In the history of video games, the documented battles of World War II are often the fodder for the settings of games based on World War II. However, there are a few games that focus on the secret (or more precisely, poorly documented) conflicts in World War II, such as the missions that the commandos of World War II conducted. Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines is obviously one such game.
As its name suggest, the game has the player taking control of a motley crew of commandos that have infiltrated into enemy territory to conduct acts of sabotage and other kinds of covert warfare. There are up to six of them, each with different capabilities and – unfortunately – different degrees of usefulness in different situations. The player will use a handful of Commandos for every mission, with the exception of one or two missions where the player will be handling all of them.
It has to be mentioned here first that this review is made using the Good Old Games version of the game, which has received some updates. The updates have not resolved some issues with the original version of the game, unfortunately. These flaws will be described later when the opportunity arises.
As mentioned earlier, there are up to six commandos, each different from the rest, with the exception of some minor similarities.
Firstly, there is the Green Beret, an amusingly muscle-bound brute who happens to run the fastest and also the only Commando with the upper-body strength needed to haul barrels around. He is also the only one who can scale walls and other climbable surfaces.
There are some nuances and hiccups with these unique designs of the Green Beret. One nuance is that the Green Beret can stuff one corpse into each barrel, which is a handy option. The problem here is that the game does not inform the player which barrel has been stuffed with a corpse; the player can still get a prompt to stuff barrels that have already been stuffed with more corpses, but following the prompt does not cause the next corpse to disappear.
Another nuance is that if the Green Beret is carrying a barrel (or a body), attempting to have him does anything else other than haul them around will cause him to drop what he is carrying. This is understandable, but this also extends to a stop order, for which he will drop what he is carrying too.
This problem is not as bad as the one that plagues his ability to scale walls. Scaling walls have him going up and down walls, of course – but the player cannot have him stopping halfway in motion. To somewhat stall his descent and ascent, the player has to click on the wall above and below him alternately to have him reversing his animations. This is a silly work-around that could have been rendered unnecessary if an option to have him stop halfway has been implemented.
The Green Beret also has a decoy device that can be planted somewhere and turned on to emit annoying noises that can be heard by enemies. They will come over to investigate, but will not raise the alarm after they discover it. Eventually, their A.I. scripts will force them to ignore the noises, and they will return to whatever they were doing, so the player should take advantage of the distraction while it lasts. Turning the device off and back on again will, however, reset their behaviour – they come running over again.
The Marine is the only Commando who is trained in scuba-diving. He is also the only one with a short-ranged and silent weapon that never runs of ammunition, which is his harpoon; however, the harpoon is one of the slowest weapons in the game. He may also carry an inflatable raft on his person, which shows in his sprite and slows him down (which is an understandable setback). He is also the only one capable of operating marine vehicles – even the ones that should be simple enough for the rest to use.
In addition to making the Marine unique from the rest, his designs also happen to highlight limitations in the other Commandos that are difficult to accept. For example, although it is understandable that the Marine is the only one that knows how to scuba-dive, the other Commandos do not even know how to swim, thus making bodies of water impassable to them. Another example is that only the Marine can operate simple water-borne vessels like rowboats and inflatable rafts, which should have been operable by the other Commandos too.
The implementation of his scuba-diving ability is outrageous, considering the other more believable designs about him, such as the aforementioned slowing down when he is carrying an inflatable raft. When in shallow water, he can switch very easily between scuba-diving and land-walking, without the need for any animations for the change of his get-up. This can be exploited for some cheesy amphibious ambushes.
The Sapper is the explosives expert of the team, though most of the time the player would not have this impression as the game insists on having him start missions without any explosives on his person. Of course, one could argue that for being within enemy territory, he would have a tough time finding the necessary resources to practice his vocation. Nevertheless, such a design decision often makes the Sapper useless until the player gets him some explosives.
Moreover, although the Sapper may be the only one who knows how to handle remotely detonated explosives and grenades, the Green Beret's ability to rearrange barrels at strategic locations can render his demolition skill unnecessary. Only his grenades, which are the only ranged explosive weapon that the Commandos have, are of significant use, but the Sapper rarely gets to have them.
The worst design of the Sapper is that there does not seem to be any visual indicator of how many explosives that he has left. The player will have to save the game, and then experiment with his supplies to know how many are left.
