Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive

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a game by Infogrames
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 7.8/10, based on 2 reviews, 5 reviews are shown
User Rating: 7.0/10 - 16 votes
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See also: Strategy Games, Top Down Games, Isometric Games, Tactical RPG, Casino Games, Poker Games, Wild West Games, Desperado Games

At the time it was released in 2001, Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive was a huge deal. This is a strategy game that shows, you can have a great deal of action and cinematic flair with a strategy game. I am a huge fan of this series and pretty much anything that is set in the Old West. Even now, near 20 years later this is a game I can have a great deal of fun with.

It’s All the Same

The story of the game is awesome and like something out of a movie. Set close to the Mexican border, there have been a string of train robberies by an elite gang of bandits. No one is willing to stand up to them until a bounty hunter and badass called, John Cooper rolls into town offering to do so…. For a ton of money of course. John puts together an epic team to take down the bandits, but the story takes many twists and turns and not everything is as it originally seems. This game is awesome from a story point of view and I have played through it a few times and always enjoyed it.

Only The Name’s Will Change

The gameplay of Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive is very similar to the Commandos games. Each mission/level has you needing to think about each move that you do before you do it. John Cooper has put together an awesome team. You have Sam who is your explosives expert, Doc who is your physician, and who is also handy with a sniper rifle, you also have Kate who can seduce any man into doing what she wants. Each character has their own set of skills and abilities and it is how you use these that get you through each mission. Enemies will patrol around, so you have to use each location to your advantage to try and avoid an all-out gunfight for as long as possible. The controls could not be any easier to figure out which I like. It is the strategy that is the tough part and that is what a game like this should be.

Everyday, It Seems We're Wastin' away

As much as I love Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive I will admit that once you have beaten the game, there is not exactly a ton of replay value. Now, you can go about missions’ different ways if you want. However, I always revert to the same strategies as I know that they work. I can see why some people have beaten this game once and then never bothered to go back and play it again. There is nothing wrong with a game being a one and done kind of thing I guess, but I am sure it will bother some people.

I will admit that I think the two sequels, especially the third game are better than what Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive is offering. Still, in playing through this again for the first time in a few years I had a great time. It was amazing to have a strategy game be so cinematic back in 2001 and I feel that it holds up very well to this day. It is easy to get into and the game overall is a ton of fun.


Final Score


  • Each character has their own set of skills to utilize
  • I loved the setting and the story
  • Even now, the game holds up pretty well in the visual department
  • Back in 2001, it stood out from the other games in the genre
  • Cowboys will always be cool!


  • The sequels are better
  • Not a lot of incentive to replay the game

Download Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive


System requirements:

  • PC compatible
  • Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP

Game Reviews

Dismissed by most as a simple Commandos clone, Desperados surprised everybody at a recent press showing in Germany by proving it has more to offer than just cowboys and Indians. Actually Desperados has only one Indian in the entire game, but that's because in 1880 Native Americans didn't venture as far south as New Mexico or Louisiana. Duh. Didn't you know? We do. Well, we do now anyway; Offenburg based developer Spellbound Entertainment told us.

Aye Caramba!

At a glance, there's no disputing the fact that Desperados is Commandos with a Wild West sheen. But as Infogrames producer Ralph Adam explains, the differences are subtle, yet significant: "We have more than 30 different types of enemy, whereas in Commandos there were three. All of our enemies react differently too. There are the Mexicans who are pretty stupid, through to the Sheriffs who are very smart. If you watch any enemy for a while and study how they behave, you get a feeling of how intelligent they really are, and how they will react to you." There's a truth to Herr Adam's statement that is hard to appreciate unless you physically sit down and play the game. We did, and on all of the game's 25 levels Mexicans are indeed portrayed as cowardly arse-scratching morons whose appetite for tequila and whores render them ineffective as guards and highly susceptible to imaginative forms of bribery. Whereas if you're attempting to infiltrate a Confederate Fortress, the discipline of the soldiers within means you have to work overtime hiding behind every rock, cactus and bush available to remain undetected.

In order to make the extraordinary AI work perfectly there are ten personality-defining attributes for every type of enemy and civilian. These include criteria such as resistance to alcohol, laziness, gambling, shot accuracy, courage, sense of duty, and the urge to have sex. Again, it's our sombrero-wearing friends who seem to take the brunt of Spellbound's playful stereotyping, but will real Mexicans see it as harmless fun?

