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This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Desperados III.

Transcript Edit

Of all boyhood fantasies - the ones before a certain age, at any rate, before the hormones kick in and they all start to center around your most attractive female teacher wielding a meterstick - there are none so enduring as the frontier cowboy fantasy. Who among us has not hooked their thumbs into their jeans while waiting for a bus, or tried on a long duster coat they found in a charity shop, and then looked at themselves in the reflection off a window and thought, "Man, I would be so much cooler if I smelled like shit, 24/7, without having to move to downtown San Francisco. Oh, if only I could've been born in that wild, romantic age of the American frontier, where too many people had guns, minorities were oppressed, and people died constantly of preventable disease."? Whoa! Let's leave that thought precisely where it is!

I had a similar fantasy back in the day. "It sure would be cool to be a cowboy," I thought, "but you know what would be even cooler? Being a bodiless essence floating about 100 feet above a cowboy, giving them really bad advice and watching them die over and over again!" And that fantasy has finally been realized by Desperados III, which can probably lay reasonable claim to being the best isometric real-time tactics stealth Western game to come out this year. It is nice to see the series go back to the old name, after the previous game in the franchise was named "Helldorado" by someone who I can only hope got the help they clearly needed. Though, the characters established in previous games all talk like they've never met before in Desperados III, so if you were of a mind that a title with an incremented number implies some kind of continuity, then maybe you should fuck off back to Sensibleville and elect a competent person as president, asshole!

"Maybe it's a prequel, Yahtz." Oh, shut up, viewer! Nobody likes you! Continuity doesn't matter when the cliches are this thick on the ground; nobody cares about the established canon of Generic Cowboy Protagonist A. Plot-wise, Generic Cowboy Protagonist A has rolled into town for the usual reason: he's looking for the man who shot his pa. Turns out the man who shot his pa is an enforcer for a villainous railroad company, which is pretty fucking lucky; if he'd been a local Boy Scout leader, things might've gotten morally complicated. But as it is, he's able to enlist a whole pack of Western stock characters, with their own grudges against the company; there's the no-nonsense hired killer, the spunky Southern belle, the gruff hunter, the magic spell-casting witch who got lost on her way to another genre.

So it's a mission-based isometric "click the place to go to the place" sort of arrangement, where your small group of characters must complete various objectives on a map while avoiding the visibility cones of patrolling hostiles by using the environment and your special skills. There's a sort of Lost Vikings aspect in the way your characters have different abilities and have to work together; Southern Belle, for example, has the special skill of being seductive and can distract a single enemy, and then Cowboy Protagonist A can sneak up and slit their throat using their unique special skill of owning a knife.

A helpful tutorial walks you through the basics. "Here's how to move." Right. "Here's the quick-save button." Yup. "Here's how to toss a coin to make someone look the other way." Classic stuff. "Here's the quick-save button." ...You already mentioned that. "Did I?" Yes, in those gigantic flaming letters over there. "Oh. Just making sure you know." Well, I know now, thank you, Desperados III. Desperados III? "Yes?" Why is there a dirty great counter smack in the middle of the screen? "Oh, that's just showing how long it's been since you last saved, in case you forget. Have you saved lately? Maybe you should!" Why the obsession with quick-saving?! What are you, a drive-through evangelist?

You remember "Cockup Cascade", right? The term I came up with for an unfortunate feature of many stealth action games where the slightest misstep means getting caught in a pile-on of escalating fuck-ups, so you might as well just reload the instant you get spotted? Well, Desperados III is the patron saint of Cockup Cascade; the cocks barely have a chance to come down again. The enemies all have visibility cones spread wider than your mum's legs when she hears a bottle opener, and you can only see one guard's cone at a time; on top of that, a lot of guards who look like they're staring straight ahead are, in fact, glancing back and forth like a nervous gazelle at a tennis match, covering an area the size of a conservatively-proportioned aircraft hangar. So half the time, you'll settle into the nice, long "slitting a throat" animation, and only then be informed that someone offscreen is looking at you from their table at a delightful Parisian-style street café on the surface of Mars.

And thus, the cascade begins. Everyone on the map is alerted and rushes your position, more guards spawn in on top of the existing ones; it's like the fucking fight scene at the end of the original Casino Royale. And while you do have a gun, you fire it once and then can't fire it again until you've remembered all the lyrics to "The British Grenadiers", and your special power to pause the game and queue up your next few actions, at this point, provides nothing besides the chance to take a moment and really drink in just how completely fucked you are. So don't kid yourself about making a stand; you're just going to fucking quick-load.

