Reviewed: January 18, 2004
Released: October 14, 2003
I can still remember playing the original Commandos game on my PC many years ago. In a time where the strategy genre was dominated by titles like Command and Conquer this new style of game was truly a breath of fresh air. Commandos 2: Men of Courage upped the ante for the franchise and now Commandos 3: Destination Berlin takes this strategic action game to even new heights.
Prepare to take the Commandos on their deadliest mission yet, as you venture deep into enemy territory across three extensive campaigns. From the frozen ruins of Stalingrad, through to the forests of central Europe, and onto the beaches of Normandy, your men must use their skills to confuse and defeat the enemy.
The basic Commandos formula is still in place, and the game is very much like the earlier ones, only with new characters, abilities, and tactics. The mission design has been expanded to include many creative environments and diverse objectives that will make the most out of your expanded list of skills.
The game starts in Stalingrad where the player will have to kill an elite enemy sniper, protect a general from an assault of German paratroopers then follow a series of events leading up to where you have to kill a Nazi general preparing an ambush in the middle of Berlin. The second campaign takes place in the French-German border where the player will have to take control of a train to recover a shipment of art masterpieces that the Nazis have stolen from Paris. This is by far one of my favorite sequences in the game.
The last campaign will take place around D-Day landings and will not only include a mission where the player will have to storm the beach but also sabotage and infiltration operations. There are 12 missions in all spread across these three campaigns and this time the missions are integrated into a very good story.
The lengthy tutorial covers all the basics and even some advanced stealth tactics. Youíll come away from these two lessons more than ready to face the challenges that await. On more than one occasion I had flashbacks to my days playing Lost Vikings, the old puzzle game where you had three Vikings, each with unique abilities that complemented the others and you had to work them all together to finish the levels. Commandos 3 is very much like that, only in this game you have up to six elite soldiers and a whole lot more skills and abilities making the puzzle-solving possibilities nearly endless.
The missions are tightly scripted but the gameplay isnít exactly linear. You have ample freedom to plan your own course of action within the confines of the triggered and scripted events. A great example is the mission where you must defend the Russian headquarters in Stalingrad. There are literally dozens of ways to complete this mission.
Keeping on top of six commands can be challenging, but the interface is not only intuitive it is also optimized so you can bounce around your entire team and execute a flurry of commands with only a few mouse movements or the occasional keystroke. The icons and commando portraits are very nice and the ability to toggle the label keys between the game screen and a text window is a nice touch that keeps the game area clean.
Puzzles come in a variety of flavors but most rely on strategically moving your men from point A to B. You might have to subdue or kill a guard and get a disguise or use tools or other inventory items to blow up a tank or disable a sub. Itís all very cool and authentic WWII type objectives and really immerses the gamer in the genre.
Multiplayer gaming makes its series debut and there are a number of deathmatch modes available ranging from strategic ones to those that are more action oriented. Basically these games are based around teams of Commandos where two to four teams (up to twelve players) will be playing one against the other on capture the flag or score based games. The only thing I really missed was the ability to play the campaign mode cooperatively. Working in tandem with live teammates would be an unparalleled experience.
Commandos 3 also takes the level of graphics to the next level by mixing up the traditional 2D exterior levels with some stunning 3D interiors. While the exteriors are still only rotated using four compass-like views you now have smooth 360-degree rotation inside and the zoom level has been greatly improved. Iím still looking forward to the day when we have tilt control to bring the camera down into the game, but this is a huge step forward.
Even with the new rotational panning for the interiors you will still find yourself tweaking the view and the zoom level more than youíd expect and probably more than you should have to. There were times, even during the tutorial, where you simply cannot see your objective until you stumble onto the proper view. Thankfully, if you are outdoors, you only have four possible choices. There is also a small problem of the game relying on the playerís point of view (camera angle) rather than the actual characterís line of sight when trying to target enemy soldiers.
The game is locked at 1024x768 but is still a masterpiece of stylistic rendered visuals. The 2D exteriors look as close to 3D as it gets. The new engine provides for much more detailed environments with lots of new effects: explosions, weather and all sorts of particle effects. Each level is more impressive than the last and the environments are very immersive, almost alive, especially action levels like the train level that transports the player into the middle of the action.
The entire game shares a common and quite realistic color palette that keeps everything looking very real and dismal. The enemies have a tendency to blend into the backgrounds so you will undoubtedly find the enemy locator function useful as it turns all onscreen enemies red. You can also toggle the green view cones for selected guards so you can avoid their detection, and red line-of-sight lines show guards that are ďkeeping an eye on youĒ.
Commandos 3 offers up a score worthy of a WWII feature film. Itís stirring and evokes the appropriate emotions including plenty of tension during those stealth segments. Everything from the menu music to the cutscene scores to the in-game themes is flawless.
Sound effects are varied and work well with their respective visuals. The weapon effects seem to be reasonably authentic but donít offer the punch I would expect from a military game. Explosions are also a bit weaker than I would have liked but overall the audio package supports the visuals and provides an authentic war-gaming experience.
There is a moderate amount of speech that starts with the tutorial. I was a bit annoyed that the tutorial kept going without waiting for any confirmation on my part, so if I got caught enjoying the scenery or lost in the interface I would miss out on a few screens of instructions. The quality of the voices along with the accents for the various nationalities all sound authentic enough and a few are even a bit humorous. The German accents and dialogue is very authentic.
Commandos 3 is a hard game that will challenge even the most veteran of gamers for upwards of 20 hours. The diverse gameplay and freedom to solve many of the puzzles using a variety of skills and tactics means you can replay the entire game several times and it will unfold differently, even though you will reach the same ultimate conclusion.
The multiplayer modes add a bit of extended value but the versus only modes arenít nearly as fun as a cooperative game could have been, and the game really only runs well enough on a LAN or the fastest of Internet connections. While I commend Pyro for included a multiplayer component I only hope they develop it further in the next game.
Commandos 3: Destination Berlin is a fun and highly challenging tactical game that will test your analytical skills as well as your undying patience. Plan to experiment and fail and try again on most of the missions, but realize that even when you fail the game remains just as fun. And when you finally do conquer that super-difficult mission the feeling of accomplishment is directly proportional to the frustration leading up to that point.
Itís not for beginners and certainly not for impatient gamers or those looking for lots of action, but Commandos 3 is one of the best WWII strategy games you can play on your PC. A definite recommendation if you have the courage to enlist.