Name: Commandos 2: Men of Courage.
Developer: Pyro Studios
Price: £34.99
Min System Spec: PII266 64mb Ram DirectX GFX Card
Recommended System Spec: PII450 128Ram 8mb DirectX GFX Card
Official Web Site Eidos Site
Reviewed By: Fugue

Commandos 2: Men of Courage.

Back in 1998 a little known Spanish developer released a 2D real time strategy game set in WW2 following the exploits of a small group of Commandos. It was never seen as a game destined for greatness but it and the stand alone sequel have since gone on to sell over one million copies world wide. Three years later Pyro studios have built on the original idea, tweaked and tuned the gameplay and unleashed the all new Commandos 2. It's now 3D, it's still a blend of action, strategy and adventure and it is also still damned hard.

If you are expecting a great step up in graphics from the original games then you will probably be slightly disappointed, but this is a game not just about eye candy and more about gameplay. Commandos 2 has plenty of that packed onto the games 3 discs which, install a mighty 2.0 Gb of files onto your hard drive. Your highly trained team now have an almost limitless range of special abilities, weapons and equipment at their disposal, and with maps populated with hordes of sharp-eyed, trigger happy enemies you will need to master them all to succeed.

The advertising boasts a new 3D engine (not strictly true) and some of the most realistic environments ever created, whilst the latter may be a slight exaggeration the graphics are excellent although not quite as sharp as they could have been. At the games maximum resolution of 1024x768 it looks very nice, zoom in slightly to get a better view and all that crispness turns into pixel hell. Forget about tweaking those options, there aren't any to speak of, just select your desired resolution then use the high/med/low detail slider.

The amazingly detailed backgrounds, buildings and characters do look fully 3D, for the soldiers this enables very smooth animation which is most apparent during actions such as scaling walls, hanging on wires or carrying a body. (The main benefit of sticking to the 2D engine is it keeps the system spec very low). The map can be rotated easily in ninety-degree stages giving a clear all round view of each area. The music and sounds are suitably dramatic (if a little annoying at times), all the various nationalities have distinctive accents and weapons sound ok.

Game Play

The game starts with tutorial levels, which must be passed before you begin active service, these introduce you to a few of the games features. The map loads and then you think, what the hell do I do now? In fact calling them tutorials is the wrong word, there is no helping hand, no guide to the key combinations, trial and errors is a more accurate description of these intro missions. So I did something I very rarely do with a new game, read the manual! And next print off a list of the hotkeys from the readme, believe me you will need them.

After a lot of fumbling around and Germans yelling "Alarm!" while using me for target practice it slowly starts to make sense. Using the left mouse button and "shift" key combination to pass the cursor over objects you begin to see how to pass seemingly impossible barriers. The more you explore the surroundings the more you appreciate just how much has gone into creating the game.

After yet another restart you quietly knock out a smoking guard with a punch, select another team-mate and he ties up and gags the guard before he wakes, picks up the body and drops it out of sight. After searching the body for useful equipment you shin across the telegraph poles over a roadblock and steal some wire cutters from under another guard's nose, get back and hand them to the sapper who can now cut the fence and clear the mines blocking your way. Knock out a few guards, use a stolen grenade to take out the rest.

Easy when you know how, the next mission loads with a map swarming with enemies involved in a huge battle with trapped US marines. Selecting the Green Beret character in your team you start picking off the unwary guards with the knife, watching for gaps in the enemy routines to avoid detection. You slowly clear the area using knives, pistols and hilarious Molotov cocktails then link up with your allied pals for a final battle, with a small invasion force and a very large tank. That's it, training finished, ready for the game proper. Well not quite.

Missions

Missions are based on historical events, in locations all over the world including France, Burma and the Arctic. Each mission must be completed to unlock the next. Wisely one section of the manual is devoted to "We know this really didn't happen, but we thought it was fun", this should be read by all history fanatics who know there were more than three submarine hangars in La Rochelle. Missions begin and end with fairly good FMV clips, although some look a little grainy.

Some of the maps are inspired by classic films such as The Guns of Navarone, Bridge on the River Kwai etc. Objectives include rescuing Allied soldiers, stealing Enigma coding machines, sabotage and demolition. These huge maps are also populated with all manner of wildlife, (depending on location of course) including Elephants, Walruses, Penguins, Piranhas, Sharks and birds of all shapes and sizes, all with good shadows and nicely animated. Each mission begins and ends with fairly good FMV clips, although some look a little grainy.

The Commando's

Your nine-man/woman/dog team is made up of Green Beret's, Sappers, thieves, drivers, spies, snipers, seductress and a diver for those sub-aqua tasks. If you have several commandos in your team, a very neat multi camera mode allows you to keep an eye on what they are all doing. Most of the team are familiar names carried over from the earlier games, there are also three new faces.

This time round each Commando has a much wider range of skills, a good example is you do not have to rely on one driver as in the first games. All of them move at varying speeds and can only use certain equipment, it makes planning missions all the more complicated but adds a great deal to the gameplay. During some missions you will link up with and have limited control over other allied soldiers.

