Commandos 3: Destination Berlin Hands-On Preview

We rejoin the elite squad of soldiers, known as the dirty half-dozen, on the field of battle.

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The Commandos games are among the most popular tactical strategy games that have been released in the past five years. You could even argue that the series paved the way for many of the new real-time tactical games we've seen from European developers since the first game was released in 1998. Regardless, its consistently challenging gameplay, which involves controlling a small squad of highly skilled field operatives on covert missions behind enemy lines, has helped the series make a name for itself. In fact, some players found the games to be a bit too challenging. However, the commandos are preparing for their next tour of duty in Commandos 3: Destination Berlin, and we recently had the opportunity to play through an early version of the game to see how developer Pyro Studios tackled the difficult issue of maintaining the series' trademark tension while making it more accessible for new players.

Actually, the rain is probably the last thing that Renee Duchamp, the squad's espionage expert, should be worrying about at this point.
Actually, the rain is probably the last thing that Renee Duchamp, the squad's espionage expert, should be worrying about at this point.

Fortunately for new players, and even for some old hands, Pyro has added several features, both to make the game easier to learn and also to streamline its general gameplay. For example, Commandos 3 now has a full-on playable tutorial that explains exactly how to control each of your soldiers and how to use their various skills, such as using Renee "Frenchy" Duchamp's disguise ability and flawless German accent to distract other enemy soldiers by donning a high-ranking German lieutenant's uniform after using morphine syringes to incapacitate the officer.

The game also places each commando's most-important inventory items at the bottom of the screen for easier access, including active weapons (such as guns, knives, and fists to quietly knock out patrolling Nazi soldiers) and an active miscellaneous item, such as a first-aid kit. The new game also has an optional minimap in the upper-left corner that displays a general layout of your mission as well as the general location of enemies. In some cases, like the train level in the Berlin campaign, you'll actually be able to peer through windows to see whether any enemy soldiers are garrisoned in the next train car.

Duke, the team sniper, correctly observes that the dirty half-dozen will face more and tougher enemies than ever before.
Duke, the team sniper, correctly observes that the dirty half-dozen will face more and tougher enemies than ever before.

You'll need to be more vigilant than ever about your movements through Commandos 3's various missions, since this time around, the team has landed in the thick of things. In several levels, they'll be up against many, many soldiers patrolling highly sensitive areas, like the German installation at Omaha Beach, which they must sabotage under the cover of night to weaken enemy defenses against the infamous Allied assault that takes place the following day. The team will also see lots more action in several missions, especially in the action-packed Stalingrad campaign, in which they must aid the Russian army's recapture of its capital city from occupying German forces. In cases like these, they must use the cover provided by the burned-out city's ruined buildings and piles of rubble to either stealthily pick off lone enemies with Duke, the blue-blooded British sniper, or line up the perfect blast radius for a grenade from Thomas "Inferno" Hancock, the team's detail-oriented sapper and explosives expert. They'll even be able to use a wide variety of vehicles, including jeeps, motorcycles, and commandeered Panzer tanks, as well as stationary weapons like mounted gun embankments.

Behind Enemy Lines

Inferno, Duke, and Tiny hurry out into the icy streets of Stalingrad to thwart a German paratrooper offensive.
Inferno, Duke, and Tiny hurry out into the icy streets of Stalingrad to thwart a German paratrooper offensive.

The game's levels seem to offer a good mix of stealth and action elements, though like the other games in the series, Commandos 3 focuses mainly on stealth. Like in other games, you can reveal your enemies' field of vision, but you can do so only for a single soldier at a time by holding the Tab key and left-clicking on a soldier. Keeping out of an enemy's field of vision is crucial for success in most missions, like the opening of the Berlin campaign, in which the spy and the thief must navigate a winding countryside maze of barbed wire and thin foliage crawling with Nazi soldiers whose patrol routes leave little room for error in sneaking past. Also like in previous games in the series, the fear of discovery adds considerable tension to sneaking about.

The more combat-oriented missions seem similarly challenging, especially since, as always, foolishly opening fire with a non-silenced weapon or carelessly leaving an enemy corpse in plain view can often bring enemy reinforcements running. For instance, in several of the Stalingrad missions, you must judiciously inch your squad forward by picking off any runners or scouts with your sniper, then quickly taking cover to hide from oncoming reinforcements. In some cases, you can opt to be stealthy and creep past your enemies, but you'll often have the option of engaging them openly, which is where Commandos 3's new unit-behavior commands come in handy. In cases where you must move your squad into heavy fire zones, you can select a defensive behavior for your troops that will cause them to automatically seek cover, but if you're looking to rack up kills, you can set your troops' behavior to aggressive, which will cause them to attack any oncoming enemies. These behaviors seem extremely useful for baiting small groups of enemy soldiers back to your allies, especially when you have your boys lying in wait with guns at the ready.

You'll appreciate the game's highly detailed scenery and impressive rainfall effect, though you'll probably appreciate the new minimap more.
You'll appreciate the game's highly detailed scenery and impressive rainfall effect, though you'll probably appreciate the new minimap more.

Commandos 3 also seems to have good production values--though the version of the game we played was fixed at a resolution of 800x600, it still looked quite good. The new game uses an improved version of Commandos 2's visual scheme--polygonal 3D characters set against highly detailed 2D backdrops. Though the game's background stages may not push your 3D accelerator card to its limits, they're extremely detailed, and certain scenes, such as the bombing of Stalingrad, look suitably dramatic. And as you may have come to expect from the Commandos series, the new game features a militant, orchestral theme that seems to complement the game's inherent tension well. The new game also has all-new voice samples for each of its characters, though they all retain their familiar personalities, like the young whippersnapper thief, Paul "Lupin" Toledo, who nonchalantly scales building walls and knocks out enemy soldiers but has a tendency to complain about inclement weather.

Commandos 3: Destination Berlin seems like it offers numerous enhancements that should make it easier to play, though from what we've seen, the new game doesn't seem to stray too far from the series' core game mechanics. The game is scheduled for release later this year.

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