It's not so bad in the early game, but before long, levels are absolutely packed with enemies and overlapping patrol routes, and it turns into a sort of ultra-violent puzzle game, where the objective is to figure out the precise sequence of actions to pick off every enemy in ascending order of gregariousness, quick-saving with every inch of progress. An experience like untangling a huge ball of Christmas lights, turning it over and over, picking on loose bits, occasionally pulling on the wrong thing, getting electrocuted and making all the children scream.

And the way the game very unsubtly highlights the quick-save function indicates that save scumming is the intended method. I'm sure that was a much easier solution than tweaking the difficulty that meant the developers could get down the pub quicker, but I don't really like trial-and-erroring my way through a game; it doesn't make me feel smart or powerful, and all suspense is lost. "Ooh, can you succeed in this challenge using only your wits, your cunning, and your infinite zero-consequence restarts?!" Yes, of course I fucking will, given enough time! I'm monkey-typewritering this shit!

So I'd finally drag myself across two miles of gravel to beat a map, and the game would tell me about all the extra challenges I might like to attempt - "Beat the map without using hiding spots!" "Without quick-saving!" - in less time than it takes YouTube video essayists to get to the fucking point, and I'd say, "Piss off, game." Becoming good at these maps seems like it'd be a matter of rote memorization, and that sounds even less fun to me, not being a speedrunner or similar flavor of nutcase. Yeah, I think not finishing this one isn't going to haunt me; let me fondle my crystal balls and predict the ending: revenge is had on the man who shot our pa, the family ranch is saved, and at some point, everyone lines up abreast and walks very slowly towards or away from something.

