Is Pyro Studios’ add-on Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty an improvement over the original RTS classic?
Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty (PC)
(Spain 1999, developer: Pyro Studios, publishers: Eidos Interactive (now defunct)/Kalypso Media Digital, platform: PC)
Six allied commandos take on dangerous missions between 1940 and 1945 in Nazi-occupied Europe.
History in the making
Historical accuracy once again prevails over storytelling and characterization, as both briefings and the documentary-style cut-scenes with real video footage make it clear that this is another glimpse into the commandos’ work during WWII. Of course this doesn’t make the missions any less engaging and challenging, because the individual skills of each unit member is enough to make them memorable.
More character abilities
The base game usually favored certain characters and despite its open nature, one fell back on abilities unique to that team member. This time, one has even more choices how to progress thanks to new mechanics that are shared between them.
Now enemies can be knocked out by fists, a club, or chloroform and then cuffed so that the spy can steal their clothing. Other characters can use them as puppets by holding a gun from afar and make them move around to distract their collegues. Picking up cigarette packs from dead or alive victims as well as using stones for further distraction also helps. One can usually complete the missions without using any of these new tools, but they’re still good to have. However, as each requires a special icon to click on or shortcut key to remember, the range of options can become rather overwhelming.
Fewer missions, but more variety
8 missions sound rather little compared to the 20 of the original game, but thankfully these are much more varied, not only because of the change of locations, e.g. taking place in a zoo. The mission goals are more imaginative, too. These might not always be clear if one doesn’t pay attention to the introductory videos that give an overview of the level, though, and some things have to be figured out on one’s own. For example, the best way to get inside the zoo would be to wait for the zoo manager to walk outside, knock him out and use his uniform to pass the guards unnoticed.
More examples of the varied level designs are: blowing up plane prototypes by pushing fuel tanks in place before placing explosives later; rescuing prisoners of war in a camp while being mindful of a traitor prowling around (a clear reference to the classic movie The Great Escape); getting a Yugoslav partisan out of prison, too. In the last mission one even plays a new character, Ukrainian spy Natasha, who has to steal documents from an official, i.e. one has to make sure she enters a café without being seen by the gestapo and then waits for the target to show up, too.
Despite offering 2 difficulty levels, the difference being more enemies in each level, the title can still be frustrating with its trial-and-error gameplay. So anyone thinking that 8 levels doesn’t provide much of a challenge will be surprised, as it takes about 15 hours to complete them on the normal difficulty. Each mission also requires rethinking strategies, e.g. having no character to drag away and hide bodies in one level when the only silent killing method is to make the diver use his harpoon or knife.
Historical visuals and Hollywood audio
Graphically, the game offers a higher resolution, more detailed environments, and more fluid character movements than its predecessor, making it still look great today. A few historical videos and photos again complement the realism package.
The soundtrack is particularly good with some clear The Rock-like inspired action moments that can even be heard during missions. While it can be a little distracting, it’s much more atmospheric than the complete absence of music (except for the catchy main title tune) in the base game.
No modern problems
Thankfully, the bugs prominent in the first game on modern computers are ironed out, so one won’t experience any sound problems during briefings, don’t have to wait for the next text slides, with occasional crashes occuring less frequently. The enemy A.I. is still hit-or-miss once again, though.
A classic and improved war game
Commandos: Beyond the Call of Duty shows what an add-on can do and proves anyone wrong who thinks that it’s a quick cash-in. Despite only 8 missions, these are more varied and challenging than the base game. The expansion also plays more smoothly, looks and sounds better, too. It’s still a tough sell for newcomers or strategists who have problems with retries, but it’s clearly an improvement.
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