Commandos 3: Destination Berlin Impressions

The Commandos World War II strategy series takes a dramatic new turn in the third installment, which promises to be more action-packed and more accessible.

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Commandos 3: Destination Berlin
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Some games are quite hard. Commandos 2 is one of them. Those who made good progress into the complex stealth missions had great things to say about the game, and the visuals are quite beautiful. But what we've seen of Commandos 3 just blows its predecessor away. Let's start with the good news first: The enhanced 3D graphics are not only more interactive--we saw commandos inch along the top of a speeding train, drop along the side, peer inside a troop car, and then crawl through windows--but they're also stunningly cinematic. That same train scene ends when a bridge blows in front of the engine, taking the first few cars with it into the abyss. You'll have to see it to believe the smooth detail of the sequence.

The second Commandos game was released in late 2001, but Pyro Studios tells us that the new game has been in the works for nearly three years, with a small team developing the updated engine while the content for Commandos 2 was being finished up. About 60 percent of the engine is new. All the characters and vehicles are now in full 3D, with new animation and lighting systems. As a result of this move, the designers are able to put many, many times more characters onscreen at once. One mission we saw took place at the heart of Berlin, where it's absolutely essential to play intelligently and avoid alerting the nearly 300 troops present on the map. In the opening shot, dozens of German soldiers could be seen parading down a city street.

The gameplay has been developed in two ways. First, the commandos' arsenal has been expanded to include more-aggressive weapons, and there'll be many more opportunities for your squad to work together offensively, defend buildings against large numbers of oncoming Germans, and blow stuff up. The second major change is the pacing. Whereas the previous games often involved meticulously completing missions that could take hours, Commandos 3 will provide a more continual payoff and give a better sense of the progress you're making toward longer-term goals by breaking missions that span multiple maps into shorter sequences. The net effect will also include more variety to the missions, as you segue from various actions, including straight stealth, sniping, assaults, or ambushes.

The missions are punctuated with some very impressive cinematic moments. One mission we saw required you to sneak up close enough to a crack German sniper to put him on ice. Shortly after you do so, the mission segues directly into a scripted sequence shown from the game's characteristic isometric view. The German assault on Stalingrad renews as fighters zoom overhead, strafing the ground, and paratroopers descend from the skies.

Commandos 3 is divided into three distinct campaigns: Stalingrad, Central Europe, and Normandy. We got a peek at the opening cinematic for the D-Day invasion, and it looked even better than the sequences we've already described. The campaigns are bound to be long and involved, if the previous games are any indication. But the real potential for lasting replay value will come in the new multiplayer features. There are a couple of modes planned, and it's obvious from what we heard that they won't play all that much like conventional RTS matches. There are both competitive and cooperative modes, but the key point is that each player will be able to control only one commando character. This is as much as Pyro thinks a player can truly handle in real time, given all the cool abilities the commandos have. But there will also be secondary troops--ordinary soldiers--who can be deployed and used in conjunction with the commando operations.

Given that nothing had been seen of Commandos 3 before E3, it may stun you to hear that the game is due out this fall. And that's good news--we can't wait to see more of this fantastic-looking game.

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