What you quickly realise is that team work is essential, only certain characters can disable mines, sneak undetected into a barracks, use sniper rifles or tie up and gag unconscious enemies. Also very apparent is the emphasis on stealth, the first mission set in a German submarine base must be passed without weapons, in fact throughout the whole game your final score is improved based on how many enemies you did not kill. As your career continues you are awarded a rank depending on performance, the ultimate aim is to reach the dizzy heights of Field Marshall. Also displayed are scores for time taken, areas explored etc.

The characters this time round still retain the slightly annoying and very repetitive voices each time you instruct him/her to go here or do that. They do look and move much more realistically, the thief character has a very amusing theatrical sneaky walk when close to enemies. For some reason enemy guards seem trapped in an almost slow motion mode, moving a little too slowly to be realistic but this doesn't affect their reactions should they see you. This almost inevitably leads to the maps entire quota of Germans rushing over and filling you full of lead or in the case of civilian workers just giving you a good kicking.

The Enemy

Enemy AI is pretty basic (the field of view cones are still present), they basically run at you in such large numbers detection will almost always mean certain death. If alerted they will search for you for some time before returning to their normal routine. Team-mates are best left hiding to keep them out of harms way when switching between them, or use the "attack mode" which tells them to engage any enemy crossing their line of fire (Great for ambushes).

Weapons, Vehicles & Equipment

Anyone familiar with the first two games will find the game screen almost identical, all the relevant information for your selected soldier is displayed to one side with icons for some of the actions. Learning the hotkeys is vital to carry out most tasks quickly, the list is enormous and is a little bewildering at first, after a few missions however you soon pick up the most important quickly. A notebook can be displayed with mission objectives, clues and in-game help for the weapons/gadgets.

Most buildings on the maps can be explored, either by the front/back door or jumping through some windows, it is also possible to look through windows to check the coast is clear. Objects in rooms can searched for weapons/equipment, as can bodies of dead or unconscious guards. As you enter a room the game view switches to a 3D, 360 degree rotating plan of the building, very useful as most are like the outside, swarming with guards. Making your way to an objective on the other side of a busy complex is all about timing and ingenuity.

The games long list of weapons and equipment reflects the games stealthy approach, although there are rocket launchers, flame-throwers, sniper rifles, grenades and machine guns, why make a noise when you can steal some sleeping pills and drop them into bottles of wine for a room full of guards to drink. Pills can also be mixed with food and left for guard dogs to pick up.

Some very nifty new gear includes the cable trap, (a wire which can be stretched across gaps), blowtorch, grappling hook, rope ladder and even sheets that can be knotted together to make a provisional ladder, quite handy for making an escape in the Colditz mission. Equipment can be passed to other team-mates via the inventory, this is essential as sometimes only the more stealthy characters can retrieve certain objects.

The vehicles are detailed and can be used if not occupied by an enemy, realistic physics means trucks and cars will roll when cornering etc. All are based on real WW2 models, including Panzer 111's, Kubelwagons, Willy's Jeep, Mercedes trucks and many more. Aircraft look particularly good, as do some of the more exotic additions such as Mini-subs, V1 Rockets, ME-262 fighter-bomber and even a balloon, which allows you fly over enemy positions undetected.

Multiplayer

The multiplayer option allows you to complete all the single player missions in co-op mode, through either TCP/IP or LAN connections, there were early plans for a Deathmatch option but this was dropped. One player can control several characters so a small number of participants can use all available resources. At the time of writing I have yet to try this out so cannot comment on set-up or how well the game plays online.

Conclusion

Anyone who enjoyed the first Commandos games will find this game a real treat, it improves on the originals in so many ways while retaining the basic gameplay elements that made them so successful. Basically it is hard to fault, there are few bugs, is very challenging, sometimes frustrating and will occasionally have you tearing your hair out.

If I had any criticisms it would be the two tutorials are terrible, lack of any graphics options and the enemy AI is a little too eager to charge blindly towards the enemy. The stability is a problem with a tendency to crash to the desktop at certain points, this seems to be linked to using the quickload option. Apart from that it is great fun and very rewarding, but I would still suggest that if you really didn't enjoy the other games in the series then steer well clear.

 
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Reviewed on

Windows 98
PentiumIII 450
256mb Ram
Geforce2 MX
DirectX 8.0


How it Performed
Ran well at the maximum resolution of 1024x768 with detail set on high. Apart from the odd crash-to-desk-top (when using quickload) no major problems found.

Score
8/10
Reviewers Comment
Harder than Sudden Strike, sneakier than Metal Gear, more gadgets than a Bond movie and strangely addictive, this is the game every Commandos fan has been waiting for. Not really an RTS, more a combination of strategy, action and adventure, good value with at least 40+ hours to complete plus the whole campaign in co-op multiplay. Described as a strategy gamers dreams come true, that's a fair description as few games allow you to explore the environments in such a detailed and imaginative way.

 

 

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