Commandos 2 HD Remaster Review04 Feb 2020 4
Commandos 2 HD Remaster Review
Released 24 Feb 2020
It’s late 2001. The world of video games has been blessed with great games this year: Animal Crossing, Burnout, Halo, Max Payne, Ghost Recon and Tropico. Command & Conquer: Red Alert 2 is all over the strategy charts. Out of nowhere, Pikmin jumps up from Nintendo as a real-time tactics game wrapped in electric cute. Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel builds off at a surprising angle from the rest of the Fallout franchise. Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive put you in the boots of some very bad men and women.
Having inspired many of those latter games, 1998's Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines gets a sequel in the form of Commandos 2: Men of Courage, which builds mechanically on its predecessor and the type of real-time tactics gameplay it unexpectedly found to be a huge success. In it, you are given a number of characters – each with unique skills and abilities – and are placed into missions, your characters working in concert along with gear and intelligence they pick up along the way. There is no pause, no queuing of commands, and you can only give orders to or control one character at a time.
On 24th January 2020, Torus Games and Kalypso Media released Commandos 2 - HD Remaster on Steam. This may have been a mistake.
The First Dive
While the original Commandos and its sequel Commandos 2 were lauded – and continue to be lauded – for the intricacy of their play, the intensity of the stealth, and the tension of the moment to moment experience, those games appeared in the public consciousness 20 years ago. There was a growing user experience lexicon, a set of expectations that a player would bring to the game about how the controls would work, how they would interact with the game itself, etc. Many of those UI affordances, after much polishing and shaking about, have been inherited by RTS.
Thankfully, none of them seem to have originated in the Commandos series. Consider the control assignment screen:
It looks straightforward enough if austere but note that the first three options, keys you will be using all the time, have a slightly different background. You can't reassign those keys. You can't reassign those actions at all. The General controls? Locked down. None of them are alterable. Individual Character controls? Settable, but between the Common and the Character key assignments, pretty much every letter on your keyboard is going to be occupied with something – often something which only barely has anything to do with the letter it is assigned. Start moving things around and things get messy.
That just scratches the surface. A lot can be forgiven for the first port of a beloved, anchor game of a long-ago age. But this is not a simple modernization of the game to run on modern machines. Commandos 2: Men of Courage has been running on modern machines (albeit poorly) for a very long time. There is no real excuse for the "HD Remaster" to be sporting more bugs than the original.
Yet, here we are.
So the game is old and shows it. But is it old and busted? It only takes a few minutes of play to answer that question.
The game itself plays more like an action-RPG than an RTS. While you can right-drag to band box select your characters, there is often very little reason to do so because each of them have many individual commands and you can't issue any of those to a character who is currently in a group selection. It’s only useful for maneuvering together and occasionally firing, if everyone is holding the same weapon.
There are no waypoints. There is no ability to pause the game, give characters individual commands, and then unpause to have those commands carried out. Which might be all right if switching between characters didn't require absolute memorization of which one is associated with which number with absolutely no assistance from the UI which has a list of all of your available characters at the top of the screen but no subtle badging to remind a new user or a stressed longtime player of which one is which. Much of the meat of good play is found in coordinating the actions of two or more commandos in order to pull off a complicated infiltration action. The interface is more interested in just barely allowing it than facilitating it.
Characters have individualized actions that they can do; only the Thief can pick locks to open crates and doors. Only the Thief and the Green Beret can climb up power poles and shimmy along lines. Only a few characters can pick up boxes and move them. Only a couple of characters can tie and gag Nazis after having punched them in the back of the head. Only a couple can deploy rope ladders. And so on. You would think that this would lead to a careful consideration of your resources, delicate handling of what character needs to be where in order to do the job, and other such game-challenge inducing things. In reality, you're also simultaneously wondering "why can't this character do this completely mundane thing that doesn't require any particular special skill or knowledge?" I understand why a specialist needs to put down landmines or why only a Thief can sneak into a window unheard, but why can't pretty much anyone pick up a box? Why can't pretty much anyone lower a rope ladder? Who can’t gag an unconscious Nazi with their own socks?
All of these things are at least comprehensible within the framework of understanding the game is, at heart, 20 years old and was one of the first to really focus on creating a stealth experience of that intensity. When it works, it works really well.
When it doesn't work, why is that?
Don't take my word for it. Go watch any of the live streams of people playing this game and count the seconds until some sort of buggy interaction occurs. Unless they are sitting at a menu, the number you reach should be less than 30:
- Selecting the target of a skill and the ground selection center of focus needing to be behind and beyond the target? Check.
- Selecting the target of a skill, executing the skill, and the character getting caught on some terrain on the way to the target? Check.
- Reaching the target and the skill simply not going off, leaving you standing there with no weapon in your hand while they riddle you with machine gun fire and you do nothing? Check.
- Weird character animations that don't quite match up when you move from crawling to standing or vice versa? Check.
- Visual layer issues with the remastered art where sometimes things are supposed to be behind are visible in front? Check.
- Clunky, badly registering UI boxes, sometimes not actually doing what was intended or not allowing you to click on a very clear, well-placed target, unnaturally tiny button boxes compared to the size of the graphic, and all manner of interface glitches which feel slapdash in the extreme? Check.
Telling you about them doesn't actually do the bugs justice. You really have to watch someone playing the game in order to truly understand how deep that rabbit hole goes. Luckily, there are some really devoted fans of the game who grew up with it, who had it shape a formative part of their gaming lives, and who absolutely will wade through anything in order to get to play it at a modern resolution with slightly better models. They will forgive any kind of shortcoming in order to play the game as best as it can be played. They deserve to get watched playing this game.
Is there anything good that I can actually say about Commandos 2 HD Remaster? The graphics are an improvement over the original and they run at modern resolutions. There is no doubt that there was some love and attention given to increasing the resolution of textures on both characters and the UI.
I definitely feel that there is a good game lurking underneath all of the crap laying on top of it. It's under there. There is a tense, difficult, challenging game of stealth and character skill management hiding under badly designed mechanics, badly implemented UI, and general awkwardness. You can see the game that it could be when you watch people play it who know it well.
- The graphics are definitely an improvement over 20 year old designs.
- It’s runnable on modern hardware at modern resolutions.
- There are more bugs in it than a San Francisco flophouse.
- The creakiness of the UI / UX in general gets in the way of playing the game to enjoy.
- While the graphics are better, they are by no means noteworthy. “Serviceable” might be too much to suggest.
- There’s little worth paying for in this package.
If you have $20 USD to spend on a game, pick a better game. Or spend $10 USD instead on GOG to get the original Commandos 2 and 3 with manuals, soundtracks, and slightly fewer bugs.