I was not at an old enough age to appreciate the Commandos series during their respective releases and, as such, never played the original PC versions. However, with the release of the Commandos 2 HD Remaster, I am able to experience this classic stealth/real time strategy game for the first time—on the Switch no less.
Commandos 2 HD Remaster is, well, the HD remaster of Pyro Studio’s Commandos 2: Men of Courage, which was released in 2001 following 1998’s Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines and its standalone expansion, Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty, released in 1999. The remaster, however, was not developed by Pyro Studios, or published by the original publisher, Eidos Interactive. Instead, the remaster was handled by Torus Games and published by Kalypso Media. The development hand off was an immediate red flag for me, as you can never be sure how faithfully the remaster would be if the new developers decided to go, ahem, “Beyond the Call of Duty.”
So, what is Commandos 2 all about? Well, it’s a real-time tactics game where you control the actions of a small team of multi-national commandos across various missions during World War 2, often working alongside multiple different allied factions and facing off against both the German and the Imperial Japanese Armies. Each member of the commandos possesses a different skill set and stats to go with them. Tiny (The Green Beret) is more suited to combat with a larger health pool, starting missions with a knife and quicker knock-outs. Inferno (The Sapper) is an explosives expert, starts with a metal detector for mines and can operate a tank’s main gun. Lupin (The Thief) is a new addition to the team and did not feature in the first installment. He is stealth focused, which means he can run without making noise, crawl much faster, has acrobatic abilities to traverse the level, and starts with lockpicks to open locked supply crates and other things. Lips (The Seductress) can dress as enemy soldiers and distract enemy grunts, as well as use sniper rifles.
The plot to Commandos 2 is surprisingly engaging for a game of its time and makes me want to continue the game even after this review… if I can beat the levels, that is (more on this later). The story begins with Lupin and Lips recovering a German Enigma Machine (the device German officers and intelligence operatives used to decrypt encrypted communications) along with its codebook (essential to decrypt the messages) from a German submarine base. Unfortunately, the machine and codebook are recaptured by the Germans in a later mission. The missions afterward focus on the recovery of the machine, rescue of your compatriots, and further thwarting of German/Japanese plots.
Now, I don’t usually expect to enjoy the plot of a game of this type, but the story was certainly enough to keep me playing and engaged with the plight of this rag-tag commandos unit… coupled with the desire to overcome the, frankly, harsh difficulty.
Yeah, this game is hard—really darn hard. The slightest slip-up in unit movement, knocking out the wrong person at the right time, right person at the wrong time, or wrong person at the wrong time will send the full might of the German Army clattering down upon you. And since you can’t feasibly kill a crowd of soldiers in light speed like most modern games, you may as well consider restarting the level. But it feels fair; every mistake felt like my fault and the response that the enemies make to your actions are justified.
There is certainly a level of trial and error to this game. You should be expecting to start a new level, appraise the landscape and unit locations, make your first move, and instantly be spotted and killed. The next life, you move a different way, kill your first enemy, and then get spotted and killed. The third attempt, you make slightly more progress, and so on. To many, even myself, this sounds infuriating, but when all the pieces align and you know the locations of the units, their movements, the order you should be taking them out, what commando to use, and when to use them, finally succeeding the mission feels incredibly rewarding.
The first experience I had of this was actually in only the second tutorial mission: Training Camp 2. You start off in a small clearing while a firefight between German and Allied forces is currently underway. Nearby are two soldiers, one crouching stationary and one looking left and right periodically. I was stumped on how to even kill the first soldier and move him before being seen—until I realised that if I changed to Inferno and threw a cigarette packet within the second soldier’s line of sight but behind the crouching soldier, I could eliminate both and move on. The game certainly doesn’t hold your hand, and it allows you to come up with your own method of approach. However, at times it really does feel as though the developers had an intended method in mind, and any others feel that much more difficult because of it.
The game also feels like a product of its time with the fixed camera angles, and the attempt at mapping the expansive controls to a controller does not always feel intuitive. Torus did include the option to pull up the controls list at the touch of a button, but it doesn’t make them feel any better. The crouch and sprint button are both mapped to clicking in the left joystick, so I often found myself sprinting towards an enemy instead of going prone to crawl closer. In this case, I may as well have been sprinting through the battlefield clattering pots and pans while singing Ace of Base for all the attention it brought me. I appreciate that porting the PC-focused controls to a controller is always a difficult undertaking. Unfortunately, the final product is not ideal in this regard. I played on both docked mode with a pro controller and in handheld mode, and I found that playing in handheld was actually more enjoyable, but I chalked this up to the novelty of being able to play this on the go. This may be the only reason to pick up any of the console ports, and to avoid doing so on PS4 or Xbox One.
During my time playing the game for this review, I have yet to come across any significant bugs, apart from the odd animation glitch. However, your mileage may vary it seems, as many players are reporting bugs across all ports. Perhaps I’ve just been very lucky.
If you’re a long time Commandos fan, you will definitely have the resource to compare this redux to the original versions. From the research that I have conducted, it seems that long-time fans aren’t all that content with the remaster, citing few changes to the overall presentation. The resolution up-scaling seems to be the only real change made between the original version and this remaster.
So, is Commandos 2 HD Remaster on the Switch worth picking up? Well, it really depends on you. Are you a long time Commandos fan and already own the original version on your platform of choice? If you are/do, then no, I would not recommend this remaster to you, as the lack of meaningful changes are not really worth the price tag. Are you new to the Commandos series and interested in picking up the remaster? If so, don’t pick it up on console if you have a PC that can run this remaster (which isn’t intensive, by the way). Lastly, are you new to the Commandos series/a long-time fan and intend to play Commandos 2 on the go? Then, yes, pick it up on the Switch. This would be the only time I recommend one of the console ports: if you are intending to get the Switch version to play on the go. Any other console port and I’d dissuade you from doing so.
The Commandos 2 HD Remaster is an extremely surface-level revival of an undeniable classic and, depending on your own reasons for wanting this game, will affect whether or not you should really do so. The controls do not translate well to a pad from their PC origins and the clunky feeling really makes the game feel like a product of its time, with the remaster doing very little to bring it to modern practices. As for the Switch port, the only reason to pick up this version over the game’s native PC home would be the novelty of playing this classic stealth ‘em up on the go.