You can't always just maneuver behind unassuming guards and whack them. Characters like the spy come into play when there are far too many guards to handle. The spy and the seductress can divert guards by making conversation--but high-ranking officials may see through their disguises. All characters can use any cigarette packs or wine bottles they find to bait their enemies into sheepishly leaving their posts. Anyone can relieve an incapacitated guard of his firearm and any other goods he might have on him, including the shirt off his back. You'll have even more tricks at your disposal. For example, the sapper uses a wide variety of explosives, along with handy tools such as a wire cutter and a mine detector. The marine has a grappling hook and his trusty portable boat in addition to his diving gear. All these characters can transfer their equipment between themselves, but some equipment--explosives, for instance--can be used only by a particular specialist. Still, a character like the thief might have a much easier time getting his hands on something so the sapper can put it to good use. You'll even get to commandeer a variety of vehicles. All this means you'll usually have a lot of options on how to proceed, although some courses of action will be easier or more suitable than others.
Sneaking around isn't easy--expect to be detected often. Since one wrong move or one loud noise can mean you've blown your cover, loading saved games thus becomes a regular occurrence. Fortunately, the loading times are relatively brief, and you can save your progress anywhere. Anyone would agree that Commandos 2 is a very tough game, but at least it's not totally punishing at the normal difficulty setting. For example, if one of your commandos loses all his health, one of his friends can revive him with a medical kit. And enemies usually won't recognize you as their foe right away if they happen to spot you from far off. You'll see them draw a bead on you and have a few moments to duck out of sight, which makes the game considerably less frustrating and reduces the number of times you'll have to load saved games.
If you're identified as a foe, the alarm will usually sound and guards will swarm in, making success virtually impossible. Perhaps not entirely impossible, though--a brute-force approach can be fun and even effective, as the enemies' own weapons are even deadlier in your commandos' hands, and you can aim automatically. It's a bit disappointing that guards won't fight back very intelligently and will walk straight into kill zones in droves, but the sheer number of guards you'll typically be up against means fighting head-on simply isn't a viable approach most of the time. Even when they're not shooting at you, the guards can be fairly predictable and not altogether intelligent. This isn't really an issue--being able to roughly anticipate the outcome of your actions and the enemy's response is what makes Commandos 2 a strategy game rather than a crapshoot.
The overall difficulty of Commandos 2 is welcome--the missions are as daunting as they should be--but unfortunately, the game's learning curve is very steep, thanks to the lengthy tutorial and the counterintuitive controls. Seemingly every function on the Xbox controller corresponds to a different action in the game. There's a conveniently context-sensitive onscreen cursor, and there are helpful options for highlighting all enemies and objects of interest onscreen, but you'll still need to learn to use the commands for things like searching bodies, picking them up, and quickly changing characters on the fly. Exchanging items between characters is also cumbersome, although thankfully, the game pauses when you access your inventory. These interface issues can be a problem since it takes a while to come to grips with them. Fortunately, moving your commandos is pretty intuitive. You control them directly using the left analog stick, and you can simultaneously move the camera around with the right stick.
Though Commandos 2 is difficult to learn, it can be highly rewarding.
One interface issue with Commandos 2 is that you can view the main mission area from four different angles, 90 degrees apart. Transitions between angles are a bit sluggish, and having a choice of perspective isn't merely optional, as tall buildings and other such objects can obstruct your view. Unfortunately, since there's no compass or any indicator that lets you reorient yourself, switching view angles can be very jarring, and this really takes a while to get used to. The game's frequently obtuse mission briefings are another reason it can be hard to play Commandos 2. Objectives are quickly mentioned in dialogue between the characters, and once the conversation's over, you can recap only by looking at a checklist that gives you a terse description of each objective and that objective's relative location on the map. Again, you can eventually get used to this system--it's just not as straightforward or clear as it could have been, and the checklists are often convoluted and don't always register your accomplishments correctly.
Commandos 2 is a distinctive game with a great design and a lot of impressive features. Yet even though the designers did as good a job as could be expected of porting the excellent PC version to the Xbox, Commandos 2 still just doesn't feel quite at home on a console. The graphics aren't quite as sharp, the cooperative multiplayer mode is gone, and the controls, which were difficult to get used to even in the PC version, are less precise but no less difficult to master. The PC version also retails for about $20 less these days. But there's no point in taking the comparisons any further. Commandos 2 definitely deserves a large audience, and Xbox owners looking for a genuinely tough, original game should check it out.