Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive is a stealth-based real-time tactics computer game, developed by Spellbound and released in 2001. In the game, the player controls up to six characters in a wild west setting. The protagonist is a wordly knife fighter and gunslinger, John Cooper. He takes on a bounty to capture a notorious train robber named "El Diablo". As Cooper sets off on his quest, he is aided by five other friends and they work together in a real-time, stealth based structure very similar to that introduced in Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, although an all-out gunfight is still highly possible in the game. A sequel called Desperados 2: Cooper's Revenge was released in late March 2006. A second sequel, Helldorado, (announced as expansion pack Desperados 2: Conspiracy but made into a full game) was released in mid 2007 in Germany. The English version was released in some regions in November 2007.
The game takes place in New Mexico, 1881. Many trains have been robbed the last few months by a mysterious and vicious bandit named El Diablo. The railroad company Twinnings & Co has offered $15,000 to the one who can stop El Diablo. Bounty hunter John Cooper accepts the task, despite the objections of bad-tempered and contemptous US Marshal Jackson, but soon learns the mission is not as simple as he first assumed. John intends to create a team of his old partners to aid him on his hunt for the train robbers, consisting of Sam, Doc and Kate. When he discovers that Sanchez is not in fact the leader of the raids, he releases him and enlists his help too. The team of 5 end up increasing by one more when Mia's father is killed at his outpost, and she vows to avenge his death.
In a surprising twist, El Diablo is revealed to be Marshal Jackson, who captures the characters and jails them in his secret cave headquarters. With the help of Mia, they successfully escape out of their cell. Cooper then chases El Diablo up to his office and kills him in the ensuing gunfight.
- The leader of the gang; the player begins the game with this character. His tutorial is the first level, taking place in Opelousas, LA. He is the most important character in the gang, and is playable in every mission except in the tutorials for the other characters.
- Cooper is the most rapid shooter (he has a Remington Army 1875), and can shoot three men within a second. He also carries a throwing knife which he can use as a weapon and cutting tool. Cooper is one of two characters that can carry unconscious or dead bodies, but he is the only character who can climb walls and mountains and saddle horses. The pocket watch which he acquires in his tutorial plays a tune after a preset time, which proves very useful for luring enemy guards into striking range.
- An African-American, he is picked up by Cooper at a cotton plantation in Louisiana. He's obsessed with explosives, heavy weapons and pretty women, and his jovial and wise-cracking nature often clashes with Doc McCoy's seriousness. His tutorial takes place at an Indian territory in Louisiana.
- Sam's tools include dynamite, a sack with a rattlesnake in it, rope for tying unconscious people, and he can also use barrels of TNT in certain missions. His Winchester rifle has the longest range and contains the most amount of bullets. Sam is also one of two characters that can use gatling guns, but only at fixed stations.
- A physician, he is saved from being lynched for fraud in Jennings, LA. He is a somewhat tense person and usually speaks in a low growl. His tutorial takes place at his cabin, which is located in a swamp in Louisiana.
- Doc McCoy wields a powerful Colt Buntline Special, for which he has crafted special high-precision bullets that transform the revolver into a sniper rifle. Being a man of science, McCoy also has knock-out gas vials which can be thrown or delivered by balloons filled with helium. He can also revive unconscious characters and heal wounded allies. His massive trenchcoat can be used as a scarecrow for decoy actions, and he is an accomplished lockpick and safecracker.
- A professional gambler, she is saved in Baton Rouge after being accused of cheating. She is beautiful and seductively charming but quite overconfident, a trait which gets her into trouble more than once. Just like Cooper, her tutorial takes place in Opelousas.
- Kate has poker cards for luring guards, a mirror - which is used for either blinding enemies or lighting Sam's TNT barrels from a distance - and a powerful and (relatively) silent, but short-ranged, Derringer. Kate can attract men by playing with her garter belt and then can kick them; her kick is faster and stronger than Cooper's punch. A little-used ability in this game is her disguise skill. Kate is also the only character who can automatically move silently when walking on noisy surfaces.
- A Mexican bandit leader, Sanchez is captured by the first four characters in New Mexico, thinking he is guilty of the train robberies; but when John realises Sanchez is innocent, he decides to free him from Fortezza. Sanchez is loud and brash, and more a man of brawns rather than brains, but his strength and his knowledge about El Diablo's organization prove highly useful to the team. His tutorial takes place at his fortress in New Mexico.
- Sanchez has tequila, which attracts enemy guards and also makes them inebriated. Sanchez can also fake a siesta, which causes enemies to approach him curiously and thus gives him an opportunity to knock them out with a roundhouse swing. He has a sawn-off shotgun that can harm or kill multiple men with only one shot and carries two shells at a time. Like Sam, Sanchez can use gatling guns, although he can also carry them. When Sanchez enters a buildings with three or less enemies, he will throw them out a door, leaving them unconscious. Sanchez can use his strength to carry two bodies at a time, throw stones to knock out enemies, or push heavy objects aside.
- A Chinese girl, she joins the gang right after her father is killed by Marshal Jackson. At 18 years, Mia is the youngest character in the gang. In her quest for revenge, she is quite courageous, though not as fool-hardy as Kate tends to be; she makes up for her lack of combat strength with wit and sneakiness, perhaps more than the others. Her tutorial takes place at a mine in New Mexico.
- Mia can use her small size to hide inside barrels. She has a whistle, flash grenades, peanuts and her monkey, Mr. Leone for distracting enemies. Her blowpipe has very short range, contains only one dart at a time, and does minimal physical damage. The darts will, however, drive the victim into a psychotic shooting spree, attacking friends, foes, and civilians. If the victim is not shot dead by his own friends, he will eventually fall unconscious.
- Mr. Leone the monkey is a reference to Spaghetti Western director, Sergio Leone.
The game is well-known for having a very advanced AI. The player can use flashlights on NPCs to see their fields of vision. Depending on the color of the cone, the player can see the mental state of the NPC. If the cone is green, it means the person is calm. Similarly, a yellow cone signifies suspicion, and a red means the NPC has spotted one of the characters. Some colors signify special status such as a pink cone, meaning the NPC has become attracted to Kate, or a black cone, meaning they have been hit by Mia's blowpipe.
Another special feature is the Quick Action, in which certain actions - from running to a certain place up to using a weapon against a pre-targeted enemy - can be 'pre-programmed' and called upon immediately when needed. For instance, by programming his revolver with Quick Action, Cooper can either concentrate all three shots he can fire on a single opponent or divide them between up to three targets without having to move the mouse icon around.
An easter egg is to be found in the tutorial level for Doc McCoy: When he builds his scarecrow on the pier, a sequence occurs which spoofs a scene from The Empire Strikes Back.
The game received generally favorable reviews from critics. On the review aggregator Game Rankings
, 80% of critics gave the game positive reviews, based on 28 reviews. On Metacritic
, the game had an average score of 78 out of 100, based on 12 reviews.
- The Gatling guns used in the game feature not an arrangement of multiple barrels around a central axis, but one singular barrel in a tubular jacket typical for water-cooled machine guns (in fact, they look much like M1917 Browning machine guns), and a side-mounted ammunition box for belt-feeding (in mechanical Gatlings gravity-feeding systems like hopper were used). Also, because mechanical Gatlings as they were used in the American West required manual operation by a crank, it would be realistically impossible for Sanchez to fire it and keep it relatively stable at the same time while it is removed from its bracings.
- The gun powder barrels Sam can use are labeled TNT, notwithstanding that despite their usage as explosives, both are basically unrelated substances.