Commandos 3: Destination Berlin
When the main men behind the awe-inspiring Commandos 2, Spanish duo Gonzo Suarez (lead designer) and Jon Beltran (lead programmer), left Pyro Studios to form their own company, quite a few eyebrows were raised at the prospect of another sequel. Was this going to be just a last attempt to extract some more cash from one of the biggest-selling PC series in history? Could a rudderless team come up with enough surprises to match the infinite little touches of genius that marked C2 now the visionaries had left?
The announcement of a multiplayer mode seemed a clear indication that Pyro were going to push the concept as far as they could in this last instalment (for more on this see the Axis Vs Allies panel), but as we're concentrating mainly on the single-player campaigns in this review, the answers to the above questions would have to be 'sort of’ and 'not really'.
Inside And Out
In case you’re new to the series, Commandos is less a strategy game than it is a mindbending series of puzzles, where you have to figure out a way of completing missions while coordinating stealthy attacks, distracting guards and timing your actions to perfection. The only real novelties here are slight improvements in the Al and more weather effects (plus the online mode, of course). The graphics are disappointing in that the resolution is still fixed at 800x600 and there’s very little to distinguish it from the previous title. The only noticeable improvement is the new interior 3D engine, that allows more zooming and rotating than before. Even here though, should you get up close to a character (for example, when looking through a window to see a soldier standing right in front of you) you are treated to some shockingly low-res textures.
Still, Commandos really is all about gameplay over graphics, and C2 managed to be breathtaking by the sheer detail of its levels. But there’s nothing here to compare to the incredible beauty and variety of that game, and the colours and buildings all end up looking a bit samey, despite the three campaigns being set in Stalingrad, Central Europe and Normandy. Where are the gorgeous Pacific islands, with their exotic plant life and piranha-infested sky-blue waters from the previous game? Or the architectural marvels of Far Eastern missions and incredible recreations of the Eiffel Tower and Colditz Castle?
The only thing that comes close to being that memorable is the Omaha beach landing. This is a massive and very clever map, where you have to use the same tactics the Allies employed in real life: get lots of footsoldiers massacred to make slow but steady progress. For once, stealth is cast aside and it’s full-on action. You can even get a character to grab a giant machinegun from its tripod and wander around in pure Rambo style. The level works well, and provides the one note of difference from what is otherwise a retread of old ground.
There are other niggles, such as the objectives not always being clear and the need for more shortcut keys. There are fewer commandos too. No beautiful female soldier and, most disappointingly, no dog. On top of that, the sniper, thief and diver are all underused, after being so cleverly deployed last time.
Just. One. More. Go
The difficulty level is on a par with Commandos 2, although the introduction of some timelimited objectives is not at all welcome, pushing frustration levels over the edge.
Most of the time the mix between tear-your-brain-out difficulty and satisfaction is just right though. Nearly every problem and every level looks impossible at first glance, until a bit of deep thinking and a lot of trial and error (you’re likely to wear the quicksave and quickload buttons out) lets you figure out a way, leading to laps of honour around your room when you succeed (well, at least in my room).
In the end, C3 feels more like an expansionpack than a proper sequel, the fact that it took me only three days to complete it (compared to the seven or eight it took to finish C2) strengthening this argument.
So there you have it. The single-player game is as addictive as ever, but offers little new and can’t touch C2 for variety, detail, immersion and imagination.
So What’s All This Multiplayer Lark Then?
The online games carry both deathmatch and CTF options, as well as co-op against Al opponents. You can choose to play with either the Allied Forces or standard commandos, the former offering eight types of troops to choose from: gunman, rifleman, medic, engineer, bazookaman, grenadier, paratrooper and submachine gunner.
It will be interesting to see whether such a thinking tactical game, which is based around beating recognisable Al patterns, will take off in multiplayer. Look out for a dedicated multiplayer review in our online section very soon.
Download Commandos 3: Destination Berlin
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Back in the 70s, war comics were all the rage. Every week you could pick up a copy of Warlord and on the bus to school you would read of the continuing adventures of Peter Flint as he lorded his way behind enemy lines killing spies, traitors and German generals. Such comics offered historical fact, an appreciation of other cultures and the ritual killing of Nazis and Fascists - all for the cost of a few penny chews.
But times change. Though the comics are long dead, their spirit lives on in computer games and if any one game has captured the valiant antics of those comic book heroes, it is the Commandos series, where sneaking around Nazi bases, clubbing guards, rescuing prisoners and planting explosives is all in a day's work. All that was missing were the speech bubbles.
The third instalment in the series is now officially on its way, and while it's not 3D, using the same engine as its predecessor, we can't wait to get back behind enemy lines. "Gameplay-wise it is going to be a completely new experience," says Inigo Vinos, Pyro Studios' marketing manager.
"There are going to be situations completely new to Commandos players: level bosses, lots of new enemies, and ambush situations. The enemies will be much more active and their behaviour incredibly varied. Commandos 2 was a big step up from the first game in terms of Al, and the same will happen again with Commandos 3."
Of course even more than the comic book influences, it's the film references that made the previous games. Reenacting scenes from the likes of Bridge Over The River Kwai, The Guns Of Navarone and The Colditz Story are just a few that spring to mind.
"The war movie influences will continue." says Vinos. "For instance, at a certain point it will be necessary to eliminate a sniper who will not remain in the same position. This is taken from Enemy At The Gates."
