Strike Force isn't as rewarding as its challenging predecessors, but it's a solid game on its own merits.
Developed by Pyro Studios, the Commandos games featured sadistically hard isometric real-time tactics gameplay in a detailed (if frequently cartoonish) WWII setting. The difficulty level was absolutely brutal, leading to much keyboard pounding, swearing and, eventually, a great sense of satisfaction when one finally triumphed over the seemingly unstoppable Nazi forces. I'd actually say that Strike Force's biggest deviation from the rest of the series isn't its new perspective; it's the comparable lack of challenge. Enemies in Strike Force are cannon fodder compared to the soldiers that would eliminate you in a second in past games. While this shift is understandable (outside of a few tactical shooters like the early Rainbow Six titles, I think FPS gamers prefer their protagonists to be superhuman), it will be a bitter pill to swallow for fans of the series. The difficulty also makes it easier to blow through what is already a rather brief game, with Strike Force's campaign lasting me a little more than six hours on my first try.
Strike Force follows a spy, a sniper and a Green Beret who are a part of a botched covert operation in Nazi-occupied France. The story starts out like a twist-laden thriller (including a rather forced subplot in which the Green Beret suspects the spy is a traitor), but by the final third all the plot threads that don't involve killing Nazis for the sake of it have been forgotten or unceremoniously ended, leaving Strike Force with the same war story that almost every other WWII game tells. It's not that the script is terrible; it's just not that memorable or unique.
Many of Strike Force's missions allow you to switch between two team members, while others restrict you to a single operative. Some those more restricted missions are actually the highlights of the game, as they feature most entertaining commando in by a wide margin: the spy. Equipped with a silenced pistol, piano wire and the ability to use machine guns, the spy can put up quite a fight, but will rarely have to if you control him properly. Stealing enemy uniforms Hitman-style can allow him to infiltrate enemy compounds with comparative ease, though he'll have to be mindful of the ranks of those around him. Enemies of a lower rank that the uniform he appropriated can't see through him, but enemies of an equal rank will become suspicious (identifying him after a short period) and enemies of a higher rank will alert their comrades almost immediately. This turns many of the rooms in stealth missions into puzzles, challenging you to find a way to eliminate officers, Gestapo agents and Generals (the latter two's uniforms can be especially powerful tools) so you can casually walk by the lowly soldiers and sub-officers. Most of the stealth levels are wide open, with multiple ways to approach each goal and plenty of extra objectives for you to discover along the way. Though this isn't the most punishing sneaking experience you'll play (a third-person "external view" allows you to look around corners and there's no need to hide bodies), it's still a tense and replayable one.
The sniper also has his share of cool moves. Though his weapons set is limited, his rifles are probably the most well-rounded guns in the game (with a bullet-time feature available through the scopes), and the retrievable throwing knives he carries make for some fun stealth kills. Bringing up the rear is the Green Beret, whose focus on heavy weapons makes him the least tactical of the crew. While the shooting mechanics are fine, the set-piece battles in Strike Force lack the punch of its bigger budget competitors. The third Norway level, which gives you control of the sniper and the Green Beret, is a good example of this, throwing predictable waves of enemies at you across a very narrow bridge. The whole thing feels like a shooting gallery (to an even greater extent than the ultra-linear Call of Duty games) and it's not all that satisfying to complete. Similar action scenes in the second and final levels also fall flat, ending the game on an underwhelming note. On the other hand, the penultimate level, which provides a sizable representation of Stalingrad for the player to blow up tanks in, is definitely the best of the Green Beret's missions. As with the stealth missions, this level is full of alternate routes and extra objectives; it's a shame the other shoot 'em up segments are so constrained by comparison.
Even for a 2006 multiplatform title that was released on the PS2, Strike Force isn't a particularly great-looking game. The simple lighting and blurry textures aren't too bad for a last-gen console, but they also aren't up to the standard of many other PC releases from that year (such as Prey or Rainbow Six: Vegas). I'd say Strike Force isn't as aesthetically pleasing as the elegant two-dimensional artwork that was used by the first three Commandos games and the outdoor segments of Destination Berlin. The audio fares better, with some good voice acting and solid sound effects. The music, which leans heavily on choirs and trumpets, is just what you'd expect from a WWII game, but it's effective nonetheless.
Ultimately, Commandos: Strike Force can't live up to its insanely challenging predecessors, but that doesn't mean it isn't a fun experience. Those who have had their fill of WWII shooters won't find much to draw them back here, and people who are looking for a slick shooting gallery probably won't be satisfied either. As a sort of dumbed-down first-person take on the Hitman games, though, Strike Force works pretty well. Providing you can stomach the changes that have been made to the franchise, you might find that this much-maligned sequel still has its charms.
+ Wide-open stealth missions are great
+ Uniform theft system is very satisfying
+ Cool throwing knives, sniper rifles
+ Good music and voice acting
- Green Beret segments are less successful
- Not as difficult or rewarding as the older Commandos games
- Graphics look dated, even for the time
Reviewed on 12/21/2011