Addenda Edit

  • What separates the cowboys from the cowmen: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
  • Usually takes a few more tabs before the giant green fan shapes start coming out of my eyeballs
  • You know, the first Casino Royale, not the one with the ball smashing
Episodes
2007 - 2010
2007
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2008
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2010
Q1 Awards for 2009 · Torchlight · Darksiders · Bayonetta · Dark Void · Borderlands · Mass Effect 2 · Dante's Inferno · BioShock 2 · Aliens vs Predator · Heavy Rain · Battlefield: Bad Company 2 · Final Fantasy XIII
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Q3 No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle · Super Mario Galaxy 2 · Singularity · Crackdown 2 · DeathSpank & Limbo · Shadow of the Colossus · Split Second: Velocity · Transformers: War for Cybertron · Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days · Mafia II · Metroid: Other M · Video Game Voters Network · Amnesia: The Dark Descent
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2011
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Q2 Pokémon White · Yakuza 4 · Crysis 2 · Nintendo 3DS · Portal 2 · Castlevania: Symphony of the Night · Mortal Kombat · Brink · L.A. Noire · The Witcher 2 · Hunted: The Demon's Forge · Duke Nukem Forever (for real this time) · InFamous 2
Q3 Alice: Madness Returns · Shadows of the Damned · F.E.A.R. 3 · The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D · Call of Juarez: The Cartel · Bastion and From Dust · Catherine · Red Faction: Armageddon · Deus Ex · Deus Ex: Human Revolution · Driver: San Francisco · Dead Island · Resistance 3
Q4 Gears of War 3 · Hard Reset · Rage · Kinect · Batman: Arkham City · Battlefield 3 · Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 · The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim · Saints Row: The Third · Assassin's Creed: Revelations · The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
2012
Q1 Serious Sam 3: BFE · Top 5 of 2011 · Super Mario 3D Land & Rayman Origins · Sonic Generations · Star Wars: The Old Republic · Amy · Resident Evil: Revelations · Darkness 2 · Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning · NeverDead · Syndicate · Mass Effect 3 · Twisted Metal
Q2 Yakuza: Dead Souls · Ninja Gaiden 3 · Silent Hill: Downpour · Kid Icarus: Uprising · Fez and I Am Alive · Prototype 2 · Risen 2: Dark Waters · Sniper Elite V2 · Diablo 3 · Max Payne 3 · Dragon's Dogma · E3 2012 · Lollipop Chainsaw
Q3 Quantum Conundrum · Spec Ops: The Line · Walking Dead · Inversion · The Amazing Spider-Man · Half-Life · Wreckateer and Deadlight · Steam Roundup · Sleeping Dogs · Darksiders 2 · DayZ · Guild Wars 2
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2013
Q1 Top 5 of 2012 · Paper Mario: Sticker Star · Black Knight Sword & Hotline Miami · Anarchy Reigns · DMC: Devil May Cry · The Cave · Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch · Dead Space 3 · Aliens: Colonial Marines · Crysis 3 · Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance · Tomb Raider · SimCity
Q2 The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct · BioShock Infinite · Lego City Undercover · Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon · Injustice: Gods Among Us · Star Trek · Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon · System Shock 2 · Metro: Last Light · Next Gen Buyer's Guide · Fuse · Remember Me · E3 2013
Q3 The Last of Us · Deadpool · Animal Crossing: New Leaf · Ride to Hell: Retribution · Dark · Mario & Luigi: Dream Team · Rise of the Triad · Papers, Please & Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons · Pikmin 3 · The Bureau: XCOM Declassified · Saints Row 4 · Killer is Dead · Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs
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2014
Q1 Top 5 of 2013 · Knack · Killzone: Shadow Fall · Survival Special · Broken Age · Might & Magic X: Legacy · The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds · Dark Souls · Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII · Strider · Thief · Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 · Dark Souls II
Q2 Titanfall · InFamous: Second Son · Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes · The Elder Scrolls Online · South Park: The Stick of Truth · FTL: Faster Than Light · Child of Day-Light · The Amazing Spider-Man 2 · Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure · Wolfenstein: The New Order · WATCH DOGS · E3 2014 · Murdered: Soul Suspect
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Q4 D4: Dark Dreams Don't Die · Hyrule Warriors · Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor · Alien Isolation · The Evil Within · Bayonetta 2 · Sunset Overdrive · Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare · Assassin's Creed: Unity · Far Cry 4 · Dragon Age: Inquisition · Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric · Top 5 Games of 2014
2015 - 2018
2015
Q1 The Talos Principle · Elite: Dangerous · Five Nights at Freddy's and This War of Mine · Lords of the Fallen · Saints Row: Gat out of Hell · Dying Light · Grim Fandango · Evolve · The Order: 1886 · The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D · Resident Evil Revelations 2 · Hotline Miami 2: Wrong Number & Ori and the Blind Forest
Q2 Battlefield: Hardline · Bloodborne · Half-Life 2 Update · Axiom Verge & Stealth Inc 2 · Mortal Kombat X · Grand Theft Auto Online · Broken Age: Act 2 · Wolfenstein: The Old Blood · Cyberpunk Double · The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt · Splatoon · Hatred · E3 2015
Q3 Alone in the Dark: Illumination · Batman: Arkham Knight · Yoshi's Woolly World · Cave Story · Godzilla · Rocket League & Tembo the Badass Elephant · King's Quest: A Knight to Remember · Nom Nom Galaxy & Freedom Planet · Everybody's Gone To The Rapture · Volume · Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain · Mad Max · Gears of War Ultimate Edition · Until Dawn
