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Desperados: Wanted Dead Or Alive

Score: 80%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Spellbound
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous

Graphics & Sound:

Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive uses a graphics engine very similar to the Infinity Engine that powers the Baldur's Gate series of games and its derivatives. The game is downright beautiful, with sweeping Western-style vistas and a lot of graphical detail that is typically missing in these sorts of titles. You'll find yourself scrolling all over the map, including the places that you don't bother to go to, just to see how it all looks. Very nice. Unfortunately, it also means that the 'zoom' function looks ugly as sin. The game tries to anti-alias a bit, but it ends up looking just as pixelated and muddy as before. Unless it's absolutely necessary, don't bother.

The sound in the game is straight from a number of spaghetti Westerns. The fake accents are thick, the voice acting droll (and not overwell done), and the sound is pleasantly campy. The sound of guns firing is just as you thought it would be. I can see how the 'cheese factor' would make a number of people dislike the game's sound, but I found that it matched the style of the game well. Desperados isn't out to be a serious Wild West simulator; it's 'western fantasy,' like you see in all of the movies and read in the pulp paperbacks. And for that, the sound works great.


And with some caveats, Desperados plays very well. It's too difficult for its own good, requiring creep-and-save way too often, and the control scheme could be better, but the plot and the general setup of the game is interesting enough to keep you going despite the problems. It's no X-Com: UFO Defense, but Desperados does what it does well.

And what Desperados does is tell a story. It's a fairly standard story, as Westerns go, but it's interesting enough to keep you wondering just what will happen next. The game starts with John Cooper, something of a bounty hunter, returning to his neck of the woods (in this case, Louisiana) to find out just what happened with a recent train robbery and an associated string of general malingery. As you start the game you only control John, but as it progresses you can gather your teammates and go in for some serious squad-based action.

As expected in a character-driven game, the various teammates each have their strengths and weaknesses. The obligatory 'Western female' entrances men to come with her, where you can off them quietly, Doc can knockout enemies with gas and do typical doctory things, and so on. Each character isn't limited to one special ability, though. John himself can sharpshoot, throw his knife, use it to cut things, and use his watch as a lure for enemies.

As you gather your team, the game basically 'tutorializes'. The characters and the scenarios give you hints as to what to do, in an attempt to break you in as unobtrusively as possible. It works, for the most part. It'd work better if the game weren't so devilishly difficult, but that's another matter.

Controls in the game are pretty similar to what you'd expect for the genre. You can mouse your various characters around and issue them orders. As a nice change of pace, you can 'queue' an order up for a character, letting it happen when you click a big green arrow. This is helpful for timing things better than you can do otherwise, and setting people up to attack without having to fumble around on the keyboard.

Unfortunately, that's about as good as the character controls get. Your team has to be the biggest bunch of fools I've ever seen. They do absolutely nothing to save themselves, standing up for the slaughter and getting wasted in seconds. A rudimentary 'safety AI' would have been a wonderful feature; as it is, you have to micromanage your team to make sure nothing untoward happens to them. Ugh.

The game also relies on creep-and-save entirely too much. There are a number of places in the game that are near-impossible to do unless you time it just right, or hit the enemy just so. Fail, and it's Game Over. Be prepared to save and load your game on regular occasions, because this is one of those games. It reminded me of the early part of X-Com, and not in a good way.

Despite its problems, though, there's enough here to keep you intrigued. Just don't be surprised if you want to throw the mouse at the screen every once in a while.


This game is hard. I mean hard. It's not impossible, mind you, but even for a game veteran like me, some of the sequences were downright annoying when it came to the 'challenge'. It only gets worse as you gain new characters, because that means you have to manage even more idiots who can't think for themselves. Considering the brilliant enemy AI, better control over your teammates would make the game a lot simpler. As it is, judicious use of saving will be the only way to succeed in the game.

Game Mechanics:

Like most strategy games, Desperados uses a combination keyboard and mouse setup. While you could do everything with the mouse, it's usually faster to do the actual commands with the keyboard, leaving the mouse for movement and selection. The controls are easy enough to learn, but they're still inordinately clunky. Reloading a gun is a pain--it took me a while to figure out how to do it, even with the tutorial's help--and there simply isn't enough control of your characters. Something like 'stances' would have been nice, where you could have them attack on sight or defend or whatever they would need to do. The menus and such are easy to navigate, and the core mechanics of the game are solid enough. I experienced a crash or two, but it was always between levels and so it didn't effect the game much.

It's got its problems, and it's probably more difficult than most people would like to deal with, but Desperados captures more of the Wild West flavour than any other game I've laid my hands on. It may not be what really happened, but it's the way that we're all brought up to think it did, and reliving the nonexistent past is a good deal of fun with Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive. Fans of the genre would do well to check it out, but be forewarned; the game's tougher than most.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x/ME/2K, P2 266, 64MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, SVGA graphics card, sound card, mouse, keyboard

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Sega Dreamcast Unreal Tournament Windows Diablo II: Lord of Destruction

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated