2001 really is beginning to feel like quite a long time ago indeed and Commandos 2, which originally released way back in September of that year is, it has to be said, now showing its age in many ways. Pyro Studios‘ real-time tactics effort is undoubtedly something of a classic of the genre, for sure; a deep and strategic affair that’s got buckets of atmosphere and throws players into a series of enormously challenging missions across Nazi-occupied Europe. However, it’s also a game whose systems feel rather antiquated in The Year of Our Lord 2020 – a feeling which is exacerbated by a lazy HD remaster that does the bare minimum while introducing plenty of new problems of its own.
For players who’ve already experienced the delights of the Commandos series back in the day, there’s still plenty of fun to be had reliving past glories and digging into levels you’ll have spent a ton of time figuring out all those years ago here, but this is an experience that’s badly hampered by controls that have been poorly implemented and don’t even get close to matching the comfort of a mouse and keyboard. Player movement, camera actions, and object interactions in this console version are a supremely niggly, often hugely frustrating affair that leads to numerous unnecessary deaths and the constant alerting of throngs of enemy guards.
We’ve personally been through this game’s huge and complicated levels multiple times over the years and still, with prior knowledge of enemy placements, hiding spots, and little tricks to bypass sticky situations, we found ourselves having to save our progress constantly as we struggled to align our tiny little commandos in the exact way necessary to pick up or diffuse a mine, search or hide an enemy body, clamber through a window or – the absolute worst offender here – shoot our weapons accurately.
It feels buggy and unexacting in even the most simple of interactions, and it makes levels that are already rather tortuously tough, a proper pain to put up with. Even the game’s opening training missions saw us succumb to the enemy on numerous occasions due to an inability on our part to reliably climb up a pole, shimmy across wires, or just shoot straight at a small number of guards without making a right pig’s ear of things.
The camera controls too – which force you to hold in the right shoulder button and using the D-Pad to then move your viewing angle or zoom in and out incrementally – are unintuitive, and the default viewpoint is far too restrictive, meaning you need to constantly scroll around and bring up your game map in order to keep an eye on where enemies are at. All of this is made worse by some of the very old-school design choices of this nearly twenty-year-old adventure, with no waypoints or assistance provided in order to clue you in to where you should be going next, meaning you’ll spend a lot of time panning the shoddy camera around looking for clues.
In short, the controls in this console port really are a constant annoyance at all times. Is it something we can overlook on account of the obvious strength of the core underlying gameplay here? Well, when you’re also dealing with myriad bugs, players getting stuck in scenery, enemies glitching through walls so you can’t attack them, or characters performing an action and then simply refusing to move again until you reload and repeat… well, not so much. The thing is, we expect a game from 2001 to be a bit archaic and maybe even a struggle at times, but when said the game is already as challenging and intricate as Commandos 2 is, we really don’t need more problems layered on top, thanks very much.
In terms of the “HD Remaster” element of this HD Remaster, well, they’ve done just about enough for it to qualify; the old dated and blocky graphics have been cleaned up and look much sharper, making situations much easier to parse – however, we can’t help feel the game has also lost some of its old-school charm in the process. There’s a new UI and an overhauled tutorial in place too, which, if we’re being quite honest, don’t add much to the party and we still struggled to remember which combination of buttons brought up which menu, how to create a group in order to move in unison or just simply highlight enemies and objects around us. When times get tough here and when things get heated, expect to flail wildly and fail often.
For such an old game that hasn’t been hugely overhauled, there’s also quite a surprising amount of slowdown going on, with the action and camera feeling as though they’re being dragged through the mud at points – especially in docked mode – and even the loading times are bizarrely lengthy, taking a good long while to start a level and a frustrating amount of time to restart when you quick load or die; you really will spend a long time looking at static loading screens in this one. It all just feels a bit disappointing and janky for a port that should really be delivering an age-old classic into our hands with crisp, clean controls – why on earth haven’t they made use of the touchscreen? – and minimal loading times.
There’s no doubting that, underneath all the problems, Commandos 2 – HD Remaster is a solid game, a brilliant one even, with ten huge levels that will test even the most experienced and patient of real-time tactical fans – and this is a genre that’s sorely underserved on Nintendo Switch – but, in an age of Shadow Tactics, Desperados and the recent Partisans 1941, it feels like a supremely dated adventure. We’d love to see a proper ground-up remake of these classic games or even a brand new entry in the series, but, as far as this HD Remaster goes, it’s a classic that’s seen better days and one that deserved – and badly needed – a little more TLC before being delivered to a modern audience.
Commandos 2 – HD Remaster is a disappointingly lackluster port of real-time tactics classic. This is a game that’s showing its age in many ways but, with the right tweaks, some decent control implementation, and squashing of bugs, it could have had its moment to shine with modern audiences. As it is, the irritations and annoyances expected in revisiting a game of this vintage are exacerbated to no end with shoddy, unwieldy controls, unexpected performance problems, and a general lack of care. The graphics have been updated here, but everything else remains much as it was – with the added frustration of bugs, glitches, and long loading times.