When the going gets tough, the tough call for backup.
Life is full of challenges. First there's that whole "being born" thing, which really doesn't seem like a very pleasant experience. Then for the next 18 years, it's all about getting a good education. And finally when we become adults, the challenge is simply to find a job that supports the never-ending Mountain Dew and Doritos habit with enough time left over for video games.
I'm happy to say that I passed my birth test with flying colors and somehow finagled a college degree. I've even found a way to keep the cupboards stocked with plenty of Dew and artificially flavored cheesy goodness while playing video games for a living.
But after climbing these mountains, after laughing in the face of life's difficult tasks, I think I may have discovered a new contender: completing Commandos 2. Hoo boy.
If you haven't had the privilege of experiencing the original, you're missing out. Brought to you by Pyro Studios and Eidos Interactive, the Commandos series is an extremely challenging action/strategy game set during World War II. You lead a bunch of elite soldiers on impossible missions for the Allied cause, leaving a trail of enemies in your wake. Everything is set in a top-down perspective with stealth as the key to victory.
Each mission requires you to discreetly disable throngs of enemy soldiers in order to accomplish your objective. This is definitely not an easy task when the bad guys are on guard for any noises or abnormal occurrences. Solid Snake ain't got nothin' on these guys.
If it were any cooler, a snow jacket would be one of the minimum requirements. Well, go grab a parka - Commandos 2 adds plenty of cool new stuff to an already cool series. The original team of six (Green Beret, Sapper, Diver, Driver, Spy, and Sniper) returns to the front along with the expansion pack's Seductress. New for this iteration is the Thief (who can climb walls & hide like a 4-year-old) and the Dog (who does, well, dog things).
The commandos have also gained a few new abilities to make their jobs easier. First off, anyone can don an enemy uniform for a limited amount of time, except for the the Spy and Seductress, who are able to use this feature indefinitely. Some members also have the ability to climb walls and poles, duck in and out of windows, and even swing their way across cables. Looks like these guys have been training hard since we last saw them.
In addition to new abilities, the commandos have also gained some new toys. Sleeping pills are useful with the right vintage of wine and gas grenades are great for taking out groups of enemies. There's even a blowtorch and rocket launcher should you want the situation to get messy. And of course there are several vehicles to take for test drives, including tanks, jeeps and hot-air balloons.
Like before, the joy of Commandos 2 is its non-linear strategy. You are given a specific set of mission objectives, but it's completely up to you how the job gets done. Let's say you have to get past the main gate of an enemy base with four guards at the door. You could (1) Have your Seductress go undercover and distract them while your Green Beret clubs them over the head one by one; (2) Send the dog out to steal their attention while the Spy sneaks up from behind and drugs them; (3) Drop a few sleeping pills into a bottle of wine and leave it in a conspicuous place for the thirsty guys to find; and even (4) Toss a few gas grenades in to send them all to sleepy land. So many choices, so little time.
To add depth, there is a bonus objective to complete. If you are able to locate all of the "puzzle" pieces scattered throughout the map, you'll unlock a bonus mission that leads to a medal if completed.
Unlike the original game, an emphasis has been placed on just how you accomplish your mission. Your performance is graded with respect to time, injury sustained, areas visited, detection, and the manner in which you neutralize your enemies. So to get the highest rating and a 'promotion', you'll need to cover ground fast without being seen or injured. You'll also need to use non-lethal means of disabling enemies for maximum points. I think that's why the Green Beret looks so pissed on the box cover. He hasn't been able to use his knife all campaign long.
Graphically, Commandos 2 looks better than ever with its new 3D engine. Now, players can rotate the environments a full 360 degrees as well as zoom in and out. The textures are fantastic and the definition of the buildings and locations is superb. The zoom feature really helps the gameplay, though things get pixilated when you get in too close. Got a Geforce 3 card? Good for you, but the game doesn't care as it doesn't utilize 3D hardware. I wish the developers would have taken advantage of this, but as it stands, software mode is pretty darn good.
Commandos 2 also supports multiplayer over the Internet or LAN. Networking the game locally with friends is pretty fun, but you'll need a specific IP address to play online.
We've been waiting a while for this game, which makes it even more irritating that it comes packed with a few nasty bugs. Most common are the random crashes that spit you back to the desktop. I also experienced a bug on the mission called "White Death" where the Sapper got cloned and followed the real Sapper around. I even had to call tech support for one of the bonus missions. Turns out it wasn't a bug, just bad directions. Escape in the amphibious vehicle - NOT the truck. Sheesh.
Commandos 2 is a hard game. Those without degrees in strategy gaming will find their task daunting and, in many cases, too hard to accomplish. Lucky for me I'm well versed in the ways of the special forces.
But even with these annoyances, Commandos 2 provides hours of strategic fun. The high difficulty level may discourage those with little patience, but if it were any easier, it wouldn't be as much fun. Grab your momma's army boots and get ready to put some serious hurt on the enemy.