Commandos 2 (PS2) - Jason Julier - 7/10

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Commandos 2 [game information] Version Tested: PAL Genre: Strategy Publisher: Eidos Developer: Pyro Studios

Mention Commandos to any regular console user and many will hark back to the classic Capcom game, thereby showing their age. Most of us will be oblivious to the successful PC series, which is already heading towards its third edition. These games have already established a reputation for difficulty and highly detailed missions with plenty of real time strategy involved. My first skirmish with the original game resulted in a slaughter that has been overlooked in the British military history journals, and perhaps rightly so. The sequel allows me to put the record straight and offers console users some much-needed variety in a market dominated by sports, arcade, adventure and role playing games.

The backdrop is well set out through the opening sequence, which takes a similar approach to that used, by EA in Medal of Honour Frontline. The situation with the Allied advance is critical, and a special force has been created to attempt impossible missions and hopefully sway the balance in favour of the Allies. This force is known as the Commandos and is made up of nine playable characters, each of whom has a specialist skill, and form a motley assortment of accents and appearances. The missions take you across the globe to famous backdrops such as the Eiffel Tower and even Colditz, which thankfully plays better than Prisoner of War.

In a way it is extremely satisfying to be finally playing Commandos 2 on a console, as most Dreamcast owners waited, and waited for the release, only for it to be cancelled at the last moment. However there have been changes to the staple PC format, but apart from the resolution, the rest effects the game dynamics only. A key feature of the series has always been the beautifully rendered backdrops, which are similar to those favoured by Resident Evil and alike, except viewed from afar. The levels are beautifully designed and laid out, allowing you to view inside buildings and huge locations. Commandos 2 is fully 3D thereby allowing the player to have total control over the camera, you can rotate to see behind walls or zoom in. The look is very distinctive and highly influential, but what matters is that it works.

With most games you can flick through the instructions, glance at the control method, and toss the manual aside. Such a move here is suicide because the game demands a level of control and expertise from the player that won’t be achieved within five minutes. Instead Pyro have included a comprehensive training mode which takes you through every possible action and situation. Progress here is slow but outlines what awaits you in the game: if you cannot stomach this, then Commandos 2 is not for you. As mentioned previously Commandos 2 is an extremely tough game, which requires persistence, dedication and meticulous planning from the player. There is no easy mode, the lowest setting is Normal and completing a mission is very rewarding because of it. A single level could take hours to complete as you try out different tactics, observing the enemy and adapting - patience is a vital commodity.

Depth is a word used consistently in video games however few games can match Commandos 2 in such a category. You can select, equip and control each of commandos during a mission. The characters can interact with one another, swapping items or forming separate groups for different objectives. The game is not linear, you have your goals but how you reach them is entirely up to you and the way in which you equip the squad. Items can be found as well as weapons and vehicles, which you can utilise, vehicles such as the Panzer tank stand in your way and the formidable enemy AI is a worthy opponent.

One constant area of debate whenever a title is converted from the PC to a console is the control method. For this version Pyro have thrown away any keyboard and mouse support and instead have embraced the Playstation 2 controller. For games such as Quake such an approach works well, as does the more complex Deus Ex, however when dealing with the level of control and tanker of options Commandos 2 offers things begin to get complicated. Even with the excellent training mode you will have problems remembering every button or combination function and when the enemy AI is as tough as we have here, such seconds are critical.

Pyro have removed the point and click aspect of the game, where you could direct movement from A to B. Instead you can now take control of a commando and move him around with the left analogue stick. This is a console approach however that doesn’t necessarily mean it works, as the point and click method allowed you to survey the environment whilst you troops moved to point B. Now you have to do this while controlling the troops the same time, with the dangers remaining the same. Even with the ability to direct character movements, the game suffers as it was originally designed to accommodate the PC version. During play I quite often had to pause the game whilst referring to the control system. Such a complication is not good and for those even new to the series it will not feel natural either. This is such as shame as Commandos 2 is a fabulous engrossing challenge but one that is perhaps best enjoyed on the PC.

Those that spend the time to learn the complex control system will have to negotiate the difficulty, and in an age of easy games and quick thrills I doubt many will have the patience. Still at least we should be thankful for some much needed variety in the pre-Christmas rush.

Game Score: 7/10 Reviewed By: Jason Julier