I’m just going to tell you straight off the bat here that I am an unashamedly fanatical Commandos fan. Watching me play Commandos using the hotkeys is like watching Beethoven play the piano, my mouse movements likened to the gentle smooth swish of the conductor’s baton (that word didn’t seem like it had enough finesse but Google assures me its correct). Forgive me for tooting my own horn, as it were, but with Commandos I’m a one-man symphony at play. As such I must warn you that I am incredibly biased.
As the first entry in Pyro Studio’s innovative Commandos series, Behind Enemy Lines redefined the possibilities of the strategy genre as it existed in 1998. No longer did strategy have to be about churning grunts and riflemen out of your barracks and throwing them like fodder at the enemy’s tanks. This is the thinking man’s tactical strategy game, one involving finesse and patience, where the loss of even a single unit spells defeat.
Set amidst the endless gaming backdrop that is the Second World War, Commandos gives you control of a specialized squad of six commandos as they slip behind enemy lines (oh that’s why they called it that) in their attempt to sabotage the NAZI war machine.
Each from a different branch of the army, (green beret, marine, sapper, driver, sniper and spy) your commandos’ unique skills combine intricately with the varied level design and objectives to create hundreds of possible solutions to every mission. You’re given all the tools, and the game lets you figure out how best to go about it.
One mission might find you with your knife at the ready, silently crawling through the European snow towards an unsuspecting guard enjoying a casual cigarette, while the next finds you setting off a chain reaction of explosives in the African desert, and ramming a truck through a roadblock to your escape point. Your approach can be as methodical or as ham fisted as you like, as long as you get the job done. There is a scoring system in place but I find playing to satisfy yourself is always best.
Special mention also goes for the hand-drawn aesthetic of the game, which presents some of the most beautifully detailed environments in gaming. There are very few reused elements and every rock, brick and tree feels like its been built from the ground up and placed intentionally.
Commandos is not for players looking to get a quick fix and the learning curve is pretty steep. Getting to know the hotkeys is of course a massive help and makes reacting to screw-ups much easier.
WWII games are not as common these days as they used to be, but Commandos is the first one I can ever remember playing and definitely the one that gripped me the most. It spawned a genre that has been copied by the likes of Spellbound Entertainment’s Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive and Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood Forest and began a series that went from strength to strength, peaking at Commandos 2: Men of Courage, falling down a bit with Commandos 3: Destination Berlin, and then completely flying off the rails with Commandos: Strike Force.
Pyro Studios has pretty much fallen off the radar since Strike Force, and have moved onto producing tablet and mobile games. They have however recently announced the development of a new commandos title for the tablet and mobile market, but I can’t help but think that Commandos has already seen its finest hour. A sad fact I realise with a heavy heart. I consider Commandos my favourite game series ever that started with Behind Enemy Lines, a great game in a great series that only could have gotten greater if only things had turned out differently.