Though Pyro remains quite cagey about what missions will be available, we do know that unlike Commandos 2, the European theatre will be the main focus of the game. Also, along with the existing game engine, the old cast are returning for another tour of duty, with plenty of new equipment and abilities to play around with, as well as new enemies to outwit.
Interestingly, Pyro is going for a much more story-focused game this time, so rather than being split into many unrelated missions, the plot will cover three acts in a very big story, evidently centred on the latter months of World War II. We can only guess how this will manifest itself gameplay-wise, but a wide variety of missions and level sizes seems plausible after Commandos 2's gargantuan levels.
After making him swear that the new game will be slightly easier than its predecessors, we left Inigo with only one remaining question: will we be able to play as the Germans?
"Let's just say that you should keep your eye on the new multiplayer modes. Did we mention the Deathma... sorry we can't say anything about that yet . "
Pyro Studios has learnt the hard way that when offering a new game to the masses, less can often mean more. While far from disappointing, it is nonetheless a fact that Commandos 2 went the proverbial bridge too far. As beautiful as each meticulous level was and despite the love poured into every pixel, the missions were just too big, the task for the player sometimes too daunting and the key to unlocking the next gargantuan level often identical to the last. Rest assured, the lads have learned their lesson, and for the next episode in the tactical WWII series we can expect a considerably more varied and well-paced experience.
Das Ist Gut, Ja?
At first glance little has changed the levels are as beautifully 2D and intricate as they always have been, the characters natural and convincingly animated - this time as proper 3D polygonal models - and the interface enhancements allude to little above the cosmetic. Of course Commandos 3, now officially subtitled Destination Berlin, is not without some obvious graphical implants. There's a depth to the visuals that's unsurpassed in any isometric game I've ever seen, an effect achieved bythe multilayered environmental effects, such as the driving rain that overflows from guttering and drives into the ground rather than simply falling across the screen like some cheap visual trick.
Then there are the dramatic set pieces and in-game cut-scenes that hope to provide a more story-driven experience than the previous games. In fact, the game begins in pre-War London, at the German Embassy, where the game's leading lads will be introduced. From there it's off to the Russian front and the besieged city of Stalingrad, before heading to Berlin, occupied France and finally the D-Day landings. Each level will be interspersed with in-engine cut-scenes, from Nazi marches through the Brandenburg Gate to Steve McQueen-style motorbike chases across the countryside, explosions tearing into the ground as you go. Needless to say all of this will provide a much-needed narrative thread through the game and flesh out what were previously rather flat characters.
And those explosions are rather spectacular too. As shadows of German bombers flick across the already ruined city of Stalingrad early in the game, their devastating payload doesn't just leave a trail of explosions and smoke, but collapsing rubble and tumbling masonry, even a few snapping timbers. As far as global devastation and human suffering goes, never has it looked lovelier.
I think we could have made Commandos in 3D if we had wanted to, says lead designer Ignacio Perez. The main question is, would gameplay have benefited? I don't think so. Will it have the same level of graphical details? Perhaps, but will people have the PCs to enjoy that level of detail...? I don't think so, not yet."
The aim of the game is to conduct a secret war from behind enemy lines, leading a handful of skilled operatives in their attempts to disrupt and sabotage the Nazi war effort, whether it's assassinating officers or destroying military installations.
And it's the nature of the missions themselves that has received the most attention this time round. Where Commandos 2 featured nine sprawling maps, its sequel currently has around 25 set across three campaigns (Stalingrad, Central Europe and D-Day). Pyro wants to blur the distinction between the traditional concept of missions and campaigns, but instead of giving us one huge map to get lost in, the map will start small and expand as new events occur.
Missions will also evolve in a more cinematic fashion as you play through them. Sudden bombing raids might change the lay of the land completely, adding new objectives and tactical difficulties. One mission sees you creeping into a town to set up an ambush, posting snipers in the church tower and planting mines and explosives. Then the next mission sees the action kick off, as hundreds of Nazi reinforcements bear down on you and the mission becomes one of survival, reminiscent of the last desperate battle from Saving Private Ryan.
In terms of content," remarks Perez, Commandos 3 is going to have as much as Commandos 2. The difference is it will be structured in a different way. We don't want people to be playing the same map to death. Neither do we just want to add more maps and more characters for the sake of it. We don't want to make a game that's bigger, to say it contains more than 60 hours of gameplay. We want people to say, It took me 25 or 30 hours, but in that time I never did the same thing twice'."
Unless you decide to play through the game again of course, which even for Commandos veterans would be a first. The most significant differences this time round are not graphical, but in the very essence of the game design. The plan of attack is simple; to make Commandos 3 more accessible, varied and action-packed than any in the series so far. Somehow, I think they may just pull this one off.
Commandos Vs Kommandos
Get Ready For Isometric Deathmatch
Undoubtedly the most enduring new feature planned for Commandos 3 is the multiplayer mode, which for the first time in the series will offer a deathmatch' game. Little is being revealed at this late stage, but we're told that two player games will allow four soldiers on each team, with a healthy mix of Assault and Defend missions to choose from. How they'll play is anyone's guess but a 2D rendition of Counter-Strike might be an apt presumption, perhaps with a healthy dose of Spy Vs Spy for good measure. CTF and co-operative games are also being planned, but with the game's release tentatively scheduled for June, we find it odd that Pyro is keeping its cards so close to its chest on this subject. Either the developers are just being very secretive or it's all going horribly wrong back at base.