The only task that the Sapper is reliable at is setting up his bear-trap (which is an odd tool that a typical sapper would have). The bear-trap automatically and quietly kills any enemy that steps on it (which is another oddity), which can be handy at murdering any lone enemy soldier that has a patrol path that gets him into a secluded but small spot. It has to be reset for further use, of course, which is an understandable drawback.
The Sniper is the long-range specialist of the team. However, he is a lot less useful than the game suggests. This is not because he has very limited ammunition for his silenced rifle; this is actually an understandable limitation as he would have been too overpowered otherwise.
Instead, the reason lies in how the game determines the line of sight that he has when he is sniping. There are many, many things that block his line of sight, including low walls, elevations and such other petty obstacles. This would not have been a problem, if not for the fact that the line of sight enemies are not hindered by the same obstacles, especially the ones with long –ranged weapons. One more problem about his sniping ability is that he has to snipe while standing; this can be difficult to stomach for players who demand authenticity.
The Driver is the only Commando on the team that knows how to operate heavy weapons and vehicles, by virtue of apparently being a mechanical wizard. However, there will not be a lot of opportunities for him to do so, and even when there are, he may not become more useful anyway, due to reasons that will be described shortly. He can be armed with a Grease Gun (a World War II-era submachinegun), but this is more of the exception than the norm; besides, the Grease Gun may have a longer range and is a bit more useful against squads of enemies, but it has a slower rate of fire than his Colt .45 pistol, which is ever available.
The Driver can man machinegun nests, but the player would soon find out that his reach is not as far as that of a German soldier that has been trained to use machineguns. Machinegun nests also have limited arcs of fire, and does not offer any cover to the Driver.
The player can get him into a vehicle, but unless it is a tank, all small-arms fire can eventually destroy it, even the armored car. The player will also discover that his path-finding scripts when driving is very inadequate, especially when he attempts to navigate around corners. This is a major cause of frustration in some missions where certain vehicles are designated as mission-critical.
The Spy is one of the most useful Commandos, as he can don a disguise and impersonate a German officer. When disguised, he can be seen by all German soldiers without being recognized as an enemy – even in highly suspicious situations, such as standing among a bunch of German corpses and looking all stern when an enemy patrol comes over to investigate.
The Spy can also silently slay enemies with his poison-filled syringes, but this is no less advantageous than knifing, due to deficiencies in the enemy A.I. that will be elaborated later. Furthermore, there appears to be a frustrating glitch that occurs when the Spy is on-route to kill someone while in disguise: if the Spy is observed by any enemy while tailing his target to complete an order to poison the latter, he will be discovered, even if he is in disguise and, more importantly, has yet to perform the heinous deed.
One of his more reliable tricks while in disguise is to approach enemies and talk to them, thus distracting them and diverting their sight towards him, away from other Commandos who can then sneak past behind them. However, any form of disturbance that alerts said distracted enemies would render his distraction useless, though his cover would not be blown.
There are some capabilities that two or more Commandos share. These help to give said Commandos more versatility, as well as make one of them a substitute for the others when they are not available for immediate use. However, not all of these design decisions are practical or satisfactory.
One of these is knifing, which the Marine and Green Beret can perform. Knifing an enemy is a quick form of murder, and despite the victim's exclamation, soldiers that are a few paces away cannot hear his demise. This is a bit odd to behold, but does make for some convenience.
However, the game does not inform the player that the player must have the Commando selected all the time for him to complete a knifing. Moving on to another character after having ordered a Commando to perform a knifing but not watching him successfully carrying it out would cause him to simply stop where his victim was; this is not a problem if the intended victim is still there, upon which the Commando will perform the deed anyway. Yet, there are few enemies that stay still.
There are only two commandos – the Green Beret and the Spy - that can haul bodies, which is an important consideration to perform if there are enemy patrols that would raise alarms if they spot bodies. As hiding bodies is important, this means that every mission will have either the Spy or Green Beret; observant players may notice this. Furthermore, they also highlight a glaring deficiency in the designs of the Commandos; all of them should have been able to haul bodies around for them to be considered believable facsimiles of covert operatives.