Infogrames' senior product manager, Michael Bach doesn't believe its portrayal of Mexicans is unduly harsh: "We're just presenting the Wild West the way it was. There's actually a Mexican in the game who's very powerful. We also have Chinese, Negroes and women, so Desperados is a multicultural game." At this point Ralph Adam jokingly implies that the main bad guy is actually Kevin Keegan. And there's us thinking this was a strategy game...

Spaghetti Overdose

In fairness, no one can accuse Spellbound of shirking its research or not taking the game seriously. As well as sifting through literature on American history circa 1880, everybody from the graphic artists to the CEO has been on a two year Western film bender to ensure the facts are straight. Whether having John Wayne or Clint Eastwood as a personal tutor actually qualifies you as an expert in these matters is questionable to say the least, but one thing a relentless diet of Spaghetti Westerns can do is instill a definite graphical style. And, as we're sure you'll agree, that aspect of Desperados is beautifully done.

The team's total and utter devotion to everything Wild West has also led to what should be a real edge-of-the-seat Western plot with saloon brawls, train robberies and Maverick inspired feisty female skulduggery. The sue main characters in this epic digital Western (John Cooper, Kate O'Hara, Samuel Williams, Doc McCoy, Paulo Sanchez and Mia Young) all have distinct personalities as well as each having five unique skills to help crowbar the team out of all manner of predicaments. In total that's 30 basic skills covering such innovations as kicking Mexicans in the bollocks (the favourite move of Infogrames' spanking PR person, Lynn "Daddy" Daniel), explosives experts, balloons filled with poison gas, blinding enemies with make-up mirrors and of course good of fashion guns and knives. There's no preset way of completing a level either, so it's left up to the player's instincts to decide by what means they will progress. Gas, guns, groin... The scope for experimentation is virtually limitless.

Line'em Up

Desperados has another ace up its tricky poker playing sleeves: the line of sight routine is in full 3D. In other words, if you see a bandit on a balcony, you can sneak underneath without him even knowing you're there - unless you make too much noise, of course. Yes, there are basic stealth elements in place, and again you'll eventually have to learn which characters are best when it comes to sneaking around bandit territory and the like. And if you're ever unsure of the whereabouts of your enemies, there are three different levels of zoom to choose from, as well as an overview map depicting the location of every man, woman and child on the level.

All this and Desperados isn't due for release until April - and apparently, according to Infogrames Germany, there's another major surprise to come. Maybe it'll be the size of the Mexican's moustaches. Maybe it'll be a free Fajita with every copy sold. Or maybe, just maybe, it'll be released on time.

Heavyweight French publisher Infogrames has always been surprisingly approachable when it conies to previews, but even they have surpassed themselves this time.

By mailing out fully playable code of Desperados to all major UK PC magazines, they're almost daring some opportunistic hack to turn a last minute preview into a sneaky exclusive review. It's a test of strength if you will. Those who resist the urge will be rewarded with beer, food and future goodwill. Those who don't will be tortured with cries of "English pig dog!" and have dead animals sent to diem in the post.

So, here at ZONE we've opted for peace and harmony and decided to wait for the full review code, which we are assured will be ready for next month (although we'll believe that when we see it). In the meantime we'll do our best to bring you the most detailed preview possible, and frankly that's going to be easy because Desperados is not short on stuff to shout about.

Hard As Nails

First off, Desperados is one of the roughest, toughest games we've ever come across. Even Commandos, the game it most closely resembles, is made to look like a stroll through the trenches in comparison to the ridiculous high-risk infiltration tactics John Cooper (the main character) and his five desperate pals must endure.

And yet it all starts so easily. The first mission focuses on familiarising the player with the interface and controls. At no point is the lone Mr Cooper required to perform any heroics other than sneaking up on an old double-crossing mate to steal his horse.

Mission two on the other hand is an entirely different story. Suddenly you're in at the deep end. With an unconscious sidekick slung over your shoulder, your goal is to subtly punch, shoot and knife your way from one side of a ranch to die other in order to steal some horses and make good your escape. The developers will have you believe that the Mexican bandits patrolling the area are too pissed on Tequila to cause you any problems, but this is blatantly untrue. After restarting the mission for the 20th time, it becomes clear that these Mexicans have no problem at keeping it together, even with a hallucinogenic worm or two inside them.

