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by Eidos

There are two kinds of complexity—the welcome sort that one finds in a Shakespearean sonnet or an excellent bottle of wine, and the unwelcome sort that one finds in a tax form or a crazy girlfriend. The first is interesting, the second frustrating. And Commandos 2--while very often a complex, interesting game—can also be a complex, frustrating game.

c2_15-01.jpg (2850 bytes)Commandos 2 is the long-awaited sequel to 1998’s Commandos, a game noted for its razor’s-edge thrills, beautiful maps, puzzle-like missions, and insane level of difficulty. And while Commandos 2 is much bigger (the maps are enormous), more varied (you get new operatives and even get to fight against the Japanese), and even prettier than the original, the learning curve is just as steep. Some steps have been taken to make the missions less dependant on split-second timing and more on planning, but a fiddly interface and absolutely terrible manual and tutorial amp up the frustration factor to at times almost intolerable levels.

c2_17-01.jpg (4401 bytes)For those of you unfamiliar with the original Commandos, the game gives you command of a group of World War II vintage special-forces types whose missions take them far behind enemy lines. Stealth is at a premium. Most missions involve wending one’s way through a labyrinth of enemy guards and soldiers, avoiding them when possible, taking them out silently and quickly when not. Since the entire map and all enemy soldiers are viewable from the mission’s get-go (talk about great intelligence) you can leisurely plot out your plan of attack, and at its best Commandos 2 offers an almost chess-like experience of carefully thinking out moves well in advance. Except with machine guns and stuff. Since your operatives are almost always outnumbered, detection by the enemy (either through being sighted, making a loud noise, or leaving dead bodies lying around) typically leads to terminal mission failure. Frequent saves are recommended.

das-boot-4.jpg (2700 bytes)Fortunately, your charges are uniquely equipped for such missions. Your roster of characters includes a muscle-bound Green Beret, a skilled Mechanic who can commandeer enemy vehicles, a Spy who is also a master of disguise, a Sniper, a Demolitions Expert, a Secret Agent (think Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle) and a Thief who comes armed with a rat and a dog. To successfully complete the enormous and complex (in a good way) missions, you’ll have to use their various special skills. Various commandos can set traps, pick locks, blow stuff up real good, take over tanks, climb walls, seduce or distract guards, use scuba gear, and disguise themselves as enemy officers.

kwai-2.jpg (3982 bytes)The game is absolutely beautiful, too. The effect is cinematic in the extreme, and the "it’s like I’m in a movie" effect is very much in play here, especially since Commandos 2 offers occasional tips of the hat to the Hollywood blockbusters that have so evidently inspired it. Sound is also excellent, and can offer useful gameplay hints, especially when one of your agents is making a little too much noise.

c2_03-01.jpg (2207 bytes)But for all the game’s strengths and evident care that went into constructing the missions, the game’s learning curve is needlessly steep. The tutorials are worse than useless—they’re essentially mini-missions that offer no instruction and require lots of fumbling through the manual whilst trying to obtain obscure information. While the tutorials aren’t much use in learning the game’s mechanics, they do offer an excellent preview of what you’ll be going through while trying to learn the game. For instance, you’ll probably want to lob a grenade through a window at some time, but exactly how this is done is not immediately evident. You’ll therefore have to stop playing and look it up in the manual. Want to exchange items with another team member? You’ll again have to look it up in the manual--which, by the way, is extremely poorly organized and perversely printed white-on-light gray. Reading it, or even thinking about it now, is a very unpleasant experience.

c2_09-01.jpg (5449 bytes)Which is a shame, because with a more context-sensitive interface and a decent tutorial and manual, Commandos 2 could have been a classic. It’s the kind of thinking man’s game that’s not for everybody, but if you love seeing a plan come together and have a naturally patient disposition, playing Commandos 2 is time well spent. 

Rick Fehrenbacher   (11/20/2001)


Ups: Beautiful maps; complex missions; lots of variety.

Downs: Awful tutorial and manual; clumsy interface.

Platform: PC