One of the best top 10 games ever!
mircea_calarasu wrote this review on .
Commandos 2 is a game with some very cool and innovative ideas, a complex and deep control scheme, with interesting and fun missions. The core gameplay itself is absolutely superb, as is evident from the reactions of the PC version of this game. Now that it has been ported over to the PS2, it gives us consolers a chance to play a game in a genre that is rather scarce on a console ... the real-time strategy genre. (No, Commandos2 is not a Starcraft-type real-time strategy, but it has some similarities.) Commandos 2 was going to bring something new the PS2, something different from the other games currently available. The programmers ported over all the gameplay elements from the PC game, so that we wouldn't be getting any cut corners. And for that, I applaud the developers. I mean, this game is very complex and is the type of game that consolers don't traditionally go for. So it shows guts on the part of the developers to bring the port to us. Unfortunately, something went wrong during the programming. Whether it is the limitations of the PS2 or the inefficient programming of the game, the final product has some serious flaws, one of them being so bad it kills this game. I've seen some amazing games on the PS2 that have much shorter load times, so I'm inclined to think that the game's flaws are not due to the PS2's "limitations", but rather the programming of the game itself. Get ready to wait, and wait, and wait.
Underneath the horrible loading times flaw, Commandos 2 is an amazing game with very deep gameplay. The game is played from a third person perspective, with the camera up in the sky looking down on the level. If you've ever played a Diablo game, then you'll know what the camera is like. And, one of the coolest parts of the gameplay is the ability to pan the camera around the entire level, allowing you to get an overview of all your objectives and enemies. Panning the level is essential because you'll need to plan your next movement and interactions keeping in mind what lies further ahead. I.e. what route you plan to take will affect your choices in the future, so plan carefully. You have at your disposal a group of 8 human Commandos and a dog. With each mission you will have a unique group of several commandos to use, or maybe just one commando to start a mission. (The commandos are preselected for each mission.) There are several actions each commando has in common, and some actions that are unique for each commando. Learning which man (or woman) to use in what situation is a lot of the game's strategy.
Each commando has an inventory for which he/she carries weapons and supplies. Commandos can use a large variety of items. For example: weapons, health kits, narcotic drugs, mine detectors, explosives, lockpicks, wire cutters, wench and cable, decoys, shovels, etc. So, there are a wide variety of means to achieve your goals. And many of these items can implemented together. For example, you can dig a hole in the ground outside of a doorway, then use your decoy to lure the enemy out, by which he then falls in the hole. Or you can combine a tripwire with a mine and leave it in an area you know the enemy patrols. Put narcotics in the wine and leave it in front of a patrolling enemy's position. He will then pick it up, drink it, and sleep forever.
Enemy AI is really good in Commandos 2. The enemies have preset patrol paths and vision limitations. One of the most important parts of the game is the ability to highlight an enemy and see their cone of vision. Each enemy has an outer part of the vision cone by which you cannot be seen if you are crawling or wearing the enemy's uniform, as well as an inner part of the vision cone in which they can spot you quickly. Even little icons will appear above the enemy's head to give you a visual clue of whether they are suspicious or alerted to you. Also, enemies can be alerted to your sound if you are running or if you use a weapon nearby. If spotted, the enemies will call for backup or sound the alarm, and then you've got a group of them coming after you. Even if you run, they will systematically search for you. There is a limit to their searching, so you survive if you find a good enough hiding spot till the alarm is over. (The enemy's reactions are kinda similar to what we saw in Metal Gear Solid 2.) Still, being spotted by the enemy spells death a lot of the time. However, you can use the enemy's alarm and search teams to your advantage. Set up traps, like mines and tripwires, in the areas you think the enemy will run past in the event of an alarm. Then make a noise or shoot a nearby enemy, and watch the fun unfold as they come out looking for you ... boom! Overall the enemy AI is pretty good, but not perfect. There are limitations to the AI, but that is intentionally done to allow for strategic movement of your commandos. They may not be the smartest enemies, but the AI balances very well with the gameplay.
There are many situations where you will want to use 2 or more commandos as a team effort to achieve a goal. Often times you can use one guy to lure the enemy out, and then switch to the second guy who will kill or knock out the lured enemy. Or even simpler, you can command your gunman to stay in attack mode, so that when you are luring out the enemy with the decoy man, the gunman will automatically shoot at the enemy (without the need for you to quickly switch back to the gunman). Sometimes you will send a guy ahead to climb inside a building and unlock it from the inside. One time, I sent the thief into an area where my sniper could not reach. I had the thief steal more sniper rifle ammo and bring it back, by which I then picked off the distant enemies with my sniper. There are a lot of creative ways you can use your commandos as a team, and this is one of the game's strongest aspects.
The freedom the game allows is a very strong part of the gameplay as well. Each mission can be played in a variety of ways, although some choices will result in a dire situation. So, make your own choices, but choose wisely. The game does require a lot of planning and stealth, which does allow you move at your own pace. In fact, learning how to eliminate enemies with stealth will become your best approach in many situations. This almost creates an air of suspense as you anticipate what would happen if you choose a particular route
In addition to all those previously mentioned gameplay strengths, Commandos 2 sports some very impressive levels. The first 2 missions are small, but after that the levels get quite large. The levels are full of barracks, buildings, walkways, guard posts, hiding places, telephone or electrical wires, fences, barb wire, mine fields, bodies of water (yes, you can even swim on top of and travel underwater), large courtyards, vehicles, etc. And the levels are not barren. No, they are filled with loads of the objects, creating multiple complex pathways to take. Buildings are multileveled, with catwalks, stairways, and rooftops to traverse. There are areas you can even scale up the sides of buildings, or can use a grappling hook and climb up the side. And, to top this all off, most of the buildings can be entered and contain multiple rooms. One of the coolest aspects of the level design is he ability to look through a window to see the enemies before entering. Truly, the level designs are remarkable and balance well with the other aspects of gameplay.