Their 3D fields of vision scan every nook and cranny of the estate, and should one of them suspect that a blade of grass is bent in the wrong direction, there'll be about 20 of the buggers all over it in a frenzy of twitching moustaches and nasal hair.

Precision Engineering

Desperados is all about precision. The graphics, though extremely detailed and hugely atmospheric, have been created with quick, efficient gameplay in mind. The trouble is, the interface itself could pose a potential threat to the way the game should be played. In 1024x768 resolution, the characters and icons are extremely small, making it difficult for the mouse interface to provide the fluidity needed to perform rapid, multiple instructions. Ultimately, if you don't learn the hotkeys you'll be dead long before high noon. Another annoyance is the way the mini-map obscures part of the play area. This becomes infuriating when an intended target disappears behind it. Worse still, the enemy in question can still see you, and when he shoots you dead from his hidden location, it doesn't exactly put you in the best of moods.

To avoid quick deaths, it's usually a good idea to remain unarmed as you sneak about. That way if one of your renegades are spotted they'll be asked to "stick 'em up" before being punched unconscious, leaving the rest of the party to sort out the mess. OK, so it is a bit of a bind having to perform a daring rescue when there are more important things to get on with, but at least nobody dies - with any luck. Anyway, it goes without saying that Desperados will be the type of game where regular saving is a must if you have any desire to get past the first four missions.

Western Promise

There's no doubt whatsoever that Desperados will be overflowing with classic spaghetti western ingredients, and some great new ideas to boot. Some of the items your gang can use include gas-filled balloons, mirrors, rattlesnakes in bags, dynamite, and Gatling guns.

On top of all that, there are brothels, brawls, hangings and a little bit of romance thrown in for good measure. Desperados could just be the rip-roaring movie-like western game we've been waiting for. Let's just hope the interface and gameplay is perfected in time for next month, otherwise there could be a bit of a gunfight at the Corral...

Wild West games aren't exactly rife on the PC. In fact, until a couple of months ago and the arrival of America, you'd be hard pushed to think of a single decent one. Well, now we've got a grand total of two thanks to Germany's Spellbound Software, and this one is the business. Desperados is an intense strategy game along the lines of Commandos, where precision and patience are the overriding factors. The graphics are small but detailed and the emphasis is on using wisdom before Winchester rifles. There's also a very powerful film-based atmosphere with characters and plot all inspired by numerous spaghetti and Hollywood westerns. You could say that Desperados is the thinking man's Clint Eastwood.

Wrong Side Of The Tracks

Most of the action takes place in the south-western states of the USA near the Mexican border. The year is 1881 and a spate of train robberies near the town of El Paso is ruining the famous Twining's & Co Railroad Company. It's up to you to discover who's behind this outrage and ultimately claim the 515,000 reward.

The six desperate bounty hunters under your command are a colourful bunch of men and women boasting a surprising range of skills. Sam is a dab hand at throwing dynamite and using heavy weaponry; Doc McCoy has his knockout gas-filled balloons; there's the gorgeous Kate who's got a body and knows how to use it and Mia Young who has a cheeky little monkey. Sanchez is a typical Mexican bruiser, but a particularly handy man to have around in a bar brawl. In total there are more than 30 different ways to kill, knock out, startle or confuse your enemies.

Leading all these misfits is John Cooper, the main hero of the piece and a man who sounds like he's been doing bad voice-overs for film trailers all his life. Actually, if we're going to be completely honest about this, Desperados is packed full of irritating accents that make you want to strangle the nearest Yankie - but anyway we digress... At the start of the game Mr Cooper is on his own and in a tutorial. There's a lot to think about in Desperados, and the mouse interface isn't always as smooth as it should be in a game of this type. Hotkeys are the order of the day and the tutorial makes a point of emphasising this, so pay close attention otherwise you will flounder very quickly. As you progress through the game more of your illustrious colleagues join the group. With each new arrival another basic tutorial introduces you to their abilities and then it's on to the next instalment of high jinks and gun-toting tomfoolery. It may seem like overkill on the tutorial front and that's probably true, but there's no denying the tact that with the amount of guns, gadgets and interesting goodies available, you need all the help you can get figuring them out.

