A long time ago (in terms of the gaming industry at least), Eidos and Pyros treated us to Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines. The game put the player in charge of a team of World War II commandos behind enemy lines (surprise!). Players had to make and execute their plan, deftly using the strengths of each commando to succeed. The game was a hit with gamers due to the creativity and originality of its gameplay. Commandos: Strike Force tries to use the same successful formula of its predecessors. Unfortunately, it leaves a lot to be desired.
Real life commandos will plan for missions for months in advance, studying the plan, the objectives, and the terrain to the point of memorization. Commandos Strike Force gives players almost no information going into a mission. A scant, one paragraph briefing/background information is put on the screen accompanied by a voiceover while a mission is loading, almost as an afterthought. This means that players will have to make their plans on the fly while trying not to get shot. This makes several missions very frustrating and means that there will be many a reloaded saved game.
The frustrations don't end there. Your team consists of three stereotype-ridden commandos, the Green Beret (the gung-ho, shoot-em-up American), the Spy (the suave Brit), and the Sniper (the not so suave Brit). During any given mission, you may be given access to more than one (or all three) to use to help you execute the plan that you are making up as you go along. Each has their particular strengths: The Green Beret can wield two weapons at the same time (realism isn't the main goal here), the Spy can steal enemy uniforms and infiltrate their ranks, and the Sniper should be fairly self explanatory (long range, highly accurate rifle). You can switch between them at will using the black button. This should make it easy to coordinate and execute your well thought out plans right?
Not exactly. Your commandos are solely under your control. All three. Even though you can only truly control one at a time. So this means that the ones you are not controlling are standing precisely where you left them, dumb-struck. In the very first mission that you have access to more than one, the Green Beret is in a field with some friendlys, trying to hold their ground against waves of German troops, while the Sniper is positioned in a nearby farm house to provide covering fire. This means that whichever commando you are not currently using will be totally useless. Also, switching to the Sniper removes the Green Berets better judgment, so he will promptly stand up and be gunned down by the approaching bad guys.
There are moments of calm in the game (rarely when the Green Beret is involved) where you have the chance to plan out your next few moves. The tools that you have to do this are a woefully ill-drawn map, a pair of binoculars, and magical radar that shows you the location of enemies, the direction they are facing, and how aware they are of your presence. Plausibility issues aside, this would have been far more useful had it been overlaid on a map.
A word on enemy awareness. Yes, the enemy will get angry if he finds the corpse of his compatriot, but fortunately, firing the high powered (and very noisy) sniper rifle will only alert enemies within a few meters of you or your victim. Every other enemy will go on his merry way, blissfully ignorant to whatever was the cause of that loud bang, and the ensuing gun battle that follows. This does however let you spend some of the mission absolute trigger happy and then complete it using stealth.
World War 2 movies and shooters have seen so many reiterations that gamers are almost as familiar with the settings of the war as the historians that study them. Images of pivotal engagements such as the beach landings at Normandy, the Battle of St. Petersburg, the storming of the Reichstag are imprinted in many a gamers' memories. Commandos Strike Force doesn't put the player in any of these key battles, instead operating around the periphery of the conflict in places like France, Norway, and Russia. While players won't see a lot of familiar sites, the levels in Commandos still manage to capture the setting well. The levels are designed with stealth and tactical thinking in mind so wide open fields should generally be avoided. If you do feel curious enough to try your luck in a field, the game will pause, explain why that is a bad idea (i.e. "Watch out for Machine Guns"), then (annoyingly) spawn you closer to where you aught to be, without any clues as to where you are supposed to go. Continue to be curious and the game will simply kill you (you did save, right?).
One level of note is a Russian city where you are given only the sniper and must eliminate several Nazi officers in whatever fashion works for you, very much in the vein of the Hitman series. This is made more interesting by the fact that the already broken city is being shelled and entire buildings are being brought down, changing the map as you play. Sadly, the scripted sequences through the rest of the game are far less exciting, usually consisting of a truck full German troops to rain on your parade.
The graphics of the game itself are nothing to write home about. Most of the character animations are stiff and often repeated; it is not unusual to see several consecutive enemies die in the exact same way. This severely takes away from the games believability. Even in the scripted sequences at the beginning and ends of mission, times when the developers can precisely plan how events are going to unfold, the characters are rigid and phony looking. One sequence has a row of paratroopers being gunned down while still in their plane, each falling in sequence like well rehearsed synchronized swimmers falling into a pool.
In Commandos, the playable characters interact with each other and non-player characters during the aforementioned scripted sequences. The dialog has the same depth as a book aimed at first graders, and while it seems that there were attempts to make the script a homage to the war movies of the 50s and 60s, it comes off as corny and ill thought out. While the mouths of the characters move while they're speaking, graphically the effect is more akin to 1998's Half-Life then what players have come to expect from more current titles.
As with the games graphics, Commandos sound effects are often repeated. Those same enemies dying in a well choreographed fashion will likely emit the same noises in death. This again could be a nod to old war movies, but instead of being merely cheesy, it comes off as a lack of effort.
Commandos Strike Force had a lot of potential. Drawing on some of the successful game play elements of the other games bearing the Commando name, throwing it into first person mode, even adding over-the-top multiplayer support could have made for a truly interesting experience. Unfortunately, poor implementation, dated graphics, and a general lackluster feel to it mean that Commandos Strike Force is destined to stay in the shadows of other World War 2 shooters.