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Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive Review

publisher: Atari
developer: Spellbound
genre: Strategy

P233, 64MB RAM, 600MB HDD, 4MB Video Card
ESRB rating: T

release date: Mar 30, 01
» All About Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive on ActionTrip

One game I really had the hots for in the last six months finally came to my possession: Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive. 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 bandito 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.

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8.9   Very Good

Contagious game, a lot of improvements to the Commandos concept, interesting characters and levels;

It is hard; you will need time to get used to the commands. It is still a copycat.


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