Creative Panic

It's actually amazing how creative you can be when you're forced into a corner. Take the Mississippi Steamer level where you have to rescue feisty Kate from a cabin on board the boat. At the start of that stage, you glance at the amount of enemies prowling around and predict there's no way on earth you're going to get anywhere near that woman. Have a little faith though -in Desperados, even the most, ahem, desperate predicament can be overcome with a bit of brainpower, a lot of trial and error, and a massive amount of quick-saving.

In this particular situation a second, more analytical look at the mini-map reveals any number of potential plans from A through to 2. Desperados is all about improvisation; if an alley is not patrolled get your team in there quick and then worry what to do next. If the entrance to the boat is heavily guarded, then look for another way in. Alternatively try cutting the rope securing the lifeboat hanging above the guards' heads so that it drops and crushes them to death. The possibilities are endless - it's just learning to spot them.

Quality German Engineering

Obviously the quieter you are the further you'll go - and we're not just talking about crawling along the floor in the shadows. Most objects in the game have a noise value, which may help or hinder your progress. For example, jumping on a horse and galloping through town is an extremely conspicuous and stupid act. Sprinting through a courtyard amidst a squealing, screeching mass of pigs and chickens is also likely to attract attention. You need to think about where you are. If you're next to a waterfall and spot an enemy, shooting them is likely to escape interest because the sound of the rushing water will cover your gunshots. Ultimately, the beautifully detailed surroundings of Desperados are not just superficial; they are fully interactive and an integral part of the gameplay.

Working within these brilliant aesthetics is a superb line-of-sight routine. All NPCs (including civilians) can look left, right, up and down. If someone is positioned on the roof of a building, they stand a much better chance of seeing you sneak into a building on the other side of the road than spotting you entering the building they are currently stood atop. It's all about physics and angles of course, and who better than the Germans to get that side of things absolutely spot-on?

Riding Into The Sunsct

Desperados is the best western we've ever played on a PC - on top of that it's also a good strategy game. True, there are those who will find it tough to get into, but it's worth persevering with, especially if you're a fan of Clint Eastwood, John Wayne, Lee Van Cleef and the rest. Desperados is rich in western film culture and rich in entertainment - buy it or get out of town.


Yeeeee Haaaaaawww! Saddle up them horses, boys and girls, we ride at dawn. Strap on your six-shooter, grab your duster and sharpen those spurs because I’ve got some wild wild west fun for you. What do you get when you combine Commandos with saloon girls, poker tables and tumbleweeds? You get the great new game from Infogrames called Desperados.

The year is 1881 and the Railroad Company Twinnings & Co is having troubles with hold-ups and ambushes on its rail line. They are offering a bounty of 15,000 dollars to anyone who can put an end to the raids. But no one in the town of El Paso has the guts to put a stop to the banditos, except for you, the famous bounty hunter John Cooper. Desperados comes packed with 25 missions that will test your brains and nerve and have you staying up till the wee hours of the morning. You’ll find yourself in unique environments that bring the wild west alive, such as a saloon, steamboat, jail, gold mine and a ghost town. Just remember the posse that slays together, stays together.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

Anyone who has played Commandos will instantly feel at home with Desperados simply because its gameplay is just like that in the Commandos series. Your view is a top down view that lets you see your characters and the map that you are playing. Using your arrow keys or the mouse you can scroll all over the entire map. Most actions are done with the simple point and click, but it is highly recommended that you learn the quick keys otherwise you’ll be pushing daisies in the town cemetery real quick.

Each mission in the game usually has a tutorial that comes before it so you can try out each new character and all of his actions without having your head handed to you. I must point out that this is one of the finer points of the game. It’s really nice to be able to figure out how the character plays before having to go face an entire town of really mad cowboys who really want to fill you full of holes.

Desperado has six characters that are introduced throughout the game and each one has his or her own unique abilities that will help you make it through the mission. I also really enjoyed the different missions -- some will require you to be stealthy, the very next one might have you rescuing somebody and then after that you just might have to go in all guns blazing. I never once felt like I was repeating a mission because each one has different objectives and a totally different look. First time players will also enjoy the mini movie at the start of the mission -- it lays out all the objectives that must be completed in order for the mission to be successful and also gives you a look at the entire map so you know what to expect.

