Classic strategy games: “Commandos 3: Destination Berlin” (PC)

Pyro Studios’ WWII RTS Commandos 3: Destination Berlin ramps up the action and sets itself apart from the original and its sequel in a good and bad way.

Commandos 3: Destination Berlin (PC)
(Spain 2003, developer: Pyro Studios, publishers: Eidos Interactive (now defunct)/Kalypso Media Digital, platform: PC)

The commandos do their part of the war effort during WWII in Central Europe, Normandy and Stalingrad.

Territorial war stories
The three locations build on the idea of interconnected storylines and levels that could partly be seen in the second game. Despite again not offering much in the way of memorable character development, with the interactions between the commandos still being a bit silly, the game manages to tell a more cinematic and engaging story: One mission usually ends with a cliffhanger and the next one immediately picks up from where it left off, e.g. the commandos getting on a plane or train, being captured and then trying to escape or eliminating enemies with the rest of the crew.

The campaign consists of only three very long missions and they can be tackled in any order, although the playtime of 10-15 hours is much shorter compared to previous games. Choosing between missions might not help to tell a coherent story, but as the other titles also felt like small parts of history, it doesn’t make a huge difference.

Disconnected and connected missions
While the whole cinematic approach mostly works quite well, especially with more dramatic and explosive action in the individual missions, it’s still disappointing that these don’t have a proper ending. Completing the game simply unlocks a (censored) best-of trailer instead of a satisfying final cut-scene,. As even the credits are missing and one has gone through some tough and frustrating sequences, being presented with only a “mission complete” is more than a little bit anti-climatic.

Playing the campaign levels in any order also results in another problem: Despite having some good in-depth tutorials for the main gameplay and the characters, some newer ones are introduced much later. So even after having spent hours on one mission, having the characters’ unique abilities explained in between feels as if one becomes prepared for something that is only relevant for that situation.

Varied missions of trial and error
Some objectives can be achieved in different ways, e.g. killing a traitor by the sniper shooting him from the top of a building, by the spy injecting him with poison up close, or by the sapper planting explosives on the route of his car.

In general, one rarely does the same thing twice, as the levels are varied and focus on the commandos’ special abilities. So in one mission one has to destroy armored vehicles and depots with the sapper’s arsenal of explosives, while in another one, the diver places bombs under ships to sink them.

However, some objectives aren’t always clear, e.g. finding a hiding place in a train station that can easily be overlooked or locating a traitor who isn’t indicated on the map but who suddenly shows up after one has picked up explosives or did something else to trigger the event.

3D camera issues
The camera can also be confusing, as there are parts when one tries to find stairs, doors, or entrances and exits, while some enemies and items can be missed, too. It’s nowhere near as annoying as in Commandos 2: Men of Courage, because the level layout is often less complicated and one doesn’t have to constantly rotate the camera, but the 3D environments still add unnecessary problems.

Full-blown RTS action
The gameplay of previous games has received quite an overhault, as intense action sequences require quick reactions, something that not every fan of the series will approve of. However, if one accepts that objectives can suddenly change during missions and need fast decision-making skills as well as tactical thinking, one is rewarded with a thrilling experience unlike any other.

Dynamite and dynamic levels
Missions still require a bit of stealth, with the spy’s new ability of distracting enemies by making them look in another direction or sending them somewhere else becoming quite useful. But one is often confronted with so many enemies that suddenly appear from all sides that one is caught in many fire fights.

The best and worst example of this can be seen in the very first mission in Stalingrad when one has to quickly eliminate a sniper who picks off allied troops one by one. Then one has to suddenly protect a general who barricades himself in a house against an overwhelming number of enemies parachuting in and surrounding the commandos.

No time and more action
Time limits are often a no-go for strategists, and soldiers dying by the seconds aren’t an exception. A later mission tasks one of the commandos to clear a blockade of enemies and a truck in 15 minutes before the train with his friends passes through on the tracks. Instead of sneaking behind them, one can simply go for a gatling gun and mow down enemies in an almost Rambo-style. It’s a very clear deviation from the more thoughtful gameplay of the first two games, but it somehow feels right to ramp up the action.

This is made even more obvious in the Normandy level where one unsurprisingly has to make it out alive first from Omaha Beach under constant fire and together with the remaining soldiers clear out the bunkers from enemies.

Strategic cover
What becomes extremely important is the new “cover mode” that tasks the units to wait behind cover and immediately shoot at any enemy within range. Commandos 2: Men of Courage used something simular in the much-maligned RTS sections when one took control of soldiers and gave them orders, often resulting in chaotic skirmishes.

This time, it becomes almost essential in some parts of the game to position and move around commandos as well as allied forces. This can be seen in the Normandy level and another mission that can’t be beaten without it, i.e. one simply doesn’t have enough time to target and shoot the incoming targets.

Difficult situations
In general, the high difficulty will put many people off, as one will have even more retries than in past games. This isn’t down to bad planning, but to the constant surprises the game throws at the player. For example, in one mission that takes place on a train, more and more enemies pour out from different directions even if one has cleared most of the level. If one isn’t fast enough, they soon overrun and kill the commandos, and the only way to stop the flood of soldiers is to make it to a special wagon and throw grenades inside, again showcasing how intense the action can become.

Bombastic presentation
The game still looks quite nice and while the pixel characters are a bit rough around the edges, the 3D graphics look much better than in Commandos 2: Men of Courage. The environments are detailed representations of countries that have seen lots of destruction, while the many explosions are particularly impressive, and with a heavy focus on action, one feels as if one is watching a movie. Weather effects like falling snow or rain add much to the atmosphere, too.

The soundtrack fits the action perfectly and enhances the already thrilling experience, making one’s heart beat faster. This might be completely different from the quieter atmosphere of Commandos: Behind Enemy Lines, but it isn’t as overdramatic as in its sequel. Voice acting remains acceptable, but as there isn’t too much dialogue, it’s negligible.

A different kind of WWII RTS
Commandos 3: Destination Berlin is an action-packed departure from the previous games, as it requires much faster reflexes and results in some hectic shoot-outs. While some might already mourn the end of the series, this isn’t really true, because with the “cover mode” there is still enough strategic thinking involved. The missions are varied and mostly offer a chance for the individual skills of the commandos to shine, even if shooting replaces most of the stealth elements.

Presentation-wise one often feels to be in a bombastic war movie with some very good music accompanying the explosive action on screen. Despite the high difficulty and more than a few frustrating parts, the game remains a brave attempt to make the series feel less overloaded than the sequel.

Score: 7.5/10

Buy the digital version for PC on
GOG (includes the second game)

Buy the retail version for PC on
Amazon Germany (cut)
Amazon UK
Amazon USA

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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2 Responses to Classic strategy games: “Commandos 3: Destination Berlin” (PC)

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