Commandos 3: Destination Berlin is, as its name implies, the third of the Commandos games. All three have had the same basic premise, that you control a small group of specially trained soldiers (the commandos) and use them to infiltrate Nazi bases and generally make life difficult for the World War II bad guys. But with two games, not to mention an expansion pack, preceding it, was there anywhere for Commandos 3 to go? Could it possibly be more impressive than Commandos 2? The answer is no, and I don’t think developer Pyro Studios even really tried.
It’s not that Commandos 3 is such a bad game; it’s just that after two years in development, it feels a little too much like a Commandos 2 expansion pack. Comparing the minimum system requirements, something must have changed in the game’s engine, because the requirements took a significant jump up, but just from playing the game, it looks about the same. There are some nice new effects, like newspapers fluttering in the breeze, and the cut scenes look much better, but the mission graphics look like they were lifted directly from Commandos 2.
So what’s different about Commandos 3 then? Mainly, the interface. When I first started playing the game, I thought Pyro Studios simply made some cosmetic changes, so people would be able to tell they were playing Commandos 3 rather than Commandos 2. But then I went back and played some more Commandos 2 to refresh my memory, and I realized Pyro Studios did a lot of good things with the interface, along with a couple bizarrely bad things.
For example, Commandos 3 now has subtitles (note to developers: every game should have subtitles); the tool tip system is friendlier, so you don’t have to use binoculars to identify enemy soldiers, and you no longer have to shift-click on doors to open them. Just clicking on them does the trick now. All that’s nice, but then Pyro Studios took out almost every hotkey in the game, making it much more cumbersome to control, and that one change alone negated every small improvement they made. Plus, they took out the difficulty setting, so if the game is too easy or too difficult, there isn’t anything you can do about it (it was too easy for me, but I’ve heard others complain it was too difficult); they removed the ranking system, so you can’t see how well you performed in each mission; and they took out the detailed objectives, which used to include checkmarks to show you what you had completed so far, and to bring up a map to show you where to go. But now the objectives simply show a (sometimes vague) sentence or two, and it’s annoying when the game assumes you know where a traitor is going (for example), when you don’t. I can see where a developer might neglect to put certain fancy things in a game, but why take them out?
Also a little curious about Commandos 3 is the new set of campaigns. The missions take place on much smaller maps, and they’re less creative than they were before. You won’t find yourself drugging somebody’s food to get a key this time, and forget about puzzle pieces. In fact, most missions are simple cases of “kill all the enemies,” and while stealth is important in a couple, Commandos 3 is much more action oriented this time than it ever was before. However, on the good side, I sort of liked the idea of campaigns rather than a series of unrelated missions. It was fun to play linked missions chasing down stolen French art and single-handedly conducting the invasion of Normandy. I just wish the campaigns had been a little longer, or that there had been more of them. Because of the small size of the maps, you might run through the game’s 14 missions (including two tutorial missions) in less than 20 hours.
If you’re a fan of the genre, then you’re probably going to buy Commandos 3 regardless of what I say here (assuming you haven’t bought it already). But if you’re new to the genre, this isn’t the game I’d suggest you start with. Commandos 2 is better (and cheaper at this point), and either of the games from Spellbound Studios (Desperados: Wanted Dead or Alive or Robin Hood: The Legend of Sherwood) are probably more accessible. In fact, given the sort of workmanlike effort in Commandos 3, Pyro Studios might want to emulate Spellbound Studios and try a different theme with their next game. I think they’ve done about all they can with World War II anyway.