Review by Sarumusha

Reviewed: 03/10/08 | Updated: 07/24/09

Games don't get much better than this.

The Second World War was not a fun time to be around, but Commandos 2 could convince you otherwise. It’s a top-down adventure game that combines combat and stealth so skilfully that even today there are few games that can rival it for excitement, challenge and depth. There’s little in the way of story (though some of the missions do follow on form one another), just a series of missions that require the talents of the eponymous gang of oddball agents to accomplish.

The Commandos themselves are a team of eight elite soldiers – and a dog. Each one specialises in a different field, such as combat, hijacking, demolition and more. The commandos and their world are brought to life with some truly aesthetically pleasing graphics. The various missions are set in different areas of wartime Europe and Asia, and they’re all beautifully detailed and bursting with vibrant colour. From the battle-scarred streets of France to idyllic Pacific islands, Commandos 2 superbly depicts the battlegrounds of the Second World War. The squad themselves and the various enemy personnel they encounter are smoothly animated and full of personality. The audio side also shines, with a truly epic and grand soundtrack and the humorous remarks made by the commandos themselves. Ambient sound and the various booms and bangs of war are also well depicted, though enemy comments are limited and thus become somewhat repetitive by the end of the game. Missions are preceded and followed by a combination of archive footage and CGI movies that do a good job of setting the scene.

At its core, Commandos 2 offers an incredibly deep and complex experience due to the sheer amount of stuff to do and ways to do it. Each mission has its set of objectives, but the ways to accomplish them are hugely varied. An all-out assault on the enemy is viable, especially since (unlike its predecessor) all the human squad members are now able to retrieve new weapons from defeated enemies, and most of them start with a unique arsenal that caters to their particular strengths. However, their relative fragility means that the stealthy option is usually the best way to go. It’s also true that taking the more subtle route and sticking to strategies like avoiding detection and knocking out rather than killing enemies leads to a better score once the mission is completed.

Sneaking to victory is most easily accomplished by using the whole squad in tandem – for example, disguising your Spy as an enemy officer and using him to distract guards while the others sneak by, or a stronger soldier silently knocks them out one by one. It goes without saying that stale features of stealth games, such as hiding bodies and avoiding the guards’ field of vision, must always be taken into account if you don’t want to invite disaster.

Nevertheless, that is not to say that the path to victory is either clear or linear, and there is great scope for improvisation. If you’re having trouble diverting a sentry’s attention, a tap on the wall, a packet of cigarettes thrown into his field of vision, or even a single loud footstep could cause him to leave his post. The opportunity to improvise is also aided by another feature all too lacking in most games: a fully interactive game world. Gestapo agents breaking down the bedroom door? No problem, just dive out the window. Can’t reach the window in time? Just duck under the bed. Maybe you laid a tripwire or a mantrap in the doorway earlier? If all else fails, that MP40 submachine gun you picked up earlier might be the best option.

The great depth is also aided by the fact that every single building you find can be entered and explored, and each one is like a well guarded mission in itself, with guards patrolling the corridors and cupboards bursting with useful items. Being able to enter these structures and larger vehicles such as bombers and U-boats adds a further dimension to the game’s challenge as well – in the first game buildings were essentially a way to render those inside them invisible, in this game bursting into a building without checking first is likely to get you shot.

It’s fortunate that the Commandos are easy to control, because this is a game where it’s important to act quickly – even the best-laid strategy may have to be adjusted on the fly if a guard turns his head at the wrong time. Thankfully, although the amount of items and techniques you can use obviously means there are a good deal of hotkeys to memorise, after a couple of hours they’ll be second nature. At any time it’s also possible to access a detailed in-game manual that exhaustively details the function of each hotkey and assesses the weapon or skill to which it is assigned. The tutorial missions are also highly informative and can help you nail the basics quite rapidly.

It’s just as well that you can seamlessly switch between sneaking and fighting, because some missions actually include set-piece battles, sometimes even giving you command of extra Allied soldiers for this end. One mission in the latter half of the game is a great reconstruction of the final battle from Saving Private Ryan, requiring you to position a bad of American troops around a small French town in order to fight off a ruthless German platoon (And just as you thought you were gaining the upper hand against the infantry, a tank rumbles into town). This is truly a game that flirts with many genres, though it never feels superficial.

It’s true to say that the difficulty level may put some people off. Though it’s a little more forgiving than the first game (for example, if you’re spotted by a far away guard you’ll get a few seconds to drop to the ground before he realises you’re an intruder), you still seem to be up against elite troops all of the time. If you’re spotted, they’ll shoot to kill, greatly increase the number of patrols, chase you with horrible tenacity and generally be a pain in the neck. Sadly it can occasionally seem unfair – there are ties when an enemy spots you, or hears a gunshot, and immediately the alarm is sounding and reinforcements are flooding in. It’s almost as if the Axis powers had some kind of telepathic link. The guards are also excellent marksmen – it’s almost like battling an army of military cyborgs.

This difficulty level does at least lend longevity to the experience, not to mention an immense sense of satisfaction when a mission is completed. Expect to get several days of play out of it the first time around, and the wealth of ways to play and chance to improve your score automatically adds plenty of replay value. It is also possible to unlock bonus missions by collecting fragments of a photograph in each mission.

All in all, Commandos 2 is a worthy addition to the collection of anyone seeking action and challenge. It combines strategy, action and stealth in a refreshingly challenging and rewarding experience that improves the more you play it, encouraging and rewarding experimentation. There is enough here to keep players entertained for months or even years. It’s truly a masterpiece and a credit to everyone involved.

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Product Release: Commandos 2: Men of Courage (EU, 09/28/01)

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