It also has to be mentioned here that the carrying of bodies is affected by the same flaws that affect the carrying of barrels, as mentioned earlier, namely how the Commando drops a body if he is given a stop order. This makes timing the hauling of bodies from one spot to another more difficult than it should.
Upon dropping a body, the game places the corpse in front of the Green Beret or Spy. This is a believable nuance, but the game does not inform the player of this in any way; the player may realize this, much to his/her dismay, when he/she discovers that the Commando has laid down the corpse improperly behind cover. Moreover, this nuance means that the player has to keep this consideration in mind when hiding corpses, which can be a chore – and one that could have been rendered unnecessary if the game simply has the corpse dropping at the Commando's feet, regardless of his facing.
There is also a minor graphical issue with the icons that are used for carrying corpses. Sometimes, the icon will not change to reflect that a corpse that the mouse cursor is over can be grabbed; it remains as the icon that suggests that an object cannot be interacted with. The player will have to click within the vicinity of the corpse and hope that the Commando registers the command.
Not all corpses would alarm the German soldiers in this game, oddly enough. In the game, there are a few anti-tank turrets that are manned by special German soldiers with very different sprites. These could not be killed by knifing or poisoning, apparently due to these German soldiers not having the same scripting as the other soldiers. The player can kill them, e.g. snipe them, and despite being in plain sight, their deaths will not be perceived by their compatriots.
In all missions, there is at least one Commando that is entrusted with the team's medical kit; this is usually the Sniper, Driver or Spy. The medical kit contains several charges of health, which heal about 20% of a Commando's health when it is used. However, it should be noted here that the number of charges left in the kit is not visually indicated.
Speaking of health, as long as the player is careful enough to make sure that Commandos are not exposed to too many dangers, the player will not need to mind the health of his/her Commandos much. Injuries do not appear to impair them in any way, and each of them can take quite a large amount of damage on normal and lower difficulties (which influence the usual damage-inflicted-to-damage-received ratios).
All Commandos have Colt .45 pistols as sidearms. With the intent of making sure that players play the game according to the theme of covert operations, the pistols are very short-ranged weapons, especially when compared to those that the Germans use. Even the German officers' Lugers have better range.
However, the pistols have unlimited ammunition, and can be fired indefinitely without any need for reloading; they also fire almost as fast as the player can tap the mouse button. This can be used to set up ambushes around corners, where the player can "tap" away at enemies who turn around them. Shooting an enemy also puts them in a staggered state for a split-second, interrupting their animations, thus allowing the player to continue "tapping" them until they die.
Ironically, this very convenient design allows the player to set up cheesy ambushes, which go against the theme of covert operations.
(It has to be mentioned here that the Commandos are also similarly staggered by injuries, though for a far shorter duration. Getting staggered also does not cancel whatever they are trying to perform at the time, with the exception of the carrying of bodies and barrels.)
All Commandos can go prone, which makes them harder to spot but slows their movement to a literal crawl. Going prone is important because there are two kinds of ranges to an enemy's sight, one of which can always spot Commandos even when they are prone. Going prone works as it should most of the time, but it has to be noted here that many actions require Commandos to stand, which cause them to revert to standing positions. The player has to manually reset them to prone position, especially for the Sniper.
Despite their diverse range of skills and supposed courage and determination, the Commandos are ultimately mindless player characters, who are completely helpless when they are not being directly controlled by the player. They are even incapable of defending themselves when they are being shot, despite being armed with Colt .45 pistols, and they would not even automatically drop prone to avoid long-range fire.
Such silly deficiencies in their autonomy – if there is any at all – require that the player stows Commandos that are not being used away at somewhere safe, while having the appropriate one under direct control. This makes them seem more like tools than persons.
Another problem with controlling the Commandos is the lack of variety in the visuals for the mouse cursors. To indicate to the player that the Commandos can perform some action on something, the game changes the mouse cursor to a context-sensitive icon. Unfortunately, the variety in the icons is not enough to be satisfactory.
As an illustrative example, the same icon that is used to indicate that a Commando can operate a machine is also used for the Green Beret's icon for picking up barrels and even stuffing bodies into barrels. This can seem confusing at first, at least until the player figure out the visual oddities. Still, this could have been averted if the developers had bothered to include additional icons.