Q4 Super Mario Maker · SOMA · Rock Band 4 · Assassin's Creed Syndicate · Halo 5: Guardians · Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 · Rise of the Tomb Raider · Fallout 4 · Star Wars: Battlefront · Just Cause 3 · Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water
2016
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2015 · Devil's Third · Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam · Assassin's Creed Chronicles · Xenoblade Chronicles X · The Witness & Bombshell · Gravity Rush · XCOM 2 · Firewatch & Layers of Fear · Far Cry Primal · Stardew Valley & SUPERHOT · The Division · Salt and Sanctuary
Q2 Republique · Shadow Warrior · Quantum Break · Dark Souls III · Ratchet & Clank · Star Fox Zero · Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door · Uncharted 4: A Thief's End · Doom · Homefront: The Revolution · Overwatch & Battleborn · Mirror's Edge: Catalyst · E3 2016
Q3 Mighty No. 9 · Inside & Shadow of the Beast · The Technomancer · Furi & Song of the Deep · I Am Setsuna · Headlander & Quadrilateral Cowboy · Quake · No Man's Sky · Grow Up · Deus Ex: Mankind Divided · Metroid Prime: Federation Force · The Curious Expedition & Mother Russia Bleeds · ReCore
Q4 Capcom Five · Clustertruck & Lichtspeer · Paper Mario: Color Splash · Mafia III · Gears of War 4 · PlayStation VR · Battlefield 1 · Titanfall 2 vs Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare · Dishonored 2 · WATCH DOGS 2 · Final Fantasy XV · The Last Guardian
2017
Q1 Top 5 Games of 2016 · Let It Die · Dead Rising 4 · Hitman · Gravity Rush 2 · Resident Evil 7 · Yakuza 0 · Nioh · For Honor · Nintendo Switch & Breath of the Wild · Horizon Zero Dawn · Nier Automata · Ghost Recon Wildlands
Q2 Mass Effect Andromeda · Yooka-Laylee · Persona 5 · Remastered Editions · Outlast 2 · Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 · Prey · Wilson's Heart · The Surge · Injustice 2 · Vanquish · E3 2017 · Strafe
Q3 Get Even · Hollow Knight / Dead Cells · Fifth Console Generation · The End is Nigh, and Yonder: Cloud Catcher Chronicles · Pyre · Splatoon 2 · Hellblade · Agents of Mayhem · Sonic Mania · Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle · Destiny 2 · Metroid: Samus Returns
Q4 Knack 2 and SteamWorld Dig 2 · Cuphead · Hob and A Hat in Time · Middle-earth: Shadow of War · The Evil Within 2 · Super Mario Odyssey · Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus · Assassin's Creed Origins · Sonic Forces · Star Wars Battlefront II · Hand of Fate 2 · South Park: The Fractured but Whole
2018
Q1 Top 5 of 2017 · Okami HD · PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds · Fortnite and Dusk · Doki Doki Literature Club! · The Inpatient and Doom VFR · Monster Hunter World · Subnautica · Kingdom Come: Deliverance · Metal Gear Survive · Hot Coffee · Hunt Down The Freeman · Ghost of a Tale
Q2 A Way Out · Far Cry 5 · Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom · Extinction and Attack on Titan 2 · God of War 4 · Yakuza 6: The Song of Life · Silent Hill 4: The Room · Conan Exiles · House Flipper and FAR: Lone Sails · Detroit Become Human · Agony · E3 2018 · Vampyr
Q3 Jurassic World Evolution · Resident Evil 4 · Totally Accurate Battlegrounds and Moonlighter · The Crew 2 · Octopath Traveler · Observer · Chasm and This Is the Police 2 · We Happy Few · Unavowed · Guacamelee! 2 and Not Tonight · Shenmue · Marvel's Spider-Man · Shadow of the Tomb Raider
Q4 Dragon Quest XI · Star Control: Origins · Star Control: Origins · Assassin's Creed Odyssey · Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 · Return of the Obra Dinn · The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories · Red Dead Redemption 2 · Call of Cthulhu · Fallout 76 · Hitman 2 and Killer7 · Darksiders III · Just Cause 4
2019
Q1 Top 5 of 2018 · Super Smash Bros. Ultimate · Gris and Ashen · Katamari Damacy Reroll · Travis Strikes Again: No More Heroes · Resident Evil 2 · Kingdom Hearts III · Metro Exodus · Far Cry New Dawn · Anthem · Crackdown 3 · Left Alive · Devil May Cry 5
Q2 The Division 2 · Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice · Unheard and Outward · Yoshi's Crafted World · Mortal Kombat 11 · Katana Zero · Days Gone · Close to the Sun · Rage 2 · Observation · A Plague Tale: Innocence · E3 2019 · Blood: Fresh Supply
Q3 Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night · Judgment · The Sinking City · My Friend Pedro and Sea of Solitude · Acclaim Entertainment Hall of Shame · Wolfenstein: Youngblood · Horace · Rebel Galaxy Outlaw · Control · The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan · Remnant: From The Ashes · Blair Witch · Gears 5
Q4 Astral Chain · Contra: Rogue Corps · Ghost Recon Breakpoint · Indivisible · The Outer Worlds · Call of Duty: Modern Warfare · Luigi's Mansion 3 · Death Stranding · Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order · Shenmue III · 2019 Games I Haven't Reviewed Roundup · Phoenix Point & Bug Fables
2020
Q1 Top 5 of 2019 · The 2010s' Most Significant Games · Boneworks · MechWarrior 5: Mercenaries & Wattam · Journey to the Savage Planet · The Walking Dead: Saints & Sinners · Kentucky Route Zero · Zombie Army 4: Dead War · Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem · Dreams · Doom Retrospective · Black Mesa · Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Q2 Doom Eternal · Half-Life: Alyx · Resident Evil 3 · Animal Crossing: New Horizons · Final Fantasy VII Remake · XCOM: Chimera Squad · Cloudpunk & Streets of Rage 4 · World of Warcraft: The Corrupted Blood Incident · Ion Fury & Void Bastards · Maneater · Minecraft Dungeons · Shantae and the Seven Sirens · Desperados III
Q3 The Last of Us Part II · Persona 4 Golden · Stadia · Deadly Premonition 2: A Blessing in Disguise · Paper Mario: The Origami King · Ghost of Tsushima · Carrion & Beyond a Steel Sky
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