The first Commandos game, Behind Enemy Lines, was lauded for having gameplay that is very different from many other games during its time; it was also praised for focusing its exploitation of World War II on a different aspect of that troubled time, namely the hardly documented covert operations of World War II.
However, it was also held back by a lot of design oversights, many of which are likely due to lack of second thoughts on the designs of the game on the part of the developers. With Beyond the Call of Duty, these suspicions may even be reinforced, as the expansion is made using the same technology as that used for Behind Enemy Lines.
On the other hand, Beyond the Call of Duty adds significantly more sophistication into the gameplay and increased the challenge that the Nazis pose. Perhaps it can even be considered as what the previous game should have been.
As in the previous game, the player takes command of a squad of Commandos working for the Allies against the Nazis. Although the previous game may have ended with the end of the Nazi regime, the second takes a few steps backwards in time to conveniently have the squad conducting more missions against the Nazis, albeit with more skills and equipment. This may contradict the canon of Commandos, but then the story in the previous game has always been rather disjointed, and Beyond the Call of Duty would be the same.
However, Beyond the Call of Duty may make a poor first impression. The first mission alone gives the player little choice on where to have his/her men start their work, and what place is there to do so is overlooked by a surprisingly high number of enemies; this can seem very daunting for a first mission, and strongly suggests that this game is only intended for the veterans of the previous game.
This would not be an issue if one considers this game to be an expansion (which it is) of course, but the caveat is that the Commandos have new skills and capabilities. The first mission does not contain a tutorial to teach the player these.
In fact, the game does not have any tutorial at all. What it does have is in-depth documentation in its manual, and also an in-game help feature. The descriptions of what these skills and abilities do are clear enough, but practising them can be difficult, as the challenges in the missions in Beyond the Call of Duty do not give much room for error, much less room for experimentation. That is, unless the player resorts to a lot of reloading and saving.
Anyway, each and every one of the Commandos has been re-designed, generally for the better. One of the new abilities, which is to throw rocks to startle any enemy that hears them landing (or at enemies themselves, though this will not do much), is common to all Commandos. This gives each one of them a handy way to temporarily distract incoming enemies that are not already on alert and aware of their whereabouts.
Another handy trick that all Commandos can perform is to collect a packet of cigarettes from incapacitated enemies (if they do not enter a mission with one already) and to throw this within the close portion of the line of sight of enemies. This only works on the grunts and other low-ranking German soldiers, but it does not raise their suspicion and does not put them in a state of higher alert, unlike other luring methods.
Some odd restrictions on the capabilities of Commandos are still there, such as the Green Beret and Spy still being the only ones that can move bodies around. It would have been more convenient if all Commandos are capable of doing this.
The Green Beret is still the poster-boy for the series, but there have not been many changes for him; he was already a very useful Commando, after all. He does get a new option to knock out enemies with a punch, but this does not work if enemies are already aware of his presence and sees him coming (unlike the knife, which guarantees a kill if the Commando gets close enough).
(The mechanism of knocking out foes and subduing them will be elaborated on later.)
In the previous game, the Spy can only take on the disguise of a high-ranking German officer, and only by taking a uniform off a clothesline, if he is not already equipped with it at the start of a mission. In Beyond the Call of Duty, he can disguise himself as any NPC on the map, provided they had been subdued.
However, this added convenience is balanced by an improvement (or rather reparation) in the AI of enemies; officers and elite soldiers (which are palette swaps of regular soldiers that are black-clad instead of gray) can see through most disguises, especially those that use German uniforms. The ability of enemies to see through disguises is also location-specific (depending on the designs of the map); enemies may realize that the soldier whom the Spy is disguised as may be out of place.
Perhaps more importantly, the Spy also retains the weapon of the soldier that he is disguised as. This allows him to shoot unsuspecting enemies, but the unsuppressed gunfire is guaranteed to raise alarms and alert nearby enemies. On the other hand, as long as officers and elite soldiers do not come over, the Spy can get away with being close to the scene of the murder and no one would be the wiser.
However, it has to be mentioned here that the consequences of being discovered have been retained from the previous game. Once the Spy has been discovered, he immediately drops his disguise, as well as his ability to use the disguise's weapons and the opportunity to distract enemies. This was an annoying problem in the previous game, and it is still as annoying in this one.
The Driver was one of the most useless Commandos in the previous game, but he has been revamped for the better. He now has the option of clubbing enemies in the back to knock them out, though without the ability to move bodies around, he cannot relocate subdued enemies.
He still has his submachinegun, but he may also now be armed with a rifle, which greatly increases his fighting capabilities. Unlike the previous game, he now has limited ammunition for these weapons. However, the game does not show the ammunition counters for these weapons, which can make using them rather troublesome (assuming that the player does not mind raising alerts willy-nilly, of course).
Compared to the others, the Sniper has not changed much, other than obtaining the new abilities that all Commandos get. His sniping line of sight is still not clear, requiring the player to use part logic and part finicky repositioning of the Sniper to clear his line of sight.
