Commandos 3: Destination Berlin
Pyro's hugely successful Commandos series, arguably the brand that kicked-started the gaming world's current obsession with World War II titles, enters its third incarnation with this outing - cunningly timed to coincide with the Christmas season that will see many a copy fly-off the shelf once again no doubt. However, it comes as something of a surprise just how successful the series is - after all, this isn't a first-person shooter or a sports title, and more over, it certainly isn't friendly or indeed accessible. Sure, the basics of how to play are simple enough. But mastering and progressing Commandos 3 (like the smash-hit couplet that came before it) is an absolute bitch of a task and is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Why is Commandos so popular then? Well, I can only assume this is because it embodies the age old saying that 'war is hell', and in re-creating this torment through its gameplay also delivers an experience that in look, style and sound calls to mind many popular cinematic WWII tributes; Enemy at the Gates, Saving Private Ryan, The Thin Red Line. The Medal of Honour series garners it's justly-earnt success from a similar cultural founding. War is fascinating; whether we like it or not.
But is Pyro's latest outing actually any good; and how does it improve and change the formula that was so successful in the games last two incarnations? Not a lot is the simplistic answer to the latter - whilst 'strangely, yes' is my response to the former. Let me explain...
The basics of the gameplay remain almost untouched from the 1999 original. You're placed in charge of an elite squad of Commandos in authentically inspired WWII situations and locations. You have a series of objectives to complete in your mission, but to triumph over the aggressors you'll need to use all the skills at your diverse team's disposal. Commandos 3 gives us the use of a spy, a sapper, a thief, a sniper, a green beret and a diver. All have very specific abilities that you'll need at various points in the games missions. Sometimes you'll have the full compliment of Commandos at your disposal; on another occasion you might only have one loner to utilise.
You control your team using a left mouse-click to select, and a right-click to direct. The cursor is context-sensitive and will therefore change depending on the options available to the selected character in a given situation. This keeps things simple, and at least means that you won't find movement and actions a problem. However, this simple approach to controlling Commandos 3 belies excruciatingly tricky mission design, that will test you to the limits of your tactical ingenuity - and sanity - if you're to make any progress whatsoever. Commandos 3 is very hard indeed.
Not only do foes vanquish you with one shot at times, you'll also find that keeping yourself concealed from the vastly more numerous enemy soldiers is also a big problem. Timing and patience is key, as often you'll find yourself biding your time - memorising enemy patrol patterns and timing movements accordingly. This is not a game in which going all-out guns-blazing is an option.
You will however have a spot of help along the way, with mission objectives being very clear and well sign-posted, and various visual clues in the games environments sometimes suggesting the best way to proceed. The title is viewed from an isometric perspective typical of real-time strategy games, though crucial strategic elements like enemy line of sight also conjure to mind stealth-based action games like Splinter Cell, too.
With this extreme difficulty in mind (which has got worse since Commandos 2), you'll find yourself returning to the beginning of missions very frequently indeed. Which in a way is just as well, because the game only includes twelve full missions. Not that you'll find longevity an issue, as you'll no doubt discover even from the very first mission of any one of the three campaigns available (Normandy, Central Europe and Stalingrad). What you will find however, is that the almost perverse perseverance required will mean that upon completing a mission the sense of achievement is near-euphoric. This game is hard and it lets you know it; but in making you work out tactics through trial and error, it does provide a fantastic sense of having overcome the odds and used your cunning and skill to triumph. Which is just as well, otherwise I'd have binned Commandos 3 after the first mission; such is the insane patience necessary.
Oddly, then, as you may have already guessed by now - Commandos 3 is still a highly enjoyable experience. The graphics are very nice; offering authentic and rich environments to explore, and bringing forties Europe to life vividly. The interior 'true-3D' environments are attractive too, though are a little disconcerting in their change from the exterior world. Load times can be sluggish, as well, when shifting perspective in this mode. The audio is again atmospheric, like the visuals, adding tension and drama to appropriate on-screen moments.
A twelve-player multiplayer mode is included for those that feel then need to vent their spleen against 'real' adversaries, and this comes in two standard modes you'll already have heard of: Deathmatch and Capture-the-Flag. Which is nice. Sadly a Co-operative mode is omitted this time around, though.
To conclude then, despite the insane levels of difficulty and lack of originality over past Commandos titles, this third outing in the series is every bit as entertaining and rewarding as we'd hope. It really offers a sense of achievement in conquering the tactically-heavy mission objectives, and offers sufficient diversity to stave-off boredom in the most part. If you like your strategy hard and unforgiving, and are keen on a WWII setting, then Commandos 3 comes highly recommended. Don't say we didn't warn you that time and patience are a pre-requisite, though!