The premise of Commandos is a model for the game itself: Just as the heroes of this game prevail in dangerous military operations through unorthodox yet undeniably effective means, so too is Commandos a successful real-time strategy game because of its refusal to adhere to the genre's conventions. Pyro Studios has produced a genuinely original game of tactics, planning, and precision, one with impressive visuals and slick production values and one that will surely please fans of strategic combat, puzzle-solving, and World War II-era warfare alike.
Its isometric perspective recalls any number of real-time strategy games that came before it, but a closer inspection reveals Commandos' striking attention to detail. The prerendered 2D maps all look different, beautiful, and realistic, and accurately depict Nazi-occupied regions in Norway, North Africa, and Eastern Europe. You'll never find a scenario that looks boring; enemy barracks, tanks, electric fences, river dams, and much more all serve to make every mission dynamic and different. You even get some nice eye candy for good measure - enemy vehicles and structures go out in glorious pyrotechnics at the hands of your demolitions expert. And not only can you set the screen resolution to your liking, but you can zoom the screen in and out, set up split-screen cameras to keep tabs on isolated commandos, or set tracking cameras to follow enemy patrols.
Your six Commandos are all unique in appearance and attitude. They move smoothly whether they're walking, crawling, running, or plying any of their deadly skills, and you can learn all about them through a fast and friendly in-game tutorial that focuses on each of their individual skills. They're a charismatic bunch and will quickly grow on you, although their German enemies look rather boring by comparison. There isn't much music to speak of in Commandos, and the sound, though authentic, is sparse. And though the commandos sound great and become immediately distinguishable through their speech, they have disappointingly few speaking lines. The Germans don't have a lot to say either.
An unobtrusive and clever interface borders the screen, showing the various tools in the selected commando's knapsack, any of which can be selected with the click of a mouse. However, this interface is mostly for show; it's quicker just to hit the appropriate keyboard hotkey to select your green beret's combat knife for example - and in Commandos, every moment counts. Moving your men is as simple as clicking the desired destination or double-clicking to make the commando run. You need to micromanage everybody, and no one will move an inch without your express orders. This isn't a problem; just keep your idle men hidden at all times and you'll be OK.
To be sure, Commandos is a good strategy game not so much because of its fine look and interface, but because it makes you think. You needn't worry about real-time strategy protocol like fog of war and resources or having to restart from scratch every time you mess up (you can save whenever you like). Instead, you get a select group of specialists at your disposal, along with a concise yet informative mission briefing that clearly defines your task. You have nearly limitless reconnaissance data at your disposal; you can scroll all around the map, identify all enemy patrols, and even see each enemy's field of vision represented onscreen through a sweeping colored cone.
And so, you'll always have your work cut out for you - what you need to do is figure out exactly how to get the job done. Thus you need to develop a long-term plan, not unlike the skilled chess player facing an equally competent opponent. Essentially, you must figure out how to eliminate every enemy who stands in your way without any of the other enemies noticing. This will never prove an easy task, as the odds are always awful. But then again, the elements of stealth and surprise are always on your side. Guards cannot hear your men moving, nor can they hear their fellows die by your silent weapons. But if they see any of your men, or witness anything suspicious, they'll get riled up and you'll be in serious trouble.
To succeed, you must coordinate your troops. For instance, the marine is an adept killer, able to emerge from underwater instantly, armed and ready with knife and harpoon gun - but he needs the green beret's brawn to dispose of the bodies. And if the spy can find an enemy uniform and distract the enemy, then the driver will be able to sneak past and steal a parked tank. The combinations aren't always binary; solving certain situations in Commandos can be very complex and challenging but always logical and predictable. You cannot slow the game down or speed it up, and so you'll occasionally need to employ a little dexterity and good timing. But these action elements only amplify the game's visceral appeal and do not detract from its strategic core. You'll also run into the occasional pathing problem trying to operate a large vehicle, but aside from that, Commandos controls just fine.
Commandos contains a single linear campaign composed of 20 big missions. The linearity isn't problematic; while there exists a best way to win each scenario, you always get plenty of room to be especially creative or just a little reckless. And because they're well designed and open-ended, you'll want to play most of them more than once. Any of these missions can be attempted cooperatively with up to five other players, each responsible for at least a single troop. However, the true pleasure in this game is coordinating the entire squad single-handedly, anticipating how a situation will transpire and watching it go according to plan or successfully improvising when things don't go your way. And what a pleasure - after you navigate your team through or past some 50-odd nonchalant German guards, destroy a vital enemy installation, and hijack a means of escape, you may well find Commandos sneaking its way to the top of your list.