What a surprise. A wargame that starts with an intro movie in which you parachute into enemy territory. It must've been... last Tuesday when we last played a wargame with an intro movie in which you parachute into enemy territory! Then you're dumped in Germany and expected to play some war. It's not a particularly original turn of events for an Xbox game. But once you start playing, it's obvious that Commandos Strike Force is a quality presentation beneath its familiar surface.
This is an all-new Commandos. Not just a new instalment, but an entirely different and vastly better approach. Previous games have been one thing - hard. That insane difficulty has gone, as has the isometric viewpoint - now it's all posh 3D. You can even select Easy, Normal or Hard when starting each mission. It's user-friendly, fun Commandos!
And get this - it's really good. Your gaming chores are in keeping with Commandos history, a mixture of sniping, spying and shooting. The first mission is stealthy, using the usual hidey-game elements - sneaking up behind Germans to kill them, crouching, staying hidden in the shrubbery and working your little radar to figure out which way people are facing so you can stab them in the back. War is dirty like that.
Sniper William Hawkins helms these initial stealthy bits, but his real job is shooting things that are far away. When sniping, the Left trigger holds your breath for more accurate shots, and with massive, open fields to fight in, loads of zoom and clever planning is necessary. It's a bit of a pain the way your sniper scope view 'zooms out' each time you fire a shot and reload, causing you to lose your aim, and the auto-aim option is extremely generous, so you might like to turn that off if you want more of a manly challenge.
But that's just stealth for beginners. You're quickly introduced to the Spy, who isn't just stealthy - he's positively invisible. Now you're infiltrating the French Resistance to try and work out who the Nazi mole is. Spy missions are even more challenging than those of the sniper. Now you're on the ground, among the German menace, eavesdropping on them and stealing their uniforms to blend in. Soldier uniforms won't fool the high-ranking commanders, so you have to have the appropriate uniform for each occasion - like a wedding. Now you have to start planning and looking ahead even more. Relying on the radar isn't enough - you absolutely have to pay attention to what's happening, where the soldiers are, what rank they are and use your binoculars to see who's moving and who's standing still. The Spy's missions are the game's hardest bits by far, featuring much forward thinking, constant bush-hiding and numerous tough situations. You can chuck a coin to distract guards, spy through keyholes and generally immerse yourself in the world of war. The second mission kicks everything up a gear.
Now you're introduced to the Green Beret, your beefcake man who likes to get involved. Now you control two men at once, switching between the manly Beret and sniper Hawkins by pressing the Black button.
Suddenly you're commanding an entire battlefield, but it doesn't feel technical or like a chore. If one of your men dies he's taken out of action for a minute or so until one of the Allied troops you fight alongside can get to him and heal him, forcing you to switch characters and use your full range of skills. This is awesome stuff. Leading your ground troops and switching to a distant sniper gets you right into the middle of the action, action that'd normally be split into two separate levels in most games.