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Review by Vic

"Strategy ain't nothin' but adventure misspelled..."

They told me this game was a strategy game, but they lied.

I'm a huge fan of two major genres in computer games. My first love is the adventure genre, where you take the role of a character solving various puzzles to save the day. My close second is strategy, where planning and execution is the top priority. Unfortunately, the current lack of solid, well-designed adventure games has left me existing solely on the food of strategy.

Imagine my surprise when I booted up Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, and found that my new "pretty good" strategy toy was actually a "phenomenal" adventure game.

Let me explain.

In some ways, Commandos is a strategy game. You have six soldiers with unique special abilities ranging from disguise to boat usage to machine gun nest operation. In order to complete each mission, you have to pick the right soldier's right special ability and use it at the right time.

In more ways, Commandos is an adventure game. You have six soldiers with unique special abilities, and in order to solve each puzzle, you have to pick the right soldier's right special ability and use it at the right time.

The reason why it's more of an adventure game than a strategy game is that your options are severely limited. Most places in the game are railroaded and can only be passed in one of maybe four ways. But four ways to solve a puzzle in an adventure game is a beautiful, rare gem.

But there are more reasons why Commandos is the best adventure game I've ever seen. For starters, the puzzles make sense. You no longer have to open locked doors with weird gobbledygooks on them without knowing what's on the other side. You don't have to ask yourself, "Who in their right mind would leave the key to a Very Important Door hidden underneath a rock that requires the operation of a crane to move?" You know why you're solving the puzzles. You know what you're going after. You have to sneak your Green Beret past the machine gun nest so he can shove the gasoline barrels next to the satellite dish so you can blow it sky high and cripple the Bad Guy's communication capabilities. Makes sense.

Now how are you going to do it? Well, you can pick off the guy manning the machine gun nest and hide behind a door, killing the patrolling guards one by one as they come running over to investigate. Or you can sneak up behind the guy manning the machine gun nest, kill him, take the machine gun and mow down the patrolling guards. Or you can stand behind cover from the machine gun nest, wait until the patrol nears a gasoling barrel, and blow them sky high.

Compared to other strategy games, your options are so limited that you feel crippled and condemned to only one or two strategies. Compared to other adventure games, however, you not only know why you're solving realistic puzzles, but you have more than one way to solve them.

So, let's call Commandos an adventure game, and move on with the review.

The puzzles are not your typical adventure game puzzles. Most do not ONLY require heavy planning and thinking, but also precise execution. The result is that, after a successful mission, you look back and say to yourself, "Damn. That was a pretty cool surgical strike." It also makes more than a few exciting war stories.

The flip side is that the game is extremely difficult, not only with the creativity end of it (which good adventure games always include), but also with the dexterity end of it (which good adventure games shouldn't include). Timing is critical, and a missed click will end your mission really quickly.

This slight flaw is made much worse by the fact that you can not save in the middle of a mission. This is perhaps my biggest complaint. An hour of sweat and nerve-wracking timing and headache-causing planning could be lost in one botched maneuver, or two stray mouse clicks. This can get extremely frustrating when you're playing through the later, longer missions.

While the graphics aren't up to par with the latest in 3D technology, they don't really need to be, either, and the simple isometric view saves a lot of lag and distraction, leaving you alone with the puzzles and little else to break your concentration.

The sound is wonderful, however, and the voice acting (what little is included) is pretty good. The distinct accents and voices add real personality to your squad and make losing them not only unforgivable because of their usefulness, but also because you care about their well-being.

The last concern is the controls. How are they? Pretty durn good. The stray clicks are rare (although driving large vehicles is inanely difficult), and, for the number of options you have at your disposal (hide! climb! shoot! run! drive! stab! swim!), the controls are remarkably well designed. It takes a little getting used to, but halfway through the first mission you should have it down pat.

In the end, there is very little left out of the game that should have been included, and almost nothing in the game that didn't add to the experience. While those looking for an innovative strategy game may be more than a little disappointed, the adventure lovers out there will find in this game a creative, realistic, well-designed addition to their genre.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 11/01/99, Updated 11/01/99

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