Commandos: Strike Force Hands-On

The longtime PC strategy series from Pyro makes a transition to first-person on console. We get a hands-on look at how the squad is making the adjustment.

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The Commandos series has long been known for its devilish, but satisfying difficulty as a strategy game on the PC. With Commandos Strike Force, Pyro Studios takes the franchise in a whole different direction. You'll still have control over a few different elite Allied Special Forces as they sneak, kill, and sabotage the German Wehrmacht on their way to victory in Europe during World War II. But instead of controlling your soldiers from the isometric overhead view of the PC games, you'll get right in the thick of the action from a first-person perspective. With the game slated to ship soon for the Xbox and the PS2, we finally got a hands-on taste of the single-player game on both platforms.

Strike Force takes the Commandos series in an entirely new direction.

There are three different commandos available to you in Strike Force. The first one you'll get acquainted with is Lieutenant William Hawkins, a British sniper whose specialties include his skill with a rifle, and killing silently. Captain Frank O'Brien is a gruff Green Beret who provides muscle to the operation. He is skilled with a variety of different weapons, and he can even dual-wield for extra firepower. Colonel George Brown is the commander and a crafty spy who can steal and use enemy uniforms, allowing him to slip past enemies while remaining in plain sight.

The first few missions of the game do a great job at getting you familiar with the three characters and their unique abilities, as well as the general skills that you'll need to get through the missions. Hawkins, for example, is armed with throwing knives that allow him to kill silently from a distance. You can even recover a used shiv from the body of any soldiers you kill in this manner. The first mission of the game had us using Hawkins to sneak into a house guarded by German soldiers to free some members of Le Resistance. It was possible to just go guns blazing and take on all the soldiers, or you could sneak around and kill them silently one by one to break in. A radar screen gives you added information you need to know when an enemy around the corner has his back turned to you, so you can creep up behind him for a stealth kill. Hawkins is equally deadly with his sniper rifle--as you're aiming through the scope you can hold your breath, which slows down time for a moment to help you steady your aim.

The campaign soon introduces O'Brien, and in that mission you'll control both O'Brien and Hawkins as you try to fend off a German ambush and retreat away to safety. Switching between commandos is as simple as tapping a button. This mechanic was pretty useful, as we used Hawkins and his sniper rifle to take out searchlights and distant machine gunners, and then switched back to O'Brien to man a machine-gun nest. We expect that several missions in the game will offer this switching mechanic, which is a simplified version of the type of multitasking that was asked of players in the original Commandos games.

Stealing enemy uniforms is just one of the tricks you'll use to fool the enemy.

Colonel Brown, the spy, has some pretty nifty tricks of his own. He also has the ability to stealth kill, but instead of stabbing like Hawkins does, he garrotes his victims with piano wire. This cleaner method allows him to steal enemy uniforms for added stealthiness. There are a few levels of uniforms you can steal, ranging from soldiers to different levels of officers. If you're in a soldier uniform and get spotted by an officer, your identity is revealed immediately and the ruse fails. However, if you can get your hands on an officer's garb, you can walk right in front of soldiers and low-level officers with impunity. Brown can also toss coins to distract enemies, which may give him just enough time to slip in for a stealth kill or just slip by a guard without being seen.

The presentation so far in Commandos Strike Force relies a lot on cutscenes with full voice acting to convey the story. The early part of the campaign, at least, is full of little movie vignettes that move the plot along. There also seems to be a good amount of music to set the mood. The overall graphics at this point aren't exactly breathtaking from a technical standpoint, on either the PS2 or on the Xbox, but what's there seems adequate to get the job done. The texturing is pretty rough, but at least there are some nice touches here and there, like the pink spray of blood you see after sniping an enemy.

Thus far, Commandos Strike Force seems like an interesting first-person variation on the hardcore strategy series from the PC. The gameplay seems to have been simplified a good deal, as you can't move bodies around to cover your tracks and there aren't any of the climbing or acrobatic elements that longtime fans may remember using from the PC games. But there are some other elements added, like the ability to peep through keyholes in doors to see what's in the other room. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more information on Commandos Strike Force as the release date approaches.

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