I was a huge fan of the idea of stealth games before Metal Gear Solid came along a legitimised the concept on a grand scale, and there were a few games that gave stealth fans their fix before it. One of the ones I remember the most was the Commandos series – and the reason I remember it is because it was so nut-bustingly hard.
The first one that filled my late teen years with pain and anguish was Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines. This game is difficult to classify. It’s played as a top-down, 2D, real-time strategy game in which players control a team of six commandos, each with their own special abilities, across a campaign full of missions. What made it tricky was the unforgiving urgency of it. Say you had a mission to assassinate a key officer, grab some intel, and procure a vehicle for extraction. There was often a bit of creative leeway in how you approached each situation. You can use your spy to infiltrate the base to assassinate the officer and steal the intel, but you might want to have your sniper on a high point, far away, covering him. You can use your green beret to sneak up behind a soldier guarding a vehicle and knife him silently in the back and then dump his body somewhere it won’t be found. Or you might want to skip all this and have your diver make an undetected sea approach, sneak into the base that way and steal the intel instead. There are so many options, so many ways to accomplish each goal – and so many ways to fail.
Thankfully, the developers gave us some clever options to keep track of things. You can split your screen up into several cameras and have each camera follow a specific target – for instance, you could make one follow your green beret and make another follow an enemy patrol. It’s tricky, but it’s an essential skill. And while I have mentioned how hard it is, it’s an excellent game and sure to challenge any hardcore thinking gamer.
Also included in the package is the expansion to the first game, Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty, which gives players more missions to complete and a few new toys and vehicles to use. The sequel, Commandos II: Men of Courage, is essentially more of the same, but with a couple of differences. Firstly, certain items in the game, like character models, have been rendered in 3D while the backgrounds and other details are still 2D. The interface has also been streamlined and the commandos have been given more abilities, like the ability to swap equipment, and many fans consider it to be the best in the series. Commandos III: Destination Berlin went completely 3D, and many long-time fans didn’t like this – but I must admit, the more up-to-date, context-sensitive interface it employed made it the most easily playable of the three.
And last and most definitely least is Commandos: Strike Force. This was a complete departure for the series, making it a first-person shooter with a strategy edge. It also gave us only three commandos to work with this time: the sniper, the green beret and the spy. It’s kind of fun, but the problem is that it not particularly challenging as a shooter and the “strategy” elements hardly classify as such. You can finish most of each mission with one commando – except for the bits that require the skills of a particular guy, of course – and the lack of real dependence on their skills makes them feel more or less the same in the long run.
If you’re looking for a real challenge, something quite different to any other strategy game you have played, you might want to give this bundle a look.