Review by Halron2

"Ahhh! Sir! I need help!"

At a first glance, Commandos may look like just another one of those real-time strategy games. Thankfully, though, it is so much more. An unique kind of strategy game, where you don’t have to build things or trains troops. Instead, you must lead a group of soldiers, each one with unique skills, that must be coordinated in order to accomplish each mission’s goals. Only the combination of a good strategy, lots of patience and a good deal of luck will grant the players a chance to go through the madness that is Commandos.

The game is set in World War II. Obviously, you get to play on the Allied troops’ side, against the nazis. Basically, the units you control in each mission have to penetrate some kind of military base and either destroy some strategic target or rescue prisoners. Each mission is preceded by a quite detailed briefing that includes historical facts from the war and real people involved in it (Churchill, Montgomery, Rommel etc.), which makes me wonder if these missions you get to play, or at least some of them, are similar to things which really took place back then. There actually is a mission where you have to assassinate a German general, ‘the butcher of Paris’, giving the game hints of reality, which really adds to general feel of the game. This supposed realism and attention to detail is just one of those things that makes this game a really special one.

But the one aspect that makes this game a really singular one is the unique gameplay. Instead of building a massive army and attacking your adversary’s terrain, you start each stage with a set number of units, each one unique in its abilities, and you have to come up with a strategy to achieve your goals. When I say strategy, I really mean it: this game requires thinking, planning and a lot of timing and precision. Not even in the first missions you can just run up to the enemies firing your guns. When you get to the latest stages, with maps filled with hordes of Nazi soldiers of all kinds, the timing of each action of your men will be crucial: one step wrong and it’s game over. Also, each mission requires a different strategy, a different plan – rarely two stages in this game will feel, look and play alike, if ever.

In each mission, you have from two to six men, of six different types: the green beret, the sniper, the marine, the driver, the sapper and the spy. Each one of them is unique and crucial along the game: while the green beret is the killing machine (and thus the most used and most frequent in the game), the sniper can fire for afar, the marine can dive underwater and use a boat, the driver can use tanks and other vehicles, the sapper can plant bombs and use traps and the spy can disguise himself as a German general. The great thing is that all of the characters are essential for beating the game and some of their abilities are of limited use (like the sniper bullets), so that you have to keep track of what you are spending and what you have left. Also, the game chooses the units you will have for each mission, meaning you have to deal with what you are given in order to succeed.

The enemies in Commandos are also full of resources. They can sound the alarm, trigger bombs, listen to noises you make, arrest you and, of course, fire at you when you enter their line of sight. A wise player would use the enemy’s abilities for their own profit, like attracting attention of soldiers with noises, letting them see you to make them follow you and so on. The enemies also pilot a large variety of vehicles, including motorcycles and tanks and can also use machine gun turrets, cannons and other things that make your life hell.

Most people also talk about the game’s difficulty level, saying it’s one of the hardest games ever, that it could take years to beat and so on. The game really isn’t easy at all, requiring a good deal of thinking, planning and coordinating the actions of each character available in each mission. But, after studying each unit’s peculiarities and learning the enemy’s mistakes and weak spots (they’re resourceful, but only to a certain extent), there seems to be little mystery in beating the game. Actually, it can still take hours to get past a mission, specially the last ones, but more because of the huge number of enemies than of a real difficulty. To make things possible, the game provides hints in a notepad, which also reminds you of your goals for each mission, and unrealistic resources, such as an unlimited number of saves and the possibility to see your enemy’s line of sight.

In terms of graphics, Commandos is very solid. It doesn’t use polygonal graphics, but the 2D designs look really amazing. Specially the backgrounds, each one very unique and detailed. I particularly remember a mission, where you must rescue a prisoner and escape through the roofs of a city, that has a really impressive, astonishing design. All objects in the backgrounds also look great, detailed and realistic, including the vehicles you can use. The units you control look fairly different to one another, also including a lot of interesting detail (like the big belly for the sapper, different uniforms for the desert missions etc.). The only thing that gets repetitive is the enemy soldier designs, that only change slightly in the desert missions (I can’t even remember if they really change designs or only the colors). The fact is that the visual concept of Commandos was very well done and looks very realistic, even if it uses 2D graphics. More importantly, it does have a strong ‘World War II feel’, which is really important in setting the mood for the game.

The sound design was also done wonderfully in the game. The first thing to call attention is the voice acting, with a different voice for each character, with real, even if a bit forced, accents, giving each character, I mean, unit, a distinctive personality that is even more memorable than their looks. You can tell which unit you’re controlling by the verbal response they give you. Also, they have a big enough (although it could be bigger) variety of sentences for each one, avoiding repetitiveness. The enemy soldiers also have lines, although all of them have the same voice, but it helps the gameplay, because you know what they are up to by listening to what they’re saying (like, when they see you, they shout something). It’s interesting to note that the soldiers actually speak German. The music in this game is very sparse, playing only during briefing and menus, or when you pass a stage or die, but the few pieces included fit nicely into the picture. Because of this lack of music, the sound effects play a big part in the tension created in the game. The war sounds, including vehicles moving, bombs exploding, guns firing, dogs barking and everything else are very well done and they do create a very tense surrounding, specially combined with a silent background (no music, I mean). So, the sound design overall was very well thought and implemented, working together with the graphics to create a real ‘war environment’.

Overall, Commandos is a very unique and very thrilling game, one that can last for a good time, because of its challenge and fun gameplay. It would be hard to imagine anyone coming back too often to it, though, because the real fun is developing your own strategies to complete each mission and the happiness of having actually passed a stage after hours and hours of planning and thinking. Beating this game is a very rewarding experience, mainly because of all the hardships you must go through to do it, and you will be really excited to have finally ended the nazi’s dreams of conquering the world. But, after that dreaded 20th stage, you will be also left with the sad feeling that there are no more tasks to be accomplished back in World War II. Thankfully, there was Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty, but that is another story.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 07/11/02, Updated 05/19/03


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