Having to hand-hold the rather dumb commandos with inadequate visual indicators and other problems as mentioned earlier can be very frustrating, but the player does have some advantages over the enemy A.I. that controls the German soldiers.
The first and most apparent advantage is that the player has full view of the entire map and the whereabouts of enemies, even if they should logically be out of the Commandos' sight; the player can change the zoom levels to focus on a small area, or zoom all out to look at the entire map. The second advantage is that the enemy is not aware of certain hazards in the current level, but the player certainly does, if he/she has bothered to read up on the intelligence that has been provided.
Some of the advantages may be too dubious to be understandable, however, due to flaws in the designs of enemy A.I. that will be described where relevant.
The German soldiers that appear on the maps are not just there to be easy fodder for the Commandos. All of them have weapons that outrange the Commandos, and they always outnumber them. Furthermore, they are scripted to alert nearby comrades if they have spotted a Commando, thus leading to a situation where the Commando would be pursued by a large number of soldiers, if he is not killed already.
However, an observant player will notice a few flaws and causes for frustration here. The first is that although the Commandos, with the exception of the Marine, run faster than the German soldiers, the German soldiers have tremendous range with their weapons, especially the ones with the Mauser rifles. This means that attempting to lead the Germans on a wild goose chase across open terrain is not a viable option; the Commando is likely to be slowed down by the staggering animations that occur when he gets shot too. This can be a bit disappointing to those who prefer more options to outsmart the Germans.
On the other hand, if the map does not have much open terrain and instead has a lot of tall cover in the form of buildings and rocks, the severe deficiencies in the path-finding scripts of enemies will become apparent. They often get caught on and slowed down by rocks, train tracks, ruined buildings and crates, among other obstacles that are not simple right-angle angle corners. This can cause a large pursuing force of German soldiers to break themselves up, and from here, the player will notice another flaw in their A.I.: they are terrible at keeping coherence once they are too far away from each other.
The player can exploit these deficiencies to lure German soldiers around corners in a piece-meal manner, especially with the limitless ammunition of the Colt .45 pistol.
When the player cannot resort to such cheesy solutions to diminish the numbers of Germans that are defending the Commandos' objectives, he/she has to have the Commandos sneaking around and staying out of the sight of German soldiers. The sight of German soldiers is depicted by arcs of view that can be revealed by selecting one of them to be subjected to the "observation" feature; only one individual can be observed at any time.
This arc is up to 60 degrees wide or so, but it swings from left to right (from the perspective of the German soldier), thus making for a 180-degree wide total arc of view. This means that Commandos should not linger too long near a German soldier; the player has to have them running or crawling past when the arc is directed away from them.
In later missions, enemies gain an increase in their sight range. This may seem to ramp up the challenge tremendously, but it should be kept in mind that the player still has the advantage of being able to see all enemies on the map. Moreover, some of the increases may seem understandable, such as the increase in the missions that are set in the African theatre of war; the open desert terrain of these missions justifies said increase.
The arc of view of an enemy has two portions: one for long-range spotting and the other for short-range spotting. The former can detect corpses and standing Commandos, whereas the latter can detect the same things but also prone Commandos. These designs provide the player with some options to deal with enemy soldiers. For example, the player can have Commandos crawling across open terrain that are being observed by faraway enemies, or have a German soldier discover the Marine at very short range, where his Harpoon is certain to come in handy.
However, the mechanism of viewing arcs is affected by flaws both minor and serious. One of the minor ones is a conundrum of logic: the long-range portion of their sight cannot detect prone Commandos, but can detect corpses that are lying on the ground. The major flaws are the consequence of another flaw in the game that affects their ranges when they are looking at different directions. This flaw will be elaborated later, as it is associated with an overarching design of the game that also affects many other aspects of the game.
The developers have included some scripts to have enemies investigating occurrences that are suspicious, but not all occurrences that should logically be so. For example, enemies will investigate footprints in the snow that are not theirs (though all footprint decals look the same, regardless of who made them), but they will not investigate puddles of blood that have been left behind from a knifing or sniping.
On the other hand, enemies that are in patrol squads are astonishingly quick at noticing missing members, even if they had been straggling behind and their deaths had been silent. The leader of the squad is guaranteed to turn around when a member dies quietly, leading to almost immediate discovery. This makes patrols much more difficult to deal with compared to individual soldiers.
