Commandos 2: Men of Courage is bar none my favorite PC game of the early 2000s. If you’ve been reading Entertainium long enough, you’ve probably seen me profess my love for Pyro Studio’s seminal RTS game. Its influence can’t be overstated as it touched countless strategy games that have come out in the 20 years that followed since its original release. Out of these, Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun is probably the newest one and most faithful to Commandos, to almost even a fault.
Admittedly, having nostalgia for anything doesn’t guarantee it being any good these days, and after playing Kalypso Media’s HD re-release of Commandos 2, I can only find it that it’s still the same nail biting game that it’s always been. And it continues to be not for everyone. I was very excited for finally getting a version of my most relished games that was easily playable on modern machines as I was during E3, and the final version comes through for sure. Up until now, the original release of Commandos 2 required a number of mods in order to even boot up, and even then, looked pretty wonky on modern HD widescreen displays.
For anyone not instantly familiar with Commandos, it was a series of isometric RTS games that started in the late 1990s starting an elite group of soldiers in World War II who took the toughest assignments, usually taking on missions loosely — and sometimes very closely, in the special case of Commandos 2 — based on popular war movies.
They proved to be extremely popular among more patient players due to their high degree of difficulty and challenge. While the first two entries in the franchise, Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines and Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty might be considered technically ancient by today’s standards for a number of reasons, Commandos 2 was a much superior sequel that had much more balanced difficulty and a number of improvements to gameplay.
The HD Remaster remodelled all characters from the original version, and the level backgrounds got a bump up in detail. Differently from the recent re-releases of Final Fantasy VIII and IX, the character models in Commandos 2 HD Remaster don’t pop up nearly as much from the environments as those games’ do. The end product looks really sharp, easily the best Commandos 2 has ever looked.
Outside of much improved visuals and the now running on widescreen 16:9, the interface has also been tweaked somewhat, but there’s no hiding the fact that this is an old game, especially in the way that Kalypso has wrangled in most commando actions down to the shift key in an effort to make keybinding less mandatory. In that regard, they’ve mostly failed, and honestly, the shortcut keys aren’t the problem: it’s the interface that needlessly complicates things by obscuring abilities, hiding them in stacks that you’re forced to click through. That proves to be a clumsy solution the more items your soldiers start to pick up, like guns and other equipment — each has its own shortcut, but the interface stacks them just the same.
That wouldn’t be a big issue if you didn’t have to keep track of a multitude of units around maps that are usually really big such as Commandos 2’s. Then again, if you’re used to playing strategy games with keyboard shortcuts, you’ll get the hang of this game quite well, and as a tip, the most important ones you’ll want to keep fresh in your memory are CRTL+S and CTRL+L: that’s right, quick save and quick load, respectively. Commandos 2 is just as a save scummer’s game as it’s always been. Missions turn sour at the drop of a hat and the learning curve to the gameplay can be a tad high, even with two tutorial missions that have to be played before engaging in the story levels. There’s a lot of tools at your disposal in each of these scenarios, as well as different team compositions, so keeping track of all of them can be quite intimidating at first.
There’s a lot of replayability to Commandos 2. Not only can you complete optional objectives along the already long and varied missions, you can use those to activate a handful of bonus levels, as well as tackling the game over again in harder difficulties. Originally, I challenged myself not to kill any enemies unless borderline necessary, and Commandos 2 let me do that for most of the game.
Levels tend to be pretty darn long, sometimes taking you over an hour to complete or even more, depending on your approach. They’re somewhat open-ended too, allowing some leeway here and there for some more aggressive maneuvers. In comparison to the entries that came before it and even Commandos 3: Destination Berlin, Commandos 2 feels close to being pre-sandbox RTS. Yeah, it’s easy to screw up and pin yourself to an unwinnable state, but it’s also fun to experiment and try to break the game.
Pyro Studios were at their best when designing Commandos 2 back in the day, and the level design shows, giving plenty of varied objectives along the way, as well as introducing new gameplay mechanics and even characters, like Natascha and the Thief, each sporting a number of new abilities and twists to playing Commandos. Missions directly based on classics such as A Bridge over the River Kwai and The Guns of Navarone went a long way in making this game quite memorable to me. Commandos 3 attempted to do the same with Saving Private Ryan, but it just wasn’t as well done as what’s in 2 — plus that level proved to be REALLY frustrating!
Another notable change in Commandos 2 HD Remaster comes in the form some texture edits in order to do away with swastikas and other symbols of Nazi Germany before and during the War. Given that Kalypso Media is a German company and there are strict laws for obvious reasons in that country in regards to the sale of games containing such content, I can understand why the change was made, even though it was a worldwide decision. If that somehow rubs you the wrong way, there are sure to be mods out there or on their way that patch those textures back in; in all honesty, I don’t really mind the change, considering how little it means in the grand scheme of things in-game, and it doesn’t matter nearly as much as it would if it happened in a game like, say, the new Wolfenstein.
All in all, I’m happy with how Commandos 2 HD Remaster turned out. While it doesn’t make the game any easier to play for newcomers as I would’ve hoped the interface rework would have done, it’s very much worth hunkering down and learning its ins and outs. The overall experience is extremely satisfying and rewarding, for as difficult as it can be right from the very first tutorial screen. I’ll be even happier if Kalypso continues this by giving Commandos 3: Destination Berlin the same remaster treatment, along with a complete rebalancing in order to make it more playable. That ones was too dang hard and cheap, even for as patient of a player as myself. If you have yet to play Commandos 2 and have enjoyed any of the games that took inspiration from it, you owe it to yourself to give this remaster a whirl.