Commandos 2 has a very steep learning curve and will take several hours to really get the controls down. Every single button on the dualshock 2 is used, and you will need to be able to use it fluidly as the action is all real-time. So an investment of time will be needed before the controls become fluid. Fortunately, the game provides a very good tutorial and 2 training missions, so that even gamers who rent with no instruction manual should be able to play it. Considering the sheer number of actions your commandos can perform, the controls are mapped quite well to the dualshock 2. Also, the game is very hard, requiring you to move and act at specific times when the enemy is not looking. The game is designed to be very hard and thus you feel rewarded when you complete a level. But, the game also allows you to save at any time, thus you do not have to replay the entire level if you die. And you will die or fail a lot in each mission. Reloading 50 times or more is not uncommon in the 3rd mission and beyond. I have no problem with the difficulty level. Dying or failing simply means you have to re-plan you approach and learn from your mistakes. No, the difficulty of the game is not the problem.
So up till now, I have talked about a game that does many, many things right. Unfortunately, there is one major flaw that negates all the positives of the game and brings the gameplay to a screeching halt. I'm talking about the load times. Playing the first two missions is not a problem as these training missions are small. But when you get to the third mission, you'll see the writing on the wall. The game will take anywhere from 40 seconds to 72 seconds (yes, I timed the loading) to load a mission. But this by itself would not be a problem. No, the problem arises when you reload from your last save game.... Another 40 - 72 seconds to reload. Yes, the game actually wipes the memory clear and reloads everything from scratch each time you want to reload. But wait a minute... the game's level is already in memory, right? Why does the game have to reload the entire level? I've seen many PS2 games that simply use the code already in memory to go back to the start of a level or start you at your last save spot. Nope, not with Commmandos 2. And since the game is designed to be hard, you'll be restarting 50 times or more per mission. Now add that up. Now do you see the problem? Each time you make a little mistake you are "punished" by watching a load screen for a minute. There were times I was actually watching the load screen as much as I was playing. At first, I was able to stomach the load times. But after repeatedly long load times, it really started to get irritating. Then, several hours later it started angering me. It really breaks up the action of the game and kills a lot of the game's underlying fun. I stubbornly forced myself to plow through several of the missions beyond the training levels, but after a while I just though, "What's the point?" To complete the entire game, I would end up spending several hours, yes hours, watching load screens. And the load screen is the same dull screen over and over. At least give me some interesting screen shots. Or, like the new Test Drive game, you could play pong while the game loads. None of that. So, if you want to play this game on the PS2, make sure you have some activity to do while you wait and wait and wait for the load screens. Here are a list of things I did while waiting for the game to load:
- Play ball with my dog
- Go to the bathroom.
- Watch my friend waste the other cars with his Ford GT concept car on Sega GT 2002.
- Write this review. Yes, portions of this very review were written while waiting to load the game.
- Pay my bills
- Calculate the distance from Jupiter to the sun. (This one took 2 load times to get)
And the load times are not the only problem with this ported game. Overall, everything in the game is sluggish. When the alarm sounds, the framerate goes way down. There is a significant delay when rotating the camera, and this often times left me disoriented. There is a delay when trying to select my next commando ... and this delay occurs while all the other action is still going and can result in one of your commandos getting shot while waiting for the game to finally get to the character selection screen. Also, selecting a new commando will often result in the game arbitrarily rotating the camera 90 degrees ... talk about disorienting. Panning of the camera around the level is sluggish and delayed. It just feels like the levels are almost too large to fit into the PS2's memory (I'm talking about the 3rd level and beyond, not the training missions.) Once again, I don't think this is a limitation of the PS2's hardware. Look at the games Twisted Metal Black and Dave Mirra 2. These are games with absolutely gigantic levels (certainly more objects than the levels in Commandos 2) and they have almost no slowdown or lagging. So, I have seen examples of what the PS2 can do. Commandos 2 looks like inefficient programming on the part of the game designers. I know I sound like I'm being critical, and I don't program games ... but I know that, as a gamer, these problems are annoying and detract from the gameplay.
The bottom line is that the load times seen in Commandos 2 are unacceptable for a next generation console. I have seen examples of other games with bigger levels and faster load times, so I know it ain't the hardware. I guess the worst part about the load times is that it gives me a lot of time to think about all those other games I'D RATHER BE PLAYING INSTEAD. If the load times were acceptable, I would rate the game a 4 or 5 ... but the load times are actually that annoying, at least to me.
There are a lot of objects in the levels. It's just that the objects and characters are not made with enough polygons and not enough detail. Thus, a lot of things end up looking blurry. This can make for some confusing gaming since sometimes you cannot tell what you are looking at and where the walkways in between buildings may exist. The icons that appear in your character selections menus are the worst. These icons are so blurry and un-detailed that you really cannot tell what you are selecting. I have to look to the game's manual to "interpret" what the icon is that I am looking at. And the manual does not list all the icons in one area, so it becomes a searching game to find it. In many ways, learning to read these icons is like learning another language. Combine all this with the framerate slowdown, and you have some mediocre graphics. But the minor graphical flaws can be overlooked. The graphics ain't the problem ... it's the load times.
There is speech, sound effects, and background music. The alarm sound effect is like a 5 second sound bite repeated at nauseum. All your commandos say little confirmations when you issue them orders. Different sounds when crawling verses walking verses running. Nothing that really stands out, but still a solid effort. The sound is good enough for the game. The sound ain't the problem ... we know what the real problem is.