At first glance, you would rightfully be forgiven if you thought Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines was an all action, guns ablazin’ Cannon Fodder style affair. Give the game five minutes of your time and I can guarantee you will look at this classy PC title in a different light. In truth, on paper at least, you can attempt to complete missions with a Rambo, shoot everything that moves strategy, but you will last about as long as Babylon Zoo in the music charts! Commandos is a very original game (especially at the time of release) that combines a few genres that helped turn this underdog title into one of the bestselling and well-respected PC games of the late 90’s. With a mixture of strategy, stealth combat, tactics and clever puzzle elements you are in for a real treat. Has war ever been so much fun?
The game is set around World War II and with the help of your team of elite Commandos you must traverse through various missions all involved in taking down the Third Reich. Each mission starts with a briefing and a quick overview of the map and key points found throughout. It is worth listening carefully to each briefing as I couldn’t find a way to repeat the set objectives once the mission had started. There are 20 missions in total, each offering a slightly different set of objectives to overcome. These missions can range from destructing key buildings, assassinating key personnel, rescuing captured allies and lots more in-between.
The first thing that impressed me so many years ago and even today is the amazing graphics. The top down view (similar to the view taken by Cannon Fodder) is so well drawn and animated. The environments you find yourself in look so real and grab your attention straight away. Even with the view being very zoomed out, you can appreciate all the lovely touches such as the detail of each building, shrub, vehicle and landscape. The character animations are also well done and feel right up at home. The game hasn’t aged at all badly and I feel the graphics still hold up today, over 20 years later!
The game lets you take control of up to six different commandos, each with their own little personalities, skills and traits. The main man (who is plastered on all the Commando series boxes) is clearly the tough as nails Green Beret known as Butcher. The most violent of all characters, Butcher is great in combat and using brute strength to help him in tricky situations. He can also use a shovel to dig under certain terrain and vanish in a blink of an eye. Butcher also has terrible taste in music as evidenced by his terrible radio which he can place near guards to distract them and then silently approach with a knife in the back! Duke is a very handy addition to your roster as he is a skilled sniper and can take out Nazi guards from a great distance. Fins (really? – Ed) is your main man when it comes to water as he can use scuba gear and operate boats. Fireman (aw come on!! – Ed) is your bomb expert who can blow up key buildings and later detect and deactivate land mines. He also has a handy bear-trap aimed at snapping at the heels of enemies on patrol. You can also control a driver who, you guessed it; drives vehicles. My favourite character in the game is probably Frenchy, putting the slightly xenophobic nickname to one side, he is your go-to spy and one very handy Commando I can tell you. He can mingle with Nazis like the best of them, and when they are not looking, he can use a lethal injection to floor his enemies without causing any fuss or notice.
Each mission will give you a predetermined selection of Commandos, where each character is very likely needed to showcase their various skills and attributes to complete the set objectives. I really love the thought process needed to work out which Commando is needed, plan out your strategy, time it to perfection and reap the rewards of getting one step closer to moving on to the next level. As stated earlier, the game really promotes the need to use stealth and clever thinking as opposed to gunning down your opponent’s willy-nilly. In some missions, I really found myself scratching my head and would sometimes revert to my inner Rambo, but alas, this never really proved the right choice. In fact, this usually resulted in the looming sound of the alarm and a whole new bunch of Nazi soldiers would join the fun! The quicker I realised this was a puzzle and tactic game the better I became.
The gameplay is almost spot-on. The game is fluid, fair and if you die, you’ve really got no one else to blame apart from yourself. The only small grumble would be that the quick change and selection of your Commandos, especially in a very time-sensitive situation can get a little fiddly and can sometimes result in a quick death. Pyro Studios really deserve huge respect and credit in making such a fun and accessible game, albeit challenging.
The voice acting and music is again a big plus point and really adds an extra layer gloss to this already great package. Each Commando’s personality is really deepened with their individual voices and commands. This really makes you feel for your Commando’s well-being and you do feel a tad guilty if/when they are killed in action. The atmospheric music and sound effects are both perfectly applied to really heighten the sombre mood of the games setting and really make you feel part of the action.
The game is notoriously difficult. It will sometimes frustrate you to the point when you can’t wait to see the back of that particular mission. My two main points of advice would be save the game often as you are likely to die a lot, and, as soon as even one of your Commando’s is taken down, it’s game over! My other piece of advice is to look at the immediate trouble in front of you, then look through all your Commando’s various skills and see if you can piece together a strategy plan in your head, and then go for it step-by-step. Overall, I feel the game’s difficulty is just about right. Personally, after I complete a mission, I am usually ready to move on and probably won’t go back anytime soon. This could diminish the overall longevity of the game. But with an add-on pack available and a few other hugely respected sequels readily available, the journey of the Commandos is certainly one you could continue for a long time to come.
If you are looking for a fun, all action and quick reflex war strategy title then Cannon Fodder should be your weapon of choice. But if you are looking for a game which requires a bit more brain power, well thought out level designs and missions and the ability to outsmart your opponents with devilish tactics then you really need to give Commandos a go.
All screenshots taken from Moby Games