What really brings Desperados alive is the full motion video that is played at certain points of the game/story; it really sucks you in and makes you want to play even more. My cousin had a good laugh at me because at one point we were going through a mission that required stealth. I was creeping up on a guard getting ready to draw a smiley face across his neck with my knife when all of a sudden my cousin started talking and I turned and said "shhhhhhhhhh" to him -- you know the game has drawn you in when worried about being heard in the real world.

Experienced players will appreciate the challenge of Desperados because some missions have so many guards and civilians that it is tough to move without being heard, let alone seen. You also have to find the right combination of characters to finish the mission. You might have to use John Cooper to knock someone out, but then you have to use one of your other characters to tie him up so he doesn’t get away.

Originality / Cool Features

There are a couple of really cool features that I want to share with you that made me very pleased. The first is the Quick Action function, which is way cool in my book. What this lets you do is save an action, such as shooting someone. Instead of clicking on your gun icon and then clicking on the bad guy you want to kill you just hit your quick key button and the action is carried out. This comes in handy when you don’t have time to do all that pointing and clicking.

The other cool feature that made me laugh till my sides ached was the ability to jump out of a second story window onto the saddle of my horse. I would clear a section of the map so there was no one around and try that over and over, it was great!!!


The graphics for each map are awesome, as is the attention to detail. They did a wonderful job of recreating scenes of the wild west. You’ll find hitching posts to tie your horses to, old run down shacks that have seen better days, big rows of cornfields to sneak through and of course we can’t forget saloons that have the vivacious saloon gals inside. The colors in the game are very vibrant and bring out the most in each map. The mission that has you rescuing Doc, one of your characters in the game, is a good example. The mission is set in the middle of the day so it looks like the sun is beating down hard. The ground has the dry dusty look to it that will make you think it hasn’t rained in months. All of the buildings look like they need a fresh coat of paint because of the scorching sun beating down. The whole thing has a dusty gritty feel to it that lets you know this is unforgiving land.

Now for the downside. I didn’t like how the characters were done in the game, they seem too small to really appreciate the detail that I know they put into them. Trying to adjust the screen resolution helps a little but not enough for my liking. I realize that if they had made the characters in the game bigger they would have seemed disproportionate to the buildings but they just needed to be a tad bigger. Other than that I have no complaints because the graphics do what they are supposed to do, make you feel like you in the wild west fighting for your very survival.


Infogrames did a great job with the music in the game. It always seemed to match up with what was going on at the time. During tense moments in the game, the music would also tense up which put me even more on the edge than I was before. However, the voices for the characters in the game become very repetitive. Each character in John Cooper’s posse has three or four lines that are said over and over again when they are commanded to perform a certain action, so it gets old real fast. At one point I was wishing I could gag my players instead of the bad guys. I found myself laughing at certain points in the game when I would hear civilians in the game talking about the bad guys. A cowboy would stumble upon someone I had killed and he would say " He’s not moving." Hmmm, what gave him that idea? Maybe because I stabbed and killed him, hahaha.

System Requirements

PII 266 MHz or AMD K-6 processor or higher, 64 MB RAM, 4X CD-ROM or faster, SVGA-640x480 with 16 Bit Color video card, and Win 95B, Win98, Win ME, or Win 2000.


A quick note to players. No quick-key card is included in the game so I had to make my own. The type print in the manual is too small to use the quick-key section.

Bottom Line

I’ve been waiting for a fun challenging strategy game that had the same feel as Commandos for quite some time. Desperados fills the order and then some. If you are looking for a game that will actually make you think instead of just shooting anything that moves then you better saddle up your horse and ride down to your local software store because Desperados is the game for you. Patience is a virtue when playing Desperados, so if you have very little of it you’ll probably want to look elsewhere for a game. On that note I’ll give Desperados a score of 80/100. The reason the score isn’t higher is because in the second mission of the game I found the subject matter of race not too politically correct for the times we live in. Other than that, this game is as pretty and fun as those vivacious saloon gals that I love so much.

I’m off to capture me some train robbers, but please don’t tell my wife that I wear her cowboy hat when playing this game because she’ll never let me live it down.

Snapshots and Media

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