- BEHIND ENEMY LINES
by ... Maurice Fitzgerald
Not all combat situations involve large regimental or battalion sized units. Sometimes you get the most punch from a small handful of carefully chosen and highly trained men. With the movie "The Dirty Dozen" firmly in my mind after reading the press kit for this one, I popped in to check it out and just like the movie this one held my attention and has kept me very entertained.
Eidos Interactive, best known for bringing us the cyber-babe of babes Lara Croft, has brought to the PC another title that can easily find as much success as has their famed Tomb Raider titles, and I can see a sequel or two in the future for this title!
A Dirty Half-Dozen?
Albeit most of the wargames that have used RTS have been much "lighter" versions of their turn based parents, this looks to be changing with some of the newer titles on the way: Commandos is one of them. Due to such success we have been deluged with the "clone & conquer" style of games ever since almost to the point of utter absurdity. Commandos, SWAT 2 and MechCommander are a few titles on the way that will change the RTS genre for the better, concerning themselves more with strategy than resource management.
Strategy, Tactics and Timing
Based in WWII you are the commander of a group of up to 6 commandos as they wreak havoc and carry out dangerous missions deep behind enemy lines. In this game you will not be burdened with resource management, and will concern yourself strictly with controlling your troops to achieve the assigned mission objective.
Strategy, tactics and timing are all you need to accomplish your goals in Commandos, it sounds easy but will you be up to the task? While this game may not appeal to the hard core strat Grognards out there who thrive on those Volumes of rules, it will definitely appeal to the strat gamer who loves a great balance of strategy and action.
The first thing you will find out is that you don't go toe to toe with your enemy, you are Commandos - so think like one! Each of your six commandos has his own unique identity, strengths, weaknesses and capabilities. The setting is WWII and you must lead your commandos through around 20 missions and accomplish all kinds of fun, roguish things like blowing a dam, destroying an enemy HQ, rescuing a downed pilot, all the way up to the toughie (secret mission) Destroy the German Atom Bomb?! Yes, the Germans have stolen the plans to the A-bomb and you and your merry marauders must stop this fiendish plot from being fulfilled.
In each mission you will be assigned the commandos you will need to accomplish your goals. (you will not always get every one of your six commandos for every mission) It's important that you realize each mans importance to the mission and to the survival of the team. If you lose your Marine (fancy term here for Sailor) and you need to cross a river, all is lost as he's the one who carries and pilots your raft.
With this in mind you don't want to go in head first, guns blazing hoping for glory. Instead you must act as a real commander in the field would act, assessing the situation- both yours and the enemy's. Luckily the game interface is solid and helps you to do this very easily. To start with you are given a briefing before each mission.
But this isn't your fathers mission briefing - it's interactive. You will be shown the game map you will be playing on and the screen scrolls around to each of the important parts you will need to hit along with tactical tips you need to pay attention to given to you in an authentic English accented voice over. From there you are given control of your squad of commandos and can do as you please to accomplish your goals. The main part of the interface consists of the map view which gives you complete and unobstructed view of the entire operating area, no fog of war is present here.
Along the top of the screen you have your commandos, each represented by their own face icon with a health bar to the right. You can access any of your men by simply clicking on their face icon at the top of the screen or clicking on the character in the game map view. At the top right you can click on a note pad to review your mission objectives and to see a sketched out map of your mission area. The map sketch is important in that it also shows your commandos positions with blue dots and the enemy's with red dots, continually updated as each moves about the mission area.
As you access each commando you will be shown a backpack to the bottom right of the screen, each with his own kit of gear. You will have access to any of the following items: from hands to knives, explosives, raft, scuba gear, a sniper rifle, poison syringe, harpoon gun and the always fun poison laced bear trap. Yes, Eidos has taken some artistic license with this one and made some interesting and fun weapons. Not every weapon you will use will be given to you, some you'll just have to outright steal!
This One Paints A Pretty Picture
In the looks department this one is really sweet: from excellently detailed landscapes down to the German guard smoking a cigarette, this game oozes detail. All of the game environment comes into play as you can either use or access just about anything on the map. You can use buildings to hide your commandos and evade a patrol, or you can even have your Green Beret (another artistic license Eidos took, no Green Beanies were around in WWII) move a dead soldier behind a building or bury him beneath a 55 gallon drum.
Your Green Beret can even use his E-Tool to dig a hole in the snow to hide in and then as a German soldier passes him by he can spring from his hole and take the soldier out silently with his knife. While some people may find the lack of a fog of war a negative it's actually a very good thing as you will need to see the whole map to plan out your strategy. From where you start you should take some time to familiarize yourself with the lay of the land and how you wish to get from point A to point B and so on. Then factor in the roving patrols and static guards and you have yourself a nice tactical puzzle to solve.
Again the interface helps you with your assessment as you can click on an eye icon and then on a patrol or soldier you wish to move past and you will be shown a "vision cone" of what he sees. If it's static it will move very little, if it's a roving patrol then the view cone will sweep from side to side. This is an essential part to planning your strategy as you will find you must be flexible and think quick on your feet in order to succeeded and survive.