These technical inconsistencies in the level of awareness of enemies can be disappointing and frustrating to the player who had expected reliable and sophisticated A.I. designs.
Another game mechanism that influences the level of challenge offered by the game is alarms and alert levels. By default, the enemy is in a regular state of general vigilance, having patrols marching around bases and guards at ease. However, they can enter a higher state of alertness through a few ways.
Before elaborating any further, it has to be explained here that every maps has two kinds of zones: one that has been designated as 'isolated', the other as 'monitored'.
In 'isolated' zones, terrible things, including explosions, can happen without the alarm being raised; even enemies calling out alarms will not raise them if they happen to be in isolated zones. However, the noise and commotion will still attract nearby enemies over.
This means that once these isolated zones have been identified, the player can attempt to lure enemies over to be slain in isolated zones, which can result in absurdities, like mass murder occurring within view of an enemy base, without raising any alarms. Of course, the boundaries of these isolated zones are not immediately clear to the player, but by experimenting with game reloads and the unlimited ammunition of the Colt .45, the player can figure these out with gunshots.
In contrast, the 'monitored' zone has alarms raised as soon as any commotion occurs within it, even if there is not a single enemy soldier in the vicinity. Gunshots and explosions immediately trigger an alarm, as do soldiers crying out in distress.
However, the latter does not occur immediately, depending on the A.I. scripts that govern said soldiers' behaviour. Some soldiers will run over to investigate suspicious scenes, such as corpses of their comrades lying around, and will call out in alarm after confirming them, which takes a while. During this time, they are vulnerable to any Commandos that are sneaking up on them with murderous intent. This means that the player can use corpses to lure over other soldiers to be murdered, especially the ones that are on lonesome patrols.
Some other soldiers will not run over to investigate disturbances. However, it is not certain whether this is a failure in A.I. scripting or a deliberate design, though are many signs that suggest the latter. Such soldiers that happen to be standing guard will merely look in the direction of the disturbance but stay where they are; if they happen to spot a corpse, they will not run over to confirm it, but instead call out alarms after looking in the direction of the corpse for a few seconds.
Such soldiers that are on patrol will stop moving to look in the general direction of the disturbance, but appear to 'hitch', turning around rapidly back-and-forth on the spot and consequently having their arcs swinging back-and-forth as well. This prevents the player from sneaking Commandos behind them, as they may be spotted anyway when the arcs 'hitched' back around.
Returning to the mechanism of alarms, the number of enemies in a map increases when the alarm is raised; squads of enemy soldiers come out of Nazi-occupied buildings that have been designated as the barracks for said soldiers, and they promptly go on patrol rounds. The alarm can only be raised once, but after it has been raised, said buildings can replace the squads that have come out a few times, if the player manages to wipe out their predecessors.
These barracks buildings have limited supplies of replacements in most missions, but some others, such as one that take place in Norway, can replace lost squads indefinitely until it is destroyed. Therefore, it is usually in the player's interest to refrain from raising alarms, at least until the player gets rid of these barracks or finds some way to repeatedly wipe out squads and replacements until the barracks are exhausted.
When a Commando is detected, the German soldier that detected him may not immediately start shooting. If the Commando stays still and within sight, the German soldier that detected him takes a few seconds to consider what to do. If there is no nearby prison or equivalent building that the Commando can be chucked into, the A.I. has him start shooting.
If there are jails in the current map, the German soldier will continue to train his gun on the Commando, while awaiting colleagues to come over to escort the Commando towards one of the jails. This can take a while, or even forever, if said colleagues get caught up in terrain or otherwise have their path-finding scripts go on the fritz. This gives an opportunity for the player to save the Commando by having another sneaking up behind the soldier and killing him.
If the player attempts to have the Commando do anything other than stay still while being arrested, however, the soldier will start shooting; having another Commando meander into his view also has him shooting.
Despite how interesting and amusing this feature is, it has limited utility. Although there may be some tactical value from having the right Commando captured and brought into enemy territory under arrest, and then springing him out later with another Commando so that he can cause some mayhem, the player can only do this with the Spy in disguise; using any other Commando means having to deal with any guards in the way, so the player may as well not have the Commando arrested in the first place.
