As its name implies, Desperados 2: Cooper's Revenge is the follow-up to 2001's Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive, a character-based real-time strategy game that could best be summed up as Commandos set in the Old West rather than World War II. This is a genre of games that seems to have quietly faded over the past few years, but developer Spellbound is taking another crack at it with a sequel. Unfortunately, while the visuals have changed, virtually everything else hasn't, and the limitations of the genre are all on display in Desperados 2.
In Desperados 2, John Cooper's unlikely gang of bounty hunters is back at it again, and this time trying to uncover a mystery that involves Cooper's brother, as well as an old legend. Your job is to guide each character through the level, sometimes sneaking past guards when they're not looking and other times using a character's special ability to negotiate an obstacle. As with the Commandos games, each team member in Desperados 2 has a unique ability that only he or she can access. For example, Kate O'Hara is the team's seductress, and she's capable of showing some leg to distract opponents and then blowing powder in their faces to knock them out. Doc McCoy is not only the medic but also the sniper. Sam Williams, along with his other talents, is the explosives expert who uses dynamite and land mines to get his business done.
Many of the familiar conventions found in other character-based strategy games appear in Desperados 2. You can call up vision cones to show you the field of vision for a guard, and so long as you remain out of the cone, you're out of sight. Enemies have patrol patterns that you must analyze, and you need to figure out the best way to use the terrain to your advantage. Unfortunately, many of the same gameplay contrivances that reared their head in the first generation of this style of game remain in Desperados 2. Guards don't have intelligence so much as a few programmed behaviors that are incredibly easy to manipulate. You'll lose count of the times that you'll shoot a guy while his buddies, who stand mere yards away, don't seem to notice. Also, the guards never really seem concerned that one fewer of their buddies shows up at a meeting point every time they do a circuit of their patrol. If you pick them off one by one and stash the bodies in a dark corner, the enemy will never react. And should someone manage to raise the alarm, all you have to do is duck out of sight, and there's a good chance that the enemy will forget all about you and go about their programmed routines after a minute. Or if you do find yourself in a firefight, watch the AI come at you one by one. However, while this makes the combat seem simple, it's almost anything but.
The main issue with Desperados 2 is that, as a real-time strategy game, it's predicated on you failing a lot. You'll often fail nine times out of 10 before you finally figure out how to get past a particularly difficult patch. And it's not like you're failing all those times due to a lack of sincere effort on your part. The game's jump-through-the-hoops level design, clumsy controls, and brutal difficulty will have you grinding your teeth in short order. For example, gunfights require you to pick off hordes of opponents, which isn't an easy task thanks to the incredibly slow aiming reticle. You can't simply point and click, since you have to wait for the crosshairs to zero in on an opponent. In the meantime, that will leave you exposed to fire, and a single bullet will often ruin your day, as there are usually multiple guys firing at you from different angles. Fortunately, it only takes a few seconds to revert to the last quicksave, so you can repeat the process again, and then, if by sheer luck you survive, slam the quicksave key and move on. Needless to say, you'll be abusing quicksave a lot in this game.
On the flipside, things get marginally easier when you switch to the new third-person mode, which lets you take direct control of a team member and aim their weapons like in an action game. You'll still die quite a bit in the trial-and-error gameplay, though, and you'll rely on luck as much as skill when battling multiple opponents. You'll also get to see the AI's lame performance up close, as enemies will do the dumbest things such as stand in the open, run up to a fallen comrade and stare down in wonder at what killed him, or slowly run toward you rather than shoot you from long range. However, it's clear that this isn't a pure action game mode. The controls feel clumsy while in third-person mode, and you often can't do simple tasks such as holding your gun in one hand while opening a door with the other, which leaves you open to getting pumped full of lead by the guy inside before you can draw your gun. Reload, try again.
It's too bad that the gameplay doesn't measure up to the visual presentation of the game. The fully 3D visuals are a big step up from the previous game's look. You'll see beautiful old Spanish forts, dusty towns, and more. In terms of sound, Desperados 2 is filled with some well-done western themes that seem completely appropriate to the setting. On the downside is the corny, almost nasal voice acting, as well as some poor dialogue that plays over grainy in-game photographs during the cutscenes. There's no multiplayer in Desperados 2, but that's not unusual for the genre, since these types of games are based on players battling the environment rather than other players. That leaves you with the single-player game with all of its issues. So, unless you're a dedicated and very patient fan of this style of game, you should probably steer clear