You may sometimes find your commandos spread out over great distances, which in some other games would create great difficulty with control. In Commandos you can easily overcome that by using split screens that can cover each of your commandos and with the aid of a isometric camera view you can even follow their movement individually. Pretty slick huh?
Is It As Smart As It Looks?
While pristine graphics and quality sound make a game nice, AI is the meat of the game. This one is no White Castle burger, it's a nice juicy piece of Black Angus steak, very well done. Each soldier you will face (and you will always be outnumbered, with up to 160 German soldiers in the Secret german A-bomb mission, for example) acts as a real soldier would. If he hears a noise he will investigate, if he sees footprints in the snow or one of his fellow guards lying in a pool of blood he will investigate and may sound the alarm.
This is not a good thing as there are barracks in a lot of your missions from which enemy reinforcements can be called. Also you will notice the enemy guards are usually in close proximity to one another so stealth and coordinated attacks serve you well here. I've found no pathfinding problems as your commandos will head right where you order them to, they won't get hung up on objects in the game.
Command And Control
As good as the enemy AI is YOU are the AI for your characters as they do nothing for themselves. So be sure to not leave them out in the open or you can find yourself short one man. Cover and concealment is a vital part of movement and you have several modes to choose from. From walking, running and crawling all the way down to specialized movement such as climbing, scuba and driving vehicles and rafts - this one covers them all. You will also have a Spy. Once he gets his hands on a German Officers uniform he can walk right past the enemy guards, returning salutes all the way. He can then poison any enemy sentry he wishes with his poison syringe, allowing you to follow in his wake unheeded.
In Commandos you aren't solving a puzzle to win; each situation you will face isn't restricted to one tried and true way of overcoming it. This makes the replay factor very high. Eidos has really given us a great blend of dynamic strategic play with great action. I've found myself so immersed in this one that I've been actually nervous when I go to scoot one of my guys past a sentry as he turns to walk in another direction while walking post. Not many games get me nervous and that's a good sign - it means I'm well immersed in it. Thankfully Eidos has included a great feature to help you in times like this, an in game Save feature. :) Use it well, use it often as you'll find you'll need it in a tight spot.
Control of your commandos is done easily with the use of the mouse. You just click on the character or group of characters you wish to give an order to and then click where you wish them to go on the screen. They will run there or crawl there if you've ordered them into a prone position. Crawling is the preferred method of movement once in close proximity to enemy guards as it obviously makes you harder to detect.
Eidos uses smart icons to cue you to your possible actions. As your mouse cursor is moved over the screen it may change to reflect the action that can take place with or to the object the cursor is on. If in control of the Green Beret you will see a climbing hammer when you place the cursor over a wall, which means he can climb the wall. If you place the cursor over a truck or house you will see a hand and lever icon meaning the object can be operated or entered.
When its time for combat to engage the enemy just pick the weapon you wish the character to use and then click on the enemy. To silently take out a sentry for example, just click on your knife and your cursor changes to a knife icon. Double click on the intended target and watch your character run up behind the guard and take him down. If you use the Green Beret to do this you can then click on his hand icon in his pack which will allow you to pick up the dead guard and carry him away.
Want to take out that enemy sentry walking along the top of the compound wall? Switch to your sniper and click on his sniper scope, your cursor then changes to a sniper scope and you can place it over the target and take him down silently. Again, stealth is the biggest key to this game and there's plenty of ways to use it for each commando. Each commando has a silent way of taking out an enemy, and they will each serve you well.
To get you acclimated to control and the capabilities of each commando, you will be able to run through a tutorial mission for each individual character. In this way you will be given an interactive walk through of each of the characteristics and capabilities of your men. You will be given a chance to try each of the moves you are shown in the little video tutorial where you see your men in action in real gameplay video sequences. It's a nice touch and its ground breaking for this genre. Excellent!
So What's The Verdict?
Bottom line on this one, it's a TON of fun. It's NOT a hardcore wargamers wargame, don't expect to be paying a lot of attention to weapons modeling and stats. This is a strategists game for sure, pure fun and immersive.
If you've enjoyed Soldiers At War you'll love this one. It has the perfect blend of strategy, beautifully detailed graphics, and action. One important thing I have failed to mention up to this is this game DOES have multiplayer, so again that should up the replay value quite a bit. I've reviewed the European version for this review but Eric Adams informed me that the US version will have even MORE tweaks on enemy AI and the like. It's not like the game needs it, but it shows that Eidos is really into this game and wants it to be the best it can be.
For excellence and all around fun we award Commandos a Top-Pick!
Core Rating : 90
Gameplay : 95
Graphics : 95
Sound : 90
Intelligence/AI : 90
User Interface/Mission Planner : 90
Fun Factor : 100
Learning Curve (in hours) : 1-2 hours.
Overall Rating : 93