A common problem with games that use isometric views is that the grids that are used to scale maps are often compressed along one diagonal. The result of this is that weapons that have limited ranges appear to have further range in certain directions than the others; this can be visualized as an ellipse around an armed person, who can shoot as far as the outline of the ellipse, as opposed to that of a circle, which is what the range of a weapon should be.
Unfortunately, being a game with isometric grids, Commandos have this problem too. All weapons have further range when shooting east or west. This problem also extends to the viewing ranges that enemies have, as has been mentioned earlier. Enemies can see further when they are looking to the east and west, which is a fact that the player has to keep in mind when having the commandos sneak around.
Yet, this problem does not appear to affect movement rates, e.g. characters move at the same speed when moving in any direction. This means that if the player is attempting to have a Commando flee from enemies and their gunfire, he/she should have the Commando running north or south; any other direction may give pursuers a substantial advantage in reach. This is a silly design consequence, which should have been realized by the developers.
Despite the implementation of distance units in an isometric perspective, all on-foot characters in the game appear to have hitboxes that slide across the map, independent of any invisible grid or hitboxes that may have been implemented for the environments in the map.
There is a minor problem that arises from this implementation of hitboxes for these sprites and the dependency of weapon range on the aforementioned distance units. To hit enemies with a ranged weapon, the player must have the mouse cursor hovering over any point on the sprite of the target, which is understandable. However, the range of said weapon is dependent on the location of the user of said weapon, based on the grid system of the map. This can lead to problems where it would seem like an enemy is within the range of a Commando, but he is not and the Commando has to inch himself forward a bit closer, which can be annoying.
Another consequence of the use of sliding hitboxes is that sprites of still-living characters can bump into each other and shift each other around. This can be a problem if the player is trying to have Commandos huddle in one little spot; it would have been easier to do so if each Commando stays fixed to the spot where he is standing or lying on, but this is not so. Therefore, the player might unwittingly push them out of the way when trying to move another Commando near them. On the other hand, the player can attempt to shimmy a Commando (usually the Spy) behind an enemy soldier that has his back facing a wall so as to be able to slay the latter from behind.
The clumsiest implementation of hitboxes for sprites is that for vehicles. Vehicles are often difficult to maneuver, and their hitboxes can easily get caught on walls, as well as nooks and crannies in a map. Of course, it can be said that vehicles in 2-D games that depend on sprites have always been clunky. However, that Commandos does not do any better is a disappointing reminder.
More importantly, many of the vehicles in the game are more of a liability than an asset. Even though Commandos should be visually obscured when they enter a vehicle, even a fully enclosed tank, enemy soldiers are able to spot them anyway and start shooting; the Spy also loses his disguise when entering a vehicle, oddly enough. Most vehicles in the game are trucks and cars that can be easily blown up, and furthermore they are often mission-critical vehicles, which add to the frustration of having to deal with them.
All vehicles have only two sets of sprites – one for when it is still functional, and the other for when it is a wreck. There is nothing in between these two states, so the player does not get any visual indicator of how much damage that a vehicle has taken, which is an inconvenience.
Tanks and armored cars may seem fun because they are armed, but they are not much better than vehicles of more civilian purposes, due to level designs that prevent the player from having much fun with them. Firstly, only the Driver can use a vehicle, and getting him to one can involve removing a lot of enemy soldiers from his path – and afterwards there would not be many enemies for him to eliminate anyway.
Secondly, there are often threats that can easily destroy tanks and armored cars if the player is not aware of said threats –some of them are more apparent, but some have to be learned the hard way. For example, the armored car may be armored, but small-arms fire can eventually destroy it, which can be a nasty surprise the first time the player encounters this. Tanks may be immune to small-arms fire, but in levels where there are tanks, there tend to be anti-armour weaponry around such as howitzers that enemy soldiers can use to shoot at the player's tank, or other tanks that are under the control of the enemy.
Speaking of enemy vehicles, these have viewing arcs that rotate in full revolutions. This is very odd, considering that the armored fighting vehicles of World War II were notorious for limiting the sight of their operators. Players who have been expecting that the game would be more authentic would be in for an unpleasant experience when they discover that vehicle crews can see behind them even though the vehicles that they are using do not historically have rear-viewing capabilities.
