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Commandos 2: Men of Courage
Score: 65%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Pyro Studios
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:
Commandos 2: Men of Courage is a perfect example of why console gaming is not PC gaming. Not to say this isn't a game someone wouldn't enjoy, but the first indication of why that happy person probably will be on a PC instead of a PS2 is in the graphics department. Resolution of a standard analog TV set is...well, it's not 1280x1024. Obviously, results may vary and if you're out there with Monster cables and a high-end set, you may see better performance than me and my middle-of-the-road Toshiba analog set with RCA cords that I think go back to about 1982. The point of this ramble is that where most PC games of this variety look sharp and have high levels of detail, great potential resolution (limited more by RAM than video hardware or screen potential in most cases) and a lot of fancy lighting and particle effects, Commandos 2: Men of Courage looks pretty poor for PS2. The characters, especially when you zoom in to look at them closely, are vague and indistinct. From 1,000 feet (the bird's-eye view you play from during most of the game) everything is hunky-dory, but if you think you're the only one getting a headache from looking at all the tiny objects on screen wondering which one is a sandwich and which is a landmine, you're not alone. To try and compensate, the developers filled each screen with lots of stuff, trees, fences and enemy soldiers. The texture and color is impressive at first, but with everything as small and fuzzy as it is, you'll find it is tough to get acclimated, really tough to learn all the little objects without sleeping next to the manual for a week or so, and tough-meets-tougher-than-tough to settle down and enjoy Commandos 2 when you're right on top of the screen squinting. The fact that this game ships on DVD helps make it a whopper in scope and means all kind of nice audio effects, music and video can be packed on, but where graphics leave much to be desired in the living room, gameplay is definitely the cat that ate the canary.

The premise of Commandos 2 follows a period in time where Germany was flattening Europe, most of the large Allied forces were tied up and relatively powerless to stop the halt of the Third Reich, and the need for a more precise approach is seen. The Commando squad is a perfect answer, with its small group of specialists trained to infiltrate inside enemy lines and hit hard where it counts. If you haven't played the previous installment, imagine a combination Real-Time Strategy game, Puzzle game and Action game. Developing resources like an RTS is not the case here, instead you'll have to learn the strengths and special attacks and defense powers of 8 Commandos and a dog named Whiskey. The dog comes in handy, believe me. Using each character selectively fits into solving some of the game's stickier problems, and knowing who to use, how, where and when to use them is the Puzzle aspect of the game. But, being that you probably are even considering this one for the WWII angle, rest assured you'll see plenty of explosions, go into gun battles pistols blazing and even sneak around knifing guards and driving vehicles. It's a big stew.

And just like it takes a big, well stocked kitchen to make a big stew, you'll find your PS2 controller gets way too small to handle the action in Commandos 2. Trying to pretend 30 or more actions can be mapped onto a controller with max 14 buttons is a pretty notion, and I was impressed with the creativity the developers exhibited, but in the end playing with a DUALSHOCK just screams, ''Wrong Tool!''

During an extensive Tutorial section, you'll find every action explained and each Commando's special skills detailed in examples that you control. The Tutorial is literally over an hour long, which already seemed a red flag in my mind. Trying to jump into the action would just be insane, but hopefully even after the basic Tutorial you'll know how to select characters and move them around, select multiple characters, attack enemies and trade inventory items. Much like any good RPG or RTS, you'll find some dependencies among characters play into puzzles. So, in the first real mission you find a fence that must be cut by your Sapper, but it takes the Thief to infiltrate by climbing a pole and swinging along a wire to bring back some wire cutters to move things along. Each character can be used in special areas, but there are usually several solutions to any one obstacle. This is the fun part of the game, and it is tempting to hang in there and overcome any control issues or the immense learning curve once you feel the sense of accomplishment gained by playing through the early missions. A good save system means you aren't having to go all the way back to the beginning of a mission and missions are pretty short, so the level of frustration doesn't have to be high. But it is. The ease with which you'd map distinct keys on your PC keyboard to various actions and move a mouse to control much of the fine movement in Commandos 2 is missing here. I even got jammed up during the Tutorial while driving some of the vehicles, and the entire experience felt a bit half-baked somehow. But, the thought behind each challenge and level shines through, and Commandos 2 is not a complete loss for those patient enough to sit through some trying times learning the interface.

And, just like those kids who practice the same, dangerous skateboard stunt a million times until it becomes second nature or they split their heads open, Commandos 2 starts to become a game you feel. The controls are way convoluted, and even when you learn all the keys, it is tough many times to move gun sights or fine motor-control type things around the screen because of shabby controls. A similar thing happens when moving characters, even to the point that losing characters on screen necessitates rotating or zooming around to find a good vantage point on the action. This type of finagling takes away from the action and forces us to be more involved with the mechanics of the camera and control than just enjoying the game. Mission objectives are well scripted, but many will be far too difficult for some people. As you progress in the game, some missions are insanely challenging, even though this has long been a critique of the series. For most, especially those who enjoy a good puzzle now and again, Commandos 2 is actually a welcome change from the twitchy drivel being dished out to most younger gamers, and but for the death and destruction it might make a wonderful educational game for kids. As it is, I'll guarantee this will tax your brain more than most puzzle games out there.

Game Mechanics:
I've harped on some of the more egregious technical problems Commandos 2 has, but it's also important to reinforce what's good. If you like the premise of the game and enjoyed other less twitchy games for PlayStation, Commandos 2 might be your thing, and all the actions you'll need to control characters are mapped to some combination of shoulder buttons, D-Pad and analog buttons. The analog sticks mostly control movement and at times when you need to aim, they help as well. Cute features like the ability to turn on a view of the enemy sight-cone recalls Metal Gear but really is needed to move past heavily guarded areas where you're outgunned. Most of the game has you outgunned, so stealth is important. As such, you can pull objects out of your inventory, trade them with other players and even steal stuff from enemy soldiers. Enemies can be gagged, bound, buried, stashed in the water or behind a pile of junk. Moving around is generally broken down into an Offensive Mode, where you'll be able to attack enemies, and Interaction Mode where you can mostly just use items in the environment. Certain items will become available only when you need them, so you can get hints sometimes on solving puzzles. In fact, you can leaf through an in-game notebook and get lots of hints on what to do to clear a level or use an item.

It's not that this is a terrible game, or that it has huge flaws, but if you've played some of the PC imports like Diablo or point-and-click games like Clock Tower, you know that the fit is never quite right. Like it or not, the ease of only a few buttons and a stick may seem like it only truly benefits action or arcade oriented games, and if it seems like that to you, it's because it's true! Arcades don't typically come equipped with keyboards and mice, and there's a reason for that. Not only does this game require longer sittings than many folks are willing to put in, but the true action equivalent to a game like this is Metal Gear Solid or squad-based games played from a third or first person perspective. If you like stealthy, strategic gameplay there is a game for that on PS2 already, and if you want an involved, RTS-looking game with a jillion different actions that really are begging for a jillion different buttons to initiate them, you should play this on a PC. The idea is great, but the execution is all wrong.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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