Reviewed: November 9, 2002
Released: August 30, 2002
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. PC gamers have been enjoying Commandos 2: Men of Courage for over a year now, and PS2 gamers can finally enjoy this intriguing strategy game.
The premise behind this title is quite simple. You play Sergeant McHale, put in charge of an elite band of British Special Forces operatives, each with their own unique skills and abilities. You are then faced with several difficult missions where you must use their talents to complete all sorts of daring objectives.
The chain of missions begins with a very nice opening movie but after that the story moves into the background, barely reappearing to hold the campaign together. Surprisingly, the game really doesn’t need a story as it plays more as an action-puzzle game than an adventure. In fact, there were several times where this game brought back fond memories of The Lost Vikings; another game that required skills from several unique characters working in a coordinated effort toward a common goal.
Men of Courage breaks new ground in challenging gameplay. More to the point, this game is hard, very hard. The training missions try to ease you into the complicated interface; an interface that falls victim to the limitations of the Dual Shock. As I worked my way through the hour-long tutorial I felt overwhelmed at times from the sheer number of unique characters and various abilities. By the time I had completed training I was too “exhausted” to even tackle the first mission. When I did begin the campaign the following day I had forgotten most of the complicated commands required to play this game.
I’m not holding the PS2 entirely at fault here. Even last year’s PC version of this same title was extremely complex, both in control and gameplay. Even so, the keyboard afforded a more “friendly” control interface, and then there is the simple fact that console gamers may not have the patience for the advanced learning curve required for this title. You will be using every button on the Dual Shock, often in hard-to-remember combinations. You are constantly being forced to toggle between Look and Interact modes and the inventory access and item swap interface is problematic at best. If you do manage to stick with it, I can assure you of a most rewarding game experience.
There are twelve scenarios, including the aforementioned pair of training missions, which rival the actual missions in length and difficulty. Don’t even think for a second that you will blaze through this title in a few hours or even within a standard rental period. This game is as hard as it is complex. That combined with a virtually endless array of tactical combinations allows you to play and replay this game differently each time with varying results.
Even though you are in command, you still have direct control over your individual commandos such as the Thief, Demolitions Expert, Engineer, Green Beret, Sniper, Spy, nearly a dozen in all. You even get to control Whiskey, a clever K9 who is great at distracting guards with a well-timed bark. They all have their special tactics that come into play during the diverse selection of authentic military missions spread across some incredibly detailed levels.
A good example of teamwork can be found in the very first mission where you are ordered to take out an enemy commander who is in a bunker just on the other side of a heavily guarded border crossing station. You must have your Green Beret stealthily take out a pair of nearby guards, hiding their bodies from accidental discover by other guards. Then you send your Thief up a telephone pole and monkey-swing across the border. Dropping down upon the unsuspecting guard below, you can claim the wire cutters from the lockbox and return to your team. Now the Engineer can snip the barbed wire and use his mine detector to locate, disarm, and collect the mines scattered about the field. That’s just for starters. It gets even more in-depth as you bring your team into enemy territory to finish the mission. And that’s only one way to do it. You can also steal uniforms and disguise yourself to infiltrate and assassinate. The possibilities are nearly endless.
Each mission is almost a game in and of itself. There were some missions where even after I had one I knew I could have done it better or differently and decided to tackle that scenario again before moving on. To that end, this game took me nearly two months to complete. Despite the difficulty, there are just so many appealing gameplay elements that I was compelled to keep playing – a sign of excellent gameplay design.
And finally we come to AI. As you probably can guess from the difficulty level, the enemy AI is really good, almost too good, but never unrealistic. If a patrolling guard notices something out of place like an open door that should be closed, or an unconscious guard, or even something as subtle as a guard who should be there but isn’t, they will investigate and often call for reinforcements. They also have the realistic ability to respond to audible gunfire, and if you snipe a guard from a distance and another guard see it they will react, unlike many other games where they simply go about their business.
PC gamers got to enjoy some crisp high-resolution graphics that allows them to zoom in and see some incredibly detailed animation, even when it did get a bit pixilated. PS2 gamers get to enjoy a minor step down in overall quality, but if you have never seen the PC version you won’t be disappointed. Each level is stunning and beautifully rendered with realistic details. You will swear you are looking at satellite recon photos. You still have the ability to zoom in for precision work but this is where the evil pixilation rears its ugly head.
The characters are all nicely animated with subtle details specific to each character that actually reflects their chosen profession and perhaps even their personality. Enemy guards walk their assigned patrol routes and engage in idle conversation when they meet.
The lower resolution can often make finding your characters difficult, as they tend to blend into the background. This is great in real life, but not in a game where you need instant intel on each of your teammates. Even when you think your character is hidden well enough you can never be quite sure until the enemy inevitably spots you and calls for backup.
Guards feature the now-standard “vision cone” made famous in Metal Gear Solid and now used in just about every stealth game. This cone lets you determine their field of vision and the color-coding informs you of their alert status.
There are some nice camera tricks including PIP (picture-in-picture) interior views when looking through windows. You are free to move the camera about the levels and even rotate the view as needed. The results are a mixed bag ranging from smooth rotation and panning to some unexplained occurrences of jerky camera movement. It’s easy to get confused, especially in the heat of battle.
The music in Men of Courage is surprisingly good. Well, perhaps not so surprising when you realize that Mateo Pascual is responsible for the authentic military soundtrack that both inspires and drives the emotional content of the game. Mateo has come along way from his 4-channel Amiga days composing with “Sound Traker”. His 64-channel masterpieces used in this title are worthy of a feature film.
The sound effects are right on par with the soundtrack with plenty of gunfire and the ambient sounds or war. The speech is excellent with authentic accents and unique inflections for each of the characters. My only complaint is that you will have heard their entire repertoire after the first few missions, and their clever one-lines and random musings just aren’t so clever anymore.
Don’t let the dozen missions fool you into thinking this is a weekend walk in the rental park. I consider myself an accomplished gamer, especially in this type of game, and discounting the 20-30 hours I spent “replaying” many missions, there was still more than 20 hours of first-pass original gameplay waiting for me and you in Commandos 2.
There are no multiplayer options available, but this is a decision based on the core design of the game. While I supposed it would have been possible to let multiple gamers control their own commando (they did it in Lost Vikings), there would still be insufferable periods of you watching the other players do their part. At least this way, when you die and fail you have no one to blame but yourself.
Commandos 2: Men of Courage is a challenging game targeted toward expert gamers, or at least gamers with a high tolerance for challenging gameplay and somewhat frustrating controls. The game’s design promotes experimentation and subconsciously encourages you to keep playing and replaying missions, even after you have won them.
If you have a respectable PC then you might enjoy this title more on that platform, otherwise if your gaming is limited to the PS2 this version is guaranteed to fill your desires for an authentic WW2 strategy game. It’s a truly unique and exciting experience unlike any other game I’ve played on my PS2.