Excruciating difficulty makes this latest addition to the Desperados family one frustrating trip back to the Wild West.
- Missions are numerous and huge.
- Grueling difficulty
- Out-of-date visuals with some frame rate problems
- Not enough atmospheric audio or vocal cues from sentries.
Don't let Helldorado confuse you. Despite the snazzy new name sported by this real-time stealth strategy game set in the Wild West, this is actually the third release in the Desperados series from German developer Spellbound. As with many strategy sequels, don't expect to be treated kindly. Everything about this unbelievably hard tactical game assumes that you have logged serious hours with the previous two Desperados. If you haven't, then say howdy to big-time frustration. Every mission is so spectacularly grueling and the settings so thoroughly rigged against you that you feel like a guy with a broken hand drawing six-guns against Wyatt Earp. The extreme challenge is certain to drive away almost everyone but Desperados veterans itching for another fix and hardy Western aficionados willing to endure anything for a trip back in time.
The story, setting, and characters could have been pulled out of an old Gunsmoke episode. Everything is just as cliched as in the previous Desperados games: You control a team of Wild West stereotypes that includes gruff-but-lovable gunslinger John Cooper, sexy gambler Kate O'Hara, dimwitted Mexican thug Pablo Sanchez, slippery explosives expert Sam Williams, creepy old Doc McCoy, and a Native American tracker named--yes, seriously--Hawkeye. Just in case you don't immediately understand that these are all cornball rip-offs of stock characters featured in oat operas for the past century, each of these clowns underlines the point with goofy order acknowledgements, such as Pablo's expressions of love for tequila, Hawkeye's continual references to the "white devil" and buffalo, and Sam's "Yippee-yi-yay!"
As with most games of this type, each hero has a specific set of abilities. Cooper, for instance, is quick with his six-guns and can make silent kills with a throwing knife. Kate can seduce opponents into a stupor or knock them out with the special powder in her makeup compact. Hawkeye can shoot arrows and throw a tomahawk. Sanchez is a muscleman who can blow baddies away with a shotgun and leave bottles of tequila lying around to tempt guards into drinking themselves unconscious. Gee, a stupid, drunken Mexican bandit. It couldn't be any more of a racist stereotype unless he were constantly wandering off to take siestas in the noonday sun.
All of the characters are drawn up along the same lines as those in the prototypical tactical stealth game, Pyro Studios' Commandos. You go into missions with a team and have to work together to get out of whatever scrape you find yourselves in. The overall story is sketched out roughly and is kind of hard to understand. Not that it matters much. You don't need to know a whole lot about being blackmailed by a mysterious femme fatale into committing various dastardly deeds, because the objectives of the multipart missions are cut-and-dried. Basically, you need to make it from point A to point B in each of the 12 single-player-only missions without attracting the attention of the guards who are between you and the goal. And that ain't easy.
You know how most tactical stealth games tend to place a handful of sentries at key points in levels? How they structure maps like puzzles, with a few guards walking patrol routes with vision cones regularly overlapping so that you need to watch for patterns and sneak on through only when the time is right? Well, that same design pattern is followed here, but with the addition of dozens of enemies wandering around, hanging out having a smoke, waving guns for no particular reason, taking a whiz in the bushes, manning guard towers, and so forth. So as you might expect, the difficulty level in Helldorado is beyond belief, no matter what difficulty setting you choose. If you make a single mistake, a pack of enemies instantly leaps into action to gun you down. Instead of tracking one, two, or three sentries at any given moment, you have to keep an eye on the vision cones of at least half a dozen.