Real time strategic stealth game. Naming the genre would be already enough to convince me to buy it, but since sane people need motivations... here's what I think about it!
In Commandos 2 you take control of an elite squad of soldiers, infiltrating behind enemy lines to sabotage the Axis' world domination plans.
The formula is the same of the first installment (wich I warmly recommend you to play), retaining the improvement of the expansion "Beyond the Call of Duty" and further enriching the gameplay with a massive set of small innovation that considerably increase the depth of the gameplay.
Let's proceed with order: this time Pyro Studios decided to make full use of the keyboard, literally binding a different action to each key, and that alone should already give you a clear idea of what to expect. At first finding a way to properly use each hotkey might seem overwhelming, yet after the first two missions everything will become very natural, allowing you to quickly plan and execute a vast amount of different tactics with minimal effort.
Unlike most RTS games, the Commandos series is cenetered on your team and a clever use of their skills -open combat is not encouraged (as the enemy always overwhelms you, and being detected will almost always result in tragedy) and losing even only one of your soldiers will result in a failed mission.
Each one of your nine characters has his/her own field of specialization and is trained in the use of specific items, occupying a precise role:
-the Green Beret is fast, strong and capable to using decoys and hiding in the environment;
-the Sniper can silently hit targets from a very long distance;
-the Marine can dive without running out of oxygen and is armed with a deadly harpoon;
-the Sapper can use any kind of explosive, cut barbed wire, detect mines and operate cannons;
-the Driver can use any kind of vehicle and is specialized in "dirty" combat tricks, like booby traps, molotov and gas bombs;
-the (male) Spy can disguise himself as an enemy official, hiding in plain sight and manipulating hostile troops. He also owns a very useful syringe, capable of either stunning or killing a target in perfect silence, based on the quantity of injected poison;
-the (female) Spy can also infiltrate enemy camps and distract guards, though she cannot issue orders (no high-ranking Nazist female officers around, I'm afraid). When need demands it she is a good sniper too, though;
-the Thief is the fastest member of the group, can climb almost everything, hide everywhere, crawl into narrow passages and pick locks;
-the dog is the perfect messenger and distractor: nobody will care about him, so he can go around undisturbed.
The game is divided in 10 main missions plus another 10 smaller bonus ones, unlocked when you find all the "bonus books" hidden in each level. This can prove to be quite the challenge, often being harder than the main objective themselves, yet not doing it wold mean losing nearly the 40% of the game.
The reduced quantity of missions (the first Commandos had 26+8 "big" ones) leaves more space to complexity: the objectives in Commandos 2 are definitely more elaborate than in the previous chapter, often surprising the player unexpected turns of events and reqiring a sudden rethinking of the entire plan.
The gameplay improvements are immediatley evident: other than the wide array of new skills and a real use of the vertical axis (an only sketched out aspect in the original), now the map can rotate and zoom in and out -while retaining its hand-drawn quality, something that I really appreaciate- and a proper sound reaction system has been implemented. Farewell, glorious murderous runs with the Green Beret! Now the enemy will hear you, so walking, crawling and silently tying up hostiles after knocking them out is a more efficient way to act. "Flash attacks" are not often a viable solution, slowing the pace and making everything more subtle. Also, now everyone (except the female spy and the dog) can punch enemies and move bodies, avoiding the need to run trough the whole map with the Green Beret or the Spy just to hide them.
Moreover, the sountrack is excellent and the setting is not limited to Europe and Africa, sending you in Asia to sabotage the plans of the Japanese empire. Too bad there are still no Fascists around: I wouldn't mind to snipe a fellow Italian every now and then. :P
After all those positives aspects I have a few criticisms, though:
-since now everyone can swim and kills are not encouraged, the Marine and the Sniper have become drastically less useful, having an active role only when explicitly required. I would have preferred to use the old pneumatic boat to move the team upon water: I can imagine the Thief and the Green Beret swimming with ease, but what about the Sapper, the Sniper and the heavily equipped Driver? Also, someone might find a soaked Nazi general a bit suspect...
-the game is much, much easier than the first one. While it's true that now each map hold a vast number of solutions and allows the palyer much more freedom in approaching an objective (making everything actually more fun), I would have liked a more unforgiving challenge. Also, the affect of the alarm is underwhelming: in the original, whenever the siren sounded all hell broke lose and reinforcements (not already present on the map) were always called, while here only a few guards come to investigate and everything quickly gets back to normal.
To be fair, this issue is partially solved by the difficulty setting, though: based on the level you choose, enemies are located in different, cleverer positions, have different patrol schedules and are more aware.
-exception made for high officials and the Gestapo the enemies are blind, especially at lower difficulties. Seriously, I immediately needed to switch the difficulty on an higher one because enemy soldiers watched me for more than three seconds (in their close-view range) before attacking. In the original, when they spotted you they immediatley started firing with no mercy, leaving you no room to breathe.
-the scoring systems does not make much sense: why would the game reward you for visiting many different areas and knocking out enemies? Imo, it would be more logical for a Commando to be as discrete as possible and avoid contact. Also, during a world war there is no use for mercy: a soldier you kill now is a soldier that won't try to kill you later. That's not a big issue, though: the score does not unlock any bonus, so you are free to play as you see fit.
Personally, I preferred to be fast and invisible, so I almost always got 1-3/5 stars under the "neutralized enemies" entry and 1-2/5 for visited areas!
-I continue to miss Despersados' "team quick action" key. That is a wonderful feature that afaik nobody else has ever implemented, unfortunately.
Those issues are really minor when compared to everything the game does right, and I can safely say that Commandos 2 is an overall excellent, memorable game that nobody shouls miss. Its immense variety, good level of challenge, clever design, high quality artistic values and sheer gameplay fun make it a must buy for everyone. If you are an RTS or stealth fan, I can guarantee that you will love it with no restraints. I wish games like this were still made today!
This is a good year for what concerns gaming: in less than two months, this is already the third game worthy of reciving the... Enebias' Official Seal of Approval!
The sermon is over. Now go and play it, my fellow Goglodytes!