However, the crew of enemy vehicles have no sense of hearing, and do not have the same behaviour as enemies on foot, e.g. they rarely if not never pursue. This makes enemy vehicles more like mobile hazards than clear and present dangers.
The hitboxes for objects in the environment are worse off than those for sprites, especially the hitboxes for mission-critical buildings. This would not have been a problem if there are no objectives to blow up buildings, but unfortunately, there are.
The hitboxes for a building determine how much of an obstacle it is for the movement of sprites, and for most of the game, they work satisfactorily. They only become a problem when a player is trying to blow up buildings, or other static structures. This is not as easy as simply planting something explosive/incendiary next to a building and detonating it; the player has to plant them in the right direction relative to the building, such as one of its faces that are facing the four cardinal directions. Otherwise, the explosion will not destroy it. Sometimes, the player must place the explosive in a specific area.
One glaring example is a mission that requires the player to blow up an enemy headquarters building that has a garden on one side and a parking lot in the opposite side. The player must place an explosive object (what it exactly is will not be described here as this would be a spoiler) in the parking lot to demolish the building, but not the garden; detonating the explosive object in the garden does nothing to the building.
Perhaps one of the most frustrating problems in the game is that it is not clear whether a Commando has a clear line of sight when trying to shoot an enemy. This is not a problem when there are relatively few obstacles to block line of sight, but where there are many, the player is not able to know whether the Commando can shoot through the gaps between the obstacles or not. Of course, one can argue that this is an understandable limitation, but enemy soldiers appear to be able to fire through gaps so much more easily than the Commandos can, due to designs in the A.I. that makes them capable of exploiting even the tiniest sliver of line of sight.
Although the flaws that have been mentioned earlier do diminish the merits of the game's designs, it is fortunate that the mission designs are at least satisfactory and varied enough to be worth the player's time, assuming that he/she can put up with the game's flaws.
Each mission is quite different from the previous one, though it is usually about an act of sabotage. Still, despite the fact that players will often have to blow something up in missions, the paths to these objectives give each mission its flavour. The player will often have to eliminate patrols and sentries, or otherwise work around them.
Sometimes, the solutions are so rigid that it would seem like trial and error, such as scenarios where the player has to deal with a bunch of patrolling soldiers with criss-crossing and overlapping areas of observation. At other times, the player can resort to a rather reckless maneuver – like the aforementioned cheesy tactic of luring enemies around corners to be shot with Colt .45 pistols – to clear a large number of opposition.
In some missions, the player can experiment with alternatives, such as missions where the player needs to destroy flammable/explosive objectives. Usually, the intel for these missions would suggest the use of the Sapper's remote explosives, but sometimes barrels and grenades are useful substitutes.
It is unfortunate that more espionage-oriented missions are not in this game, apparently due to technical limitations. Intelligence-gathering and abduction missions would have made the game more authentic and sophisticated, but the inability of Commandos to collect anything other than heavily scripted supply caches that can only be used by specific Commandos and lack of any alternatives to outright killing enemies to incapacitate them prevent these from being included in the game.
Moreover, when situations go awry, it is hard to determine whether this is due to the player's fault or the design inconveniences and/or flaws mentioned above. For example, the player may think that his/her Commando has enough cover to obscure him as he crawls on the ground, but may suffer an unpleasant surprise when he/she discovers that enemy soldiers can spot Commandos through the smallest of gaps between pieces of cover, and even shoot through them.
The developers have not given much thought to how the missions are structured together. The player must complete one mission to get to the next one, which is understandable, but each subsequent mission is generally detached from the previous one from a narrative standpoint, thus presenting no story-based reward for the player.
Worst of all, there does not appear to be a proper listing of missions so that the player can replay any at will; the player is given a code at the end of every mission (along with a practically useless performance rating) to load missions with, but this is a game mechanism that belongs in 8-bit console games that used passwords to fetch segments of data from ROMs, and certainly not for a computer game.
The player must complete each mission with all commandos alive and extracted. However, instead of giving the player a definite game-over screen, the game allows the player to continue playing the mission anyway, if only to obtain more familiarity with. This design is peculiarly different from the mission designs of many other strategy games, but it is a minor pleasantry at best, as the game insists on fulfillment of all objectives before the player can proceed to the next mission.
