I'm so done with PC games.
They're always buggy, overpriced, system-destructive... and they never work as promised. The whole architecture of the PC game industry needs to be wiped clean and rebooted. Designers ought to be able to come up with compelling, long term games that don't require the latest $2000 machine and $500 video card. Companies ought to be able to get product out the door without requiring patches, updates and fixes a month later. Users ought to be discerning enough so that they stop buying the same damn game over and over again, despite all the problems.
Bit of a downer, that.
That said, I found a new one that I really like. It's cheap, it doesn't need a Pentium 8 to run it, it's brutally hard (yet entirely achievable), has ZERO online multiplayer mode, and it's (almost) an entirely new concept/genre.
Desperados: Dead or Alive. $30, brand new. Find it and buy it. If you can, that is. Your local software store probably didn't stock too many of them... why should they? It's not 3D, there's no railgun, no online play, and it's set in the wild west. High School Gameurs are afraid of games like this.
Enough complaining. Desperados - like Commandos before it - is a 2D team based strategy game. You control a posse of 1 to 6 people (the gunslinger, the explosives expert, the wily female), each of whom has his or her own unique skills. Each beautiful level has some impossible-looking goal, and you have to operate your team like chess pieces. Each level is pretty open in structure, so you can feel free to choose your own personal path to success. If you want to be sneaky, you can crawl around and toss silent knives into enemy throats. If you're the noisy, trigger happy type, you can blast into each area for some click-and-kill.
Figuring out new ways to use the various skills (most times in tandem with each other) is the best part. It's a thinking man's game; Diablo retards need not apply. After each level opens, you get to scroll around the map... watching baddie patterns and vision cones. You make your plans and hope for the best. (And you save often, since it doesn't take many bullets to put one of your team down.)
The skill sets are impressive and it makes the manual an exciting read. ("I get to do THAT? No way!") Team leader John Cooper can drop a musical watch that will play a song after so many seconds and attract curious passers-by. Sam the explosives guy carries around a rattlesnake in a bag; smart enemies will shoot the poor snake, but dumb ones will walk right by it and get bitten. Each team member has 5 skills (well, 4 skills and a weapon), but the game finds ways to hide other skills that don't require a dedicated GUI button. Cooper is the only character who can climb sheer cliffs, for example, and Doc can pick locks. And any of them can do a pop-up shot from behind a corner, or jump onto a horse's back from a second story balcony.
The NPC people are amusingly realistic... Each person has viewable triangles of vision and non-viewable field of hearing. Although you might scoff at just how close you can tiptoe to an unwary enemy before he notices you, the next guy will sense you from leagues away simply because he's on lookout. There are many token personalities: some people will run from you, some will call for help, some will take you on immediately. You'll be surprised at just how clever the computer AI can be... like if you knock a guy out, a dude passing by might notice the unconscious body and either call for backup or go kick the sleeper awake... then they both modify their walking pattern, visual acuity and level of alertness because they know trouble is up. You have to be pretty damn stealthy to make it through some levels, particularly when there are batches of enemies at every corner, all watching each other's back.
Each level has interactive elements that you might miss on first glance, because you're so caught up with killing people. Ropes you can cut, buildings you can enter, shadows to hide in, horses you can steal. It should be interesting to go through the game several times using different methods and see what things you can uncover. There are 25 levels (including some training maps tailored to each of the six playable characters) and the game keeps track of your total minutes invested in successful levels. Call that a meter of how much of your life this game has sucked out of you.
The level goals are often incredibly daunting, as literally 50 gunslingers stand between you and your finale. One level has you freeing a teammate from the hangman's noose - as the whole town stands around waiting for the preacher to start the show. Another has you sneak into a riverboat... or up the stone walls of a desert fortress... or across the fields of a plantation owner... or through a canyon bottom with baddies perched all along the rim. It's every western adventure cliche you've ever heard of.
The cliche factor also means that the plot and voice acting is pretty weak... especially the voices. Some of the CG cutscenes are sooooo good that the piss-poor voices just wreck it. Plot-wise, your team is a group of bounty hunters after a bandito gang that's continually raiding an important railroad company. Like most games, the plot is less of a story and more of an excuse for your characters to enter level after level.
Sad to say - but perhaps not unexpected - I have had some weird crashes in Desperados. Most of which were caused by competing applications in the system tray, but some just kinda happened for no reason. You'll be saving often anyway, but a random crash bug is a good stimulus to make sure you save often. (Morally, I'm against games that force you to save after every successful action... and Desperados does lose some points with me because of that. But I guess it's the hard-bitten realism of the old west that makes death so damn common here. Just about any baddie within a few inches so kill you with 1-2 shots... usually while you're still fiddling with the skill buttons, ya clumsy lout.)
The game interface will take some adjustment... it may be easier to learn the keyboard shortcuts and forget the onscreen buttons. Because your skill buttons are placed top left, it can be a lot of mouse mileage to select a skill, click the screen and repeat... within split seconds when you're under fire. The helpful Quick Action feature (see right) is an absolute must, and fun to boot.
I'm generally a big pusher of overlooked games, and this stands to be a big underdog. (I like the gameplay concept so much that I'm going to seek out Commandos, the spiritual father of Desperados.) Break the 3D bias, break the post-apocalyptic-future bias, break the twitchy fire-and-forget bias. Spend $30 on Desperados.