Desperados 3 brings Shadow Tactics to the Wild West

I'm meeting with Dominik Abé, creative director of Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun and founder of Mimimi Productions. I admit to him that, so far, I'm only half way through the real-time tactical stealth game's campaign. "It's pretty difficult," I explain. "Sorry," he laughs. He needn't apologise. Shadow Tactics is old school by design, inspired by classic, uncompromising stealth games like Commandos and Desperados.

Given the extent to which Shadow Tactics wears its influences on its sleeve, Mimimi seems like the perfect developer to resurrect the Desperados series. I'm shown a partial playthrough of one level of the upcoming game, as new character Hector is rescued by returning series regular Cooper during a bar brawl. Having dispatched their attackers in a cutscene, the pair must slip past more goons camped outside of the bar.

It's classic Desperados in tone, but the art style and presentation is reminiscent of Shadow Tactics—albeit with a detailed, intricate Wild West town replacing the fortresses and temples of Edo period Japan. Hector even plays like a combination of Shadow Tactics' characters Yuki and Mugen. He's a heavy-set lad capable of carrying two incapacitated guards and armed with a shotgun that can deal massive damage in a wide cone, but who can also set bear traps with which to ensnare patrolling guards.

The focus seems to be more on using combinations of characters. So while Hector can set a trap, you'll need to use Cooper's whistle to draw a guard towards it. And, true to the genre, things quickly escalate in difficulty, with large, open areas that require synchronised takedowns, and special, armoured enemies who can deflect Cooper's throwing knife.

Slipping away from the bar, Hector and Cooper reach the town proper—a bustling thoroughfare full of people going about their day. This is a 'civil' zone, where Hector and Cooper are free to explore without being harassed. "In a Western town, an armed cowboy doesn't draw too much attention," explains Abé. "Only if you do something suspicious—if you kill somebody, people react to you—but as long as you just walk around and don't do anything you're good."

This is one of the main things I saw that clearly differentiates Desperados 3 from both its predecessors and Shadow Tactics. "It's kind of new for the genre," says Abé. "Before there were only the possibilities to disguise yourself. Here, we have the possibility to have more cool settings, because it would be weird if, in a Western town, if everybody would start shooting at me."

Hector enlists Coopers help checking off a hit list of targets. There are multiple people around the map in need of killing, but, for the demo, we focus on only one – the new owner of the local brothel. As the pair explore, they overhear snippets of conversation that hint at ways to complete each objective. We learn that there's a stash of laudanum hidden inside the brothel, and that the owner has a drinking habit. That suggests a potential outcome: if the pair can steal the laudenum, they can use it to spike the owner's whisky supply, poisoning her. This is just one option: the two could also try infiltrating the building for a more direct kill.

"It depends on the map, but mostly we have at least two major paths to approach [an objective]," says Abe. "Like, really major, where you're like, 'I played the map and didn't tackle this area'. You have a lot of freedom and replayability." 

I like this approach as an evolution to real-time tactical stealth games. The slow, thoughtful pace (and high difficulty) remains in tact, but here Mimimi are bringing in elements of more action-oriented stealth games like Hitman into the mix. Desperados 3, like Shadow Tactics before it, may be old school, but that doesn't mean it can't evolve and improve the genre.