You'd expect larger-than-life adventures from a squad of superhuman World War II commandos, and Commandos 3 delivers: Central Berlin, a bombed-out Stalingrad, a train packed with stolen art masterpieces, and the beaches of Normandy are all on the menu. There's nothing pedestrian about such assignments, and all 10 mission locations are as tough as they are memorable. Given that you can't adjust the level of difficulty, getting through even a single mission can require as much patience and judicious use of quicksaves as it does stealth and tactical forethought. Unfortunately, Commandos 3 hasn't gained much ground on its predecessors, and those new to the series may have trouble getting past the interface, the locked 800x600 resolution, or the many moments of frustration that every player is bound to experience. Nevertheless, the game's high level of challenge can lead to some proportionally satisfying victories against all odds.
Six commandos are back to defend Stalingrad, steal a train's loot, and storm Normandy.
In total contrast with what lies ahead, Commandos 3 starts out easy enough. The two tutorial missions are--with a single exception--a smart introduction to the key members of the commando squad and their highly specialized abilities. As in Commandos 2, the interiors of buildings are fully 3D, and it's possible to smoothly rotate the camera with the mousewheel. While the 3D segment isn't the best-looking part of the game, this extra control makes it fairly convenient to navigate the cramped rooms. The starter scenario gently walks you through the basics of the interface, which differs significantly in style from those in typical strategy or action games. Except when manually set to provide cover fire, the commandos don't act without explicit commands. Moving one character at a time is simple enough, though the lack of hotkeys for specific weapons or abilities becomes a challenge in tight spots. The tutorial's one notable failing is that it doesn't mention that the abilities menu hides choices until it's clicked on, like the one for weapons, which confused more than one of us when looking for the spy's "distract" ability.
The prologue is a taste of how, with one mouse click, the Green Beret's speed and deadly knife strike can be overwhelming in close quarters. And within the span of 15 minutes or so, you'll meet the other core commando members (whose ranks have been distilled from Commandos 2 to the core group): The sniper has the longest range of any friendly unit, the sapper is an expert with bombs and heavy weapons, the spy can disguise himself with the uniforms of German soldiers and officers, and the thief is fast and capable of climbing up walls and other objects. The sixth member, the diver, appears only once, in the third campaign. One advantage of having the number of commandos pared down from the previous game is that there's no getting confused about what each one is for, and if you ever get really stumped in a mission, solving the situation can be just a matter of stepping back and thinking about the special abilities of the commandos assigned to a specific scenario.
Many of the missions are combat heavy, but the action requires deliberate planning.
This is a World War II game, and it's presumed that you know the odds the Allies are up against and have seen the character types in war movies, so don't expect a drawn-out story. The three campaigns kick off with a summary voice-over briefing, and most missions feature a little character banter in in-engine shots, but otherwise, it's time for the action. Fortunately, the missions themselves are quite distinct, and there are a couple of unexpected events over the course of the first two campaigns. While most maps require you to complete just one set of objectives, the two very large maps in the first campaign are broken up into a series of segments. One of the game's several cinematics occurs after the first short sniper-hunting mission: An intense round of bombing levels several buildings, then waves of paratroopers descend near your location. These flashy sequences are impressive and set the stakes, but it's typical of the game's uneven pacing that all this flash precedes a stretch of slow going and that some of the best parts are buried in the middle of the campaigns, where impatient gamers may not see them.
While there's more than enough opportunity to show off your stealth skills, Commandos 3 has more than a few situations where the object is simply to kill all the enemies on the map. This isn't as simple or as straightforward as it might sound, though, given that the interface isn't designed to let your men run and gun. Without much ado, the second mission offers some do-or-die training on the combat system, sending handfuls of assault-rifle-toting Germans at you in waves. To the game's credit, there's rarely just one way through a combat situation, and there's the chance to get some really heavy firepower. The beefy Green Beret can pick up an emplaced machine gun and walk around mowing down enemies within a medium-range cone, and it's even possible to use an artillery piece. For some reason, the commandos usually only pack their specialized weapons, but looting downed Germans provides the opportunity to get some decent small arms and set up ambushes.
Although nearly half the missions are combat heavy, Commandos 3's interface is better suited for stealth than combat. Only with cover mode turned on will a unit fire by itself, so defensive ambushes are really all that the unit AI can manage unattended. Even then it's essential to be quite careful in lying prone behind cover, since the enemy generally gets a huge range advantage with the same weapons, so if you're spotted, you're dead. It is possible to move a group forward with the cover mode on, but changing facing is unwieldy. Sometimes the best bet is to use just one commando at a time, keeping the others out of sight where they can't get killed and automatically end the mission. This doesn't do anything to reinforce the sense that you're commanding an elite force. Nonetheless, once you grasp the interface's strengths and limitations, there are some tremendous battles in store, including one that pits the Green Beret against a whole enemy encampment--with a 15-minute clock ticking down.