The Sapper and Marine also have not changed much, but at least they are still more useful than the Sniper.
As mentioned earlier, enemies can be knocked out by Commandos with the ability to render them unconscious (e.g. the Green Beret, the Spy and the Driver). Unconscious enemies, as depicted by whimsical stars spinning above their sprites, will eventually wake up, but all Commandos, including the ones without the ability to knock out enemies, can handcuff and gag subdued enemies.
Subdued enemies can be freed by other enemies, if the latter find them, and upon this, the alarm will be raised and enemies will go to the location where the Commandos are last seen. However, these freed enemies do not appear to re-join the enemies that are still active, and will instead move towards the nearest edge of the map and walk right off it.
Subdued enemies can be hauled around by the Green Beret or Spy, or released and coerced at gunpoint to distract enemies with. The coerced enemy must be in line of sight of the Commando that is currently coercing the enemy soldier; otherwise, the enemy soldier simply runs off to warn his comrades, who immediately raise the alarm and will go over to the last location where the Commandos were seen.
On paper, this feature seems useful, but the caveat is that it is difficult to have a coerced enemy soldier distract another one without having the coercing Commando getting into the line of sight of the other soldier. This is possible if the soldier to be distracted is stationary and is just around a corner, but this is a rare occurrence.
It has to be noted here though that if the coerced soldier managed to regain his freedom, and has alerted the nearest comrade, he will run towards the nearest edge of the map, or nearest barracks, and exit the map, never to be seen again. This is an odd game design, though it could have been due to the limitations of re-implementing the A.I. scripts that he has before he was subdued.
Of more utility is the Spy's option to relieve subdued enemies of their clothes. As mentioned earlier, he can impersonate said persons, until an officer or elite soldier spots him. He cannot take clothes off enemies that have been killed, supposedly due to the reasoning that slain enemies may have their clothes stained by blood or damaged. However, it has to be mentioned here that the Spy cannot take the clothes of enemies that have been killed with poison either.
(Of course, many plausible excuses can be concocted for this restriction; in any case, the restriction that only subdued enemies can yield clothes is still understandable and contributes to the sophistication of the gameplay.)
As mentioned earlier, the level of challenge in Beyond the Call of Duty is noticeably greater than that in the previous game. This is mainly due to the improvements in the A.I. of the German (or Italian) soldiers. Most of these improvements are convincingly for the better, though a few are flawed.
In Behind Enemy Lines, enemy soldiers tend to run slower than the Commandos. Beyond the Call of Duty is not different, but their animations have certainly been updated and accelerated to give a semblance of sprinting, such that if the player doesn't have Commandos running pell-mell to find a hiding place, they are more than certain to be chased down.
In the previous game, enemy soldiers were incapable of climbing ladders, thus making ladders a rather cheesy way to hide from pursuers (assuming that the ladder was not too long). In Beyond the Call of Duty, the German soldiers can climb ladders to continue their pursuit, which reduced the player's options for fleeing, though this is understandable.
On the other hand, wily players may notice that this exploit has simply given way for another. The German soldiers need to perform climbing animations, including the ones needed for them to completely transit to the next elevation; during this time, they are very vulnerable to attacks. An unscrupulous player can very well lure hordes of soldiers up a ladder and shoot away at them as they come up – assuming that they cannot obtain a line of sight to the Commando at the top of the ladder.
Speaking of shooting, the Colt .45 pistol that each Commando has still benefits from unlimited ammunition. However, it has been improved: in the previous game, the pistol can at most fire only two rounds per second; in this one, it can fire three, and possibly more depending on how fast the player can click away. This makes killing some – but not all - German soldiers easier; which German soldiers are more resistant to gunfire will be mentioned later.
As for the German soldiers, most of the ones seen in the previous game return in the expansion. However, there are some new ones, including a variant of the trooper with the submachinegun that happens to be a little tougher and a variant of the Riflemen that happens to wear black instead of gray, to cite some exmaples. These happen to be elite soldiers that can see through any disguises that are not obtained from officers or elite soldiers themselves.
It would be difficulty to deny that the new additions to enemy designs are a welcome increase in the challenge. The same could not be said about the new mission designs, unfortunately.
The first game generally has missions with objectives that are generally well understood enough to be fulfilled without a fuss. The missions in Beyond the Call of Duty, unfortunately, are not as well thought out, or more likely, not play-tested thoroughly.
The first mission itself has problems that are associated with its objectives. In it, the player must demolish two structures by bombing them. Demolishing one of them is a straightforward affair, e.g. the player only needs to set an explosive next to it and detonate it, but the other one has to be destroyed by setting up and detonating an explosive on a specific part of the structure. Simply placing down an explosive next to it and blowing it up is not enough; the building may appear demolished, but the game does not register the completion of the objective as the player has not placed explosives at the right spot.