In the missions where the player gets to control all six Commandos, the player may notice a flaw in the segment of the graphical user interface that displays which Commandos are under control and the health of each of them. At the highest resolution, this segment at most supports the clear display of icons for up to five Commandos; the sixth one, which is the Spy, is obscured. To display all six icons properly, the player must use the other resolutions.
Speaking of resolutions, the original version of the game suffered from a limited range of resolutions, which reduced a lot of detail when the player was using very high zooms; however, this was an understandable technological setback. In the updated Good Old Games version, there are wider ranges of resolutions, up to 1024 by 768 pixels. This allows the player to zoom quite far out without the game's visuals losing too much detail.
Speaking of far-out zooms, the player may notice that he/she must play with far-out zooms, if only to be able to see the viewing arcs of enemy soldiers in their entirety. On the other hand, being a game made in the past century, there is not much detail to examine by using close-up views; most of the art material in the game is made up of sprites that are several dozen pixels high. Although some environmental objects are specifically made for certain levels and are satisfactorily detailed enough to be conspicuous or otherwise important-looking, there are many recycled objects, such as overturned farm tractors.
As for the sprites themselves, the Commandos benefit from sprites that significantly differentiate them from each other, such as the aforementioned beefiness of the Green Beret. However, there is a lot of recycling for German soldiers, though this is somewhat acceptable as there are few German soldiers of particular noteworthiness. (There are assassination targets, however, but these tend to use the high-ranking officer sprite – which also happens to be used by the Spy in disguise.)
There are limited animation frames for sprites, as was typical for games of its time. However, the lack of animation frames also lead to the issues mentioned above, such as all actions other than crawling having to be done while the Commando is upright. This gives the impression that Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines was trying to do things that are ahead of its time, and the sophistication of the gameplay may have suffered for it.
Still, the graphics of the game are satisfactory enough to support the otherwise competently designed gameplay. The same could be somewhat said of the sound designs for the game, but only because they are so sparse that they do not intrude on the gameplay.
Firstly, the game does not appear to have much in the way of music. There is a track for the main menu of the game and a short one for the start of any mission, but these seem to be the only tracks.
The voice-acting in the game tries to give every character some personality, but the very limited library of clips dashes this attempt. Each Commando has a voice that sounds distinctly different from the others, but he has a very limited number of responses to the player's commands. He can eventually sound very repetitive, which is to the detriment of the game. The German soldiers are even worse: there is only one voice for all of them.
The sound effects are perhaps the only convincingly satisfactory aspect of the sound designs. Gunshots have suitably loud reports (though gun enthusiasts may be able to notice that some weapons do not sound like they should), explosions are jarring and vehicles rumble as they move about. There are some oddities, such as the player being able to listen to the underwater breathing of the Marine even when he is not under the player's immediate control, but this helps to remind the player that he is nearby.
For the first launch version of the game, much of the documentation for the game is in a printed manual. In the Good Old Games version, there is in-game documentation that can be referred to simply by bringing up the main menu and selecting "Help". Handy visual-and-text explanations describe what each Commando can do, and more importantly, the hotkeys that are the alternatives for the graphical user interface of the game.
Speaking of the graphical user interface, it remains as clumsy as it was years ago; the Good Old Games update has not changed this, unfortunately. Trying to click on the necessary icons on the backpack at the lower right side of the screen when a Commando is selected and then move the cursor over to something else on-screen is a clumsy affair, necessitating the use of hotkeys.
Speaking of hotkeys, they are not well-assigned. For every different action, the game uses a different character on the keyboard. Although this may seem to help differentiate each action from the rest, the player has to look at the keyboard to find the right keys, or has to be proficient enough at using the keyboard such that the location of every key is second-nature to him/her. The game could have done better by restricting hotkeys to a specific region of the keyboard, or better yet, provide the options for reassigning hotkeys; unfortunately, there are none.
In conclusion, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines would have been convincingly more sophisticated and refreshing than other strategy games of its time, if not for flaws in its designs, especially the A.I.-scripting for enemies and Commandos. One can attempt to argue that the game's flaws are due to technological limitations during its time, but more meticulous examination reveals that they are due to lack of design considerations, and not an issue that is out of the control of the designers. The game does have plenty of challenging scenarios, but the fun from these is diminished by said problems.