Format: PC Genre: Real-Time Tactics* Released: 1999 Developer: Pyro Studios
I’m not even sure if I actually like this game or not, but I feel it deserves inclusion for the simple fact that it dominated my life for a week or so in early 1999 or thereabouts. Whether it made my life better or just scarred me for life is up for debate…
In early 1999 I was in the first year at university, and one of my friends in halls had a one-level demo of Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty on his PC (incidentally, the game is a standalone expansion pack for Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, which was released the previous year). The idea of the game is simple – you control a squad of commandos (sniper, driver, spy, green beret, etc.) and the aim is to sneak around behind enemy lines performing various acts of sabotage and assassination. However, the actual execution (if you’ll forgive the pun) is mind-numbingly difficult – if you’re spotted by one of the enemy troops, it’s pretty much game over, which means you have to plan every single move in excruciating detail.
Before moving anywhere you have to scope out the patrol paths and lines of sight of all of the enemy guards to ensure you don’t end up wandering across any wayward Germans. This generally equates to crawling around painfully slowly and hiding behind bushes – as you might have guessed, this definitely isn’t an action game. In fact, shooting anyone is practically committing suicide, as the sound of gunshots draws in every German from the surrounding area, resulting in a quick death for Johnny Englishman. The only way to really progress safely is to sneak up behind each enemy and dispatch them silently before hiding the body – no mean feat when the level I played was approximately the size of Normandy (you can see why it took me a week to complete one level).
The cautious nature of the gameplay and the massive penalties for detection meant that I had to save the game after practically every move I made, and there were several occasions where I had to backtrack to a previous save point and redo a whole section of the level because I’d gone the wrong way or found myself in an impossible situation. God knows where I got the patience from.
However, as they say, the greater the challenge, the greater the reward, and the sense of achievement I felt on completing the demo was utterly amazing – somehow the elation of triumph over adversity overshadowed all the hardship and frustration. I imagine it’s the same kind of feeling as being trapped down a mine for a week and then stumbling, squinting and bewildered, into the sunshine, safe in the knowledge that you can happily get on with the rest of your life.
That makes it sound like the game was a chore to play, but that’s definitely not the case – frustrating and difficult it might have been, but it was also extremely rewarding, not to mention very pretty to look at (I reckon the hand-drawn graphics still stand up pretty well today). Then there’s the fantastic sound effects, the speech in particular. The green beret (I think it was the green beret anyway) said everything in a wonderfully sneering tone, and ordering him to move anywhere would elicit a sarcastic “Yes… sir“.
But does the game stand up today? The inspiration for this post came from seeing Commandos 2 on the PS2 for a ludicrously low price in a game shop over the weekend. I couldn’t resist picking it up for nostalgia’s sake, but I was bitterly disappointed when I got it home – after less than an hour I’d become utterly frustrated with the glacial pace of the gameplay and the constant restarts. Perhaps this game is best regarded as a fond memory. Or at least as a worthwhile exercise in endurance.
Although having said that, the PS2 conversion was utterly dire – the attempt to map the various controls to a joypad resulted in probably the least intuitive control system I’ve ever had the misfortune to experience. Plus it had the most tedious tutorial I’ve ever seen in a video game, but I had no choice but to sit through it because the controls were so damn complicated that I didn’t have a hope in hell of playing otherwise.
Still, these days I prefer my gaming in bite-sized chunks – I just don’t have the time to play games like this anymore. Anything that requires me to play a level for an hour or more – let alone a week – just doesn’t get a look in. Aaah, to be 19 again, with acres of spare time spread in front of me…
(This is actually a video of Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, but you get the idea.)
*Bit of an odd genre this – Commandos was an early example of a real-time tactics game, but Cannon Fodder (which will be appearing on the list soon) was one of the very first. A list of RTT games can be found here.
(Screenshots from http://www.gamespot.com)