STAFF REVIEW of Commandos: Strike Force (Xbox)

Sunday, April 23, 2006.
by Adam Rivard

Commandos: Strike Force Box art By now, everyone has played a World War II first-person shooter. Surprisingly, there are as many good games in this sub-genre as there are healthy soldiers lined up for physicals. And while it's true that their shaved heads and crew cuts may all look similar, each one still offers a little something different. Eidos's Commandos series is no longer the star soldier it once was though. Sad as it may be, Eidos has done as much to hurt its series as it has to help it. For all of you that have been following the Commandos series let me start by telling you this Commandos Strike Force doesn't quite deliver on the strategic legacy of its predecessors. If you were attracted to the series for its uniquely tactical approach to the crowded WWII genre then you are going to be sad to hear that the newest episode wildly departs from this. The games evolution, or mutation, into a first-person shooter has crippled the strategic aspects that originally attracted gamers to the series. Limiting the number of playable soldier classes down to a mere three (cut in half from the original six), Commandos: Strike Force focuses on stealth with Bill the sniper, O'Brien the green beret and Colonel Brown the spy. Each class has their own set of special abilities: the sniper can hold his breath to squeeze off flawless headshots or use knives at close range, the green beret wields dual automatic rifles and grenades; and the spy disguises himself in order to penetrate Nazi defenses without firing a shot. Unfortunately, the spy and sniper play remarkably similarly as both employ sneaking around as their primary weapon, while the green beret remains your basic shoot first and ask questions later guy.

It won?t take you long to realize how restricted you are when playing this game. The first thing you?ll notice is instead of six possible soldiers, you'll have only three: a sniper, an espionage expert, and a green beret. Much like previous entries in the series, Strike Force drops players into a hostile environment. In this case, Nazi-occupied France. Through a combination of stealth, disguise, and brute strength, the three-man strike force will complete a grab bag of missions and bring freedom to at least a small corner of the world. Players have a choice between characters at almost any time, and between the order of mission completion as well. There's some degree of strategy to the mission order, though in the end it really didn't seem to make much difference. And within each mission there's a sad lack of flexibility compared to what the series used to offer. Commandos has always been a game of stealth and planning. I wouldn't usually make a move without examining attentively how the guards move and the overall area layout. Here, too often it seemed that just walking forward with your finger on the trigger was enough to move forward. At times, the AI required a bit of quick thinking, especially when an SS officer saw through the spy's physical disguise. But more often than not I had no trouble with enemies at all, especially when we pulled out the sniper rifle for one-shot kills. Many of the missions allow the player to complete them however they best see fit, but in almost all situations it boils down to a decision between sneaking in and strangling the guards or just shooting them all. Sometimes one course through a mission is clearly better than another, though it's not always immediately obvious at the outset. There can be a lot of trial and error involved, especially on higher difficulties. Commandos is not an original concept, nor does it do much that other first-person shooters haven't done before. In fact, everything here has been done. But Eidos's development team handles each aspect fairly well. The combination of mediocre mechanics, a few well organized choice levels, and a somewhat graduation of enemy AI gel together and force you to think, strategize, and manage your team and weaponry. But again it?s nothing that hasn?t been done before. An example of something that has been done before but still able to be entertaining is the stealth killings, that help to keep alarms from ringing and guards in the vicinity from being alerted. The three-tier enemy soldier awareness system keeps Commandos Strike Force strategic and methodical, as you?ll really want to think before you spray hot lead into an Axis encampment. Another way to keep guards occupied, and therefore at a low threat level is to distract them. Throw a coin in order to send a guard on a wild goose chase, or put a cigarette on the floor to pique their interest just long enough to slip by. Another major area where Commandos fails to deliver is on the multiplayer side of things. While there are plenty of cool gametypes, from old standards like Deathmatch to some interesting objective-based games, the mechanics just don?t deliver. There is online action but it's not going to be a fan favorite. I have played and experienced a lot of lag and it took forever to find a game. A shame, really, as there are enough gametypes and customizable options to keep players entertained for a while.

One thing I was a little bit disappointed with was the uneven graphics in Commandos. On the positive side, the levels and environments are all laid out quite nicely, the cutscenes look pretty good, and frame rates hold up well during battles. The main disappointment is with the character models, which look rather blocky and lack detail. In a nutshell the graphics still leave a little something to be desired. Very generic, cookie cutter, and impersonal. You cannot tell one soldier from another. Sure there's occasionally a captain or commander that starts off an in-game cutscene who usually looks relatively believable, but that's as far as the variety goes. There are boxy, generic tanks that lack detail and obvious rubble and broken down buildings that look like they could have come from any WWII FPS. The graphics aren't all bad, however. Guns are more detailed than most other objects and come complete with the appropriate animations, while the environments (carefully lit by spare usage of bloom lighting) look pretty good too but explosions don't rattle your cage or put the fear of God in you. Instead, your grenades offer about as much impact as a Fourth of July bottle-rocket.

The sound in Commandos is the best thing about it. There are numerous instances of genuine audio that literally digs into your consciousness with convincing realism. The delayed echo of a sniper shot in an open field; the click and clack of metal and weaponry as you run across a field; the crunch of your boots in deep snow; the whir of a tank turret's gears as it turns toward you; the hollers of angry Nazi soldiers as you encroach into their territory. The voice acting is high quality and accurate for the most part too.

Commandos was once a rigorously demanding strategy war title with intriguing rendered locations and a half-dozen character classes. Commandos: Strike Force for the most part is an entirely different beast, a limp first-person shooter that forgets strategy and adaptability for linear play. The voice acting may be great, but that doesn't disguise that there are half as many characters, and half as much fun.

Overall: 6.0 / 10
Gameplay: 5.8 / 10
Visuals: 6.0 / 10
Sound: 6.2 / 10


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