The documentation of the objectives for the first mission does not inform the player of this; if the player has not somehow stumbled across the correct ways to achieve them, he/she may have to resort to third-party sources of information, which of course cast the documentation of the game in a less-than-positive light.
There is also a lot more trial and error in Beyond the Call of Duty than in the previous game. Of course, most of the level and map designs should be able to inform the observant player of what needs to be done, with the exception of the first mission, but how exactly to do so may not be entirely clear and can be very rigid.
Returning to the first mission again, the player is told of certain hazards that had been placed in the water to prevent the player from having an easy extraction for his/her Commandos after having achieved objectives. The hazards can be apparently shot to detonate them prematurely, but the player will find out that only the Sniper's sniper rifle can reach them, meaning that the player has to reserve bullets for the extraction phase of the mission.
Another example is a certain mission where the player is told how to destroy a certain objective by planting explosives at locations in its front and back. Yet, attempting to blow up the objective with any other way, even via means that rationally should have destroyed the objective anyway, would yield nothing but a waste of explosives.
Another mission has the player trying to obtain an important part from a certain German flying contraption. This would have been straightforward, if not for the rather small hitbox for said part and the lack of any indication where the part is on the contraption. Unless told by third-party sources of information of where exactly it is, the player could be spending a lot of time clicking all over the contraption to get some response from the Commando that is near it (and only one specific Commando can be used for this purpose).
In fact, these finicky and rigid level designs had been in the previous game in other but essentially similar forms. That the developer has not addressed these issues in earnest can be disappointing. The game's challenges would have been a lot more entertaining and fulfilling otherwise.
Furthermore, Beyond the Call of Duty only offers up to eight missions, which is paltry when compared to the previous game's twenty. Of course, one can argue that these missions take place in maps that are generally larger than those in the first game, such as a sprawling militarized train complex that ships war machines on rails to the front-lines. These new maps also have more sophisticated designs that allow for more entertaining tactical options, such as different points of entry into mission-critical areas with different risks, e.g. the player can choose to insert a Commando into restricted territory via a pen for certain dangerous creatures, or have another one sneak in through the main entrance with a very appropriate disguise.
However, these larger maps do not necessarily promise a longer experience. Although a player can choose to play according to the themes of the game as much as possible, e.g. resorting to stealth and timing whenever possible, a wily player can still resort to more crude means, such as making a commotion to lure enemy soldiers into traps or just as a diversion.
That is not to say that a shorter experience would not be fulfilling though. For example, in a particular mission, the player may discover that there is a very easy way to trap many enemy soldiers in a small area by luring them into it, thus removing the need to deal with the bulk of them on an individual basis and thus saving a lot of time; even though this solution may seem cheesy, it is still very amusing.
Beyond the Call of Duty uses the same game engine that Behind Enemy Lines used, so the player can expect sprites moving about in custom-drawn environments. However, it can be argued that the maps in Beyond the Call of Duty are a lot more lavishly detailed, e.g. having a lot more distinct objects in any one screen compared to that in the previous game. Some examples would be cited, if not for the consideration that these would constitute spoilers.
A more appreciable improvement is the increase in the amount of animations for sprites. In the previous game, sprites were rather sparsely animated, though this was perhaps understandable for a game of its time. In Beyond the Call of Duty, the increased animation frames make motions like running and firing weapons appear a lot more fluid, which was perhaps pleasing for a game of its time.
The best improvements are in the sound department. In the previous game, there was a dearth of music tracks, and whatever tracks there have been were rather dull. In Beyond the Call of Duty, there are a lot more tracks, and these are a lot more pleasing to listen to, especially the slightly haunting and wistful track that plays in the main menu.
The voice-acting in the previous game tried to give the characters some semblance of personality, but they were mostly crass and more importantly, so limited such that they become repetitive very quickly. Beyond the Call of Duty addresses this issue very well.
The Commandos are a lot more subdued in their voice responses in this game. However, they are no less enthusiastic and certainly a lot less snarky and angry, especially the Marine, Driver and Green Beret, who were the most unpleasant of the Commandos. All of the Commandos also have more responses now, which help in fleshing out their personalities further.
Enemy soldiers do not get so many new lines, but enough to make the new options for dealing with them more convincing as well as entertaining. For example, there is a new line for German soldiers who discover packets of cigarettes in their patrol path and a few new ones for German soldiers that are being coerced by Commandos.
The sound effects have not been updated much, though what are in the game are enough to portray in-game occurrences satisfactorily.
Perhaps one of the most important new features that have been introduced in Beyond the Call of Duty is a co-op multiplayer mode. Players can connect to each other via LAN or direct IPs and work together to control the Commandos in any of the eight missions in the expansion. However, it would appear that the player has to connect to proprietary servers to search for game sessions, and these servers no longer appear to be online.
In summary, Beyond the Call of Duty is in many ways better than the first game, though one could say that its designs should have been implemented in the first game in the first place. However, some problems in mission designs and a relatively small number of missions detract from the value and experience of the game.