire a sniper-shot. The trajectories that display the path of dynamite or gas-capsules have also been well conceived.
Enemy AI is good and it varies from character to character. Most enemies will be inconvenient because of their swift movement, which will make it very hard for you to sneak up to them from behind. Then again, there are smarter enemies, which will notice if their colleagues are missing and can see through Sanchez's fishy siesta trick, and the worst faggots between them will even be immune to miss Kate's legs. In fights, they will also act differently - some will act as proper cannon fodder and rush to see what is happening, and the smarter ones will hide and keep a watchful eye on you. The important thing in Desperados is that all maps are crammed with NPCs (neutral people, animals, etc.), and you have no idea how they might react to you. They can remain cool, they can run away, or even summon the sheriff... after all, bounty hunters aren't that popular...
What your enemies think and do can easily be seen on their vision cones. They are relatively complex and will give away both their sight-range, and their thoughts. If a view cone is green, the enemy expects no trouble. Once it starts getting yellow, it means that something arose his suspicions, when it is purple, the enemy is blinded with Kate's beauty, and when it becomes red, he's on to you. This gives you a clear overview of the situation, and you can also set a spot on the ground and see who is able to see it. Oh, and you can still lock the camera to a certain character.
Desperados is visually a very beautiful game. At first, I was really bothered by the ugly pixelized outlines around selected characters, but I soon started to look at thing from a brighter angle: if we disregard this little thing, the rest is pretty much flawless... You already know that the graphics are completely in 2D, they are all really neatly drawn and abundant in details. I have no complaints about a square inch of the game. All levels are rich, varied and beautifully conceived with a lot of small things that improve the atmosphere like grass, dead campfires, various boxes, etc... The only problem here was how to represent what is on the other side of a 3D object... Commandos had this solved through level design, which prevented you from getting behind things. In Desperados you can stand behind a house or a tree, and while you're hidden, only your silhouette will be visible. It's not perfect, but it gets the job done.
The pixelization problem that appears when zooming in or out has been solved by allowing players only to select between three (or on some maps only two) predefined levels of zoom. This was rather a smart solution as it will grant best possible image quality without actually losing anything that would be important for the gameplay. While I'm still on about graphics, I have to mention the high-quality pre-rendered cut-scenes at the beginning of the game and in-between missions. If we disregard some pointless Matrix-like moments and sometimes not too successful skeletal animation, the rest if practically perfect, especially the faces.
I would really like to congratulate the programmers about the sound effects... Poking around the game directory, I found some 2300 wav files, 1900(!) of which being dialogues and sound effects. Most impressive... However, I must admit that I still liked Tiny's comments better...
There is unfortunately no multiplayer mode, not even cooperative as in Commandos. On the other hand, that is not too much of a flaw, as this kind of a game is not meant for multiplayer gaming after all. More than twenty missions guarantee nice and long fun... if you overcome the game difficulty.
How to run this game on modern Windows PC?
People who downloaded Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive have also downloaded:
Desperados 2: Cooper's Revenge, Commandos 2: Men of Courage, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, Commandos 3: Destination Berlin, Age of Empires 2: The Age of Kings, Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty, Age of Empires III, Age of Mythology
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