Before I was handed this game, I knew very little about Commandos 2, my initial impression from screenshots and bulletin boards was a game somewhere between Cannon Fodder and Command and Conquer.
As i started to go further into the game i realised that i couldn't have been more wrong, never judge a game by its cover, yeah?
So back to the beginning... The game is set in World War 2, the Birth of the Commando Unit, I was shocked to find that the characters in this game are mostly english (except for a few french resistance, and a shocking character which a few of us couldn't work out was either from Ireland or North Yorkshire, or possible a bit of both), i was convinced that the Americans had rewritten history enough to claim that they won the war on their own with out the English. History seems to be fairly accurate in this game, little facts before missions give you a bit of insight into the Second World War, and also a prologue to the next mission.
The great success of the film Saving Private Ryan with its widely recognised realistic battlefields heavily influenced Medal of Honour and the temptation to emulate this in commando's must have been high, but it doesnt appear to have been followed through, the battlefields remain anonomous to the extent of them taking place on Cornfield 1 or wrecked building 2 there is no direct link or reference to film, book, or photo.
Commandos 2 as with the earlier Commandos (not available on PS2) is by far more of a puzzle game than a straight out shoot em up, there is no way possible for you to simply run through the game shooting anyone who moves. Your enemies will hear gunshots, investigate corpses and generally hunt you down once you've done something stupid.
Any conversion from PC to PS2 is going to suffer from the loss of a keyboard, there are over 70 keys on even a small keyboard and no amount of combinations on a pad is going to match this, however, Commandos makes do and even excels in its layout of the pad to make things straight forward and easy to understand.
However because of the excessive amounts of commands the tutorial is vital, i'm as guilty as the next person upon getting a new game, throwing away the instructions, screw the tutorial and get into the game as fast as possible, if you do this with Commandos theres only one outcome. You fry, very very quickly. The tutorial, even when done quickly takes the best part of 4 hours, its not daunting in that there are thousands of different things to do, it just gets you to repeat the same things constantly to remind you and make the keystrokes fluent. Your commandos can shoot, stab, snipe, set traps, climb walls, distract enemy soldiers, place mines, scuba dive, bake a cake, paint a picture and write some poetry. Yeah ok so i made the last three up but after doing the tutorial i really felt like i knew my commandos so well i was gonna take them out for a beer.
The reason there are so many things to learn is that you have a large variety of Commandos to use, you get anything from 1 to 5 on missions, your Commandos range from the Sapper (demolitions expert) to the Green Beret (special forces, hard guy), also the Spy, Thief, Driver, Female, Diver,Sniper and Dog... Yes DOG, seriously. He distracts soldiers, honest! the main keystrokes are the same for all but combining all these skills you have loads of different talents to use.
When you go into the actual game you have to use all your skills to complete levels, after you complete the basic tutorial there are two training missions before you get into the real game.
As i mentioned before, the game plays like a puzzle you are set objectives for missions and you have to complete them to progress, when you start a level its nomally a good five minutes of viewing it before you can start to formulate your plan of action, you need to work out enemy lines of sight, patrol patterns and what weaponry they all have.
Line of Sight works similarly to metal gear, enemies have a "cone" of sight getting worse the further away you get, the vision is split into two sections, the closest if you walk into it you will immediately be spotted, the further "zone" you can crawl through because they cant see you lying down, another option is to steal a Nazi's uniform and wander around at a distance as the standard foot soldier ignores there own. However the uniform will "run out" and you will become exposed again.
The line of sight is very realistic, it will be obscured by trees, low walls, high walls and even have blind spots if the enemy is on much higher ground such as guard towers, high walls, cliffs etc. therefore it is possible to creep below them or even climb up unnoticed.
Graphically the game is beautiful, its very easy to forget that this is a 2D game, the ability to spin the backgrounds through 90 Degree increments is a huge help at assessing the terrain. Indoor buildings have a full 360 Degree rotation and again this option is vital, the interaction of characters with the environment is well done, little animations are great, my personal favourite is the ability to throw grenages through open windows and watch enemies get blown out the opposite side smoking and screaming.
There can be a slight lag in the game when switching from outside to inside buildings or when rotating the view, while this is unavoidable it does get annoying as the time your turning levels is normally the time you need to be thinking and acting fast.
While its true that running through the game shooting everything that moves wont win the level there are times when you need to move quickly, part of the gameplay calls for you to defend invasions, this is a difficult scenario where anything and everything may be thrown at you, this is where your ability to set traps comes into its own, blocking a road with a trip wire, digging a few pits for guys to fall into and laying remote bombs at key points to maximise casualties. Now, try to rig all these traps, and set the detonation on the bomb, whilst using your green beret to provide covering fire with a machine gun and the world is yours!
As i said the game is a 2D game close to a top down view, but it doesnt suffer until it comes to something like sniping, the sniping option is terrible, im a big fan of having a full screen scope and putting a bullet between someones eyes, i spent hours on Max Payne watching an opponents facial expression change as the bullet ripped them a new one. Commandos scope appears like a huge magnifing glass on screen above enemies and a simple click disposes of them instantly. Shame, but it just emphasises that this game isnt about popping caps in asses, its about solving puzzles and progressing through stealth. In fact the game plays like a huge labyrynth (but without David Bowies mullett.)
Apart from thes minor flaws the game impresses graphically almost as much as it does through gameplay, and tha addition of being able to save the game during levels rather than at the end means you can really try plans out many times, progressing a little bit at a time.
The AI suffers a little but this only improves the game, the Line of sight is no where near metal gear, also the reactions arn't as good either, whilst shooting a gun will attract attention of enemies, stabbing a guy who is standing right behind another won't attract his attention, however if the game was realistic in its AI, we'd all be lying in a small heap dead by dawn.
Your not just limited to foot soldiers either, your men can equip large machine guns, artillary, tanks and vehicles, there are quite a few realistic vehicles from WWII ranging from a jeep to a boat to a half track to a Tank, great, unfortunately the enemy has them as well. The player can also take control of foot soldiers, on missions when its necessary to help out a bunch of allied soldiers pinned down under heavy fire, its possible to move them and set them areas to guard and also prepare suitable defences for incoming invasions.
The levels are a mix of realistic and sensible challenges but occasionally there are some real laugh out loud moments, that are so random and out of place they make the game seem somewhere between james bond and downright stupid, (eg. When did the Nazis get sharks in swimming pools in France?)
One thing that strikes about this game is the difficulty, the early missions have a difficulty setting that I would expect from three quarters into a normal game, thats one of the things that makes Commandos 2 such a challenge, if you can get past the frustration of a real challenge then this game becomes really enjoyable!
This game needs. No, DEMANDS! a huge screen You need 28" plus to appreciate the game, the graphics are small on screen so playing on a portable is definately a bad idea unless you like resting your forehead on screen.
All in all Commandos is a fantastic game, the attention to detail and little animations raise it from a level of average to enthralling, the various mission types and levels set it highly and really leave you going to sleep at night thinking of a plan to complete the last level your on, where to set traps and where to hide. Its a Real puzzle game that comes down to timing, forward planning and not rushing in shooting first and thinking later.