Lethal combat is at the heart of most games, but the flood of first person shooters offer only one limited perspective of battle. If you're interested in a more tactical view that prefers a clever mind to sharp reflexes, you might be interested in the Commandos Battle Pack.
The Battlepack includes two games; Commandos 2: Men of Courage and Commandos 3: Destination Berlin. Set in overlapping periods of World War II, the series gives you control of a group of special operatives working behind the lines to achieve strategic objectives for the Allies.
The stories contain countless nods to popular WWII films. In fact, the first level of Commandos 3 is essentially "Enemy at the Gates" in a nutshell. A great deal of the locations, objectives, and events in the game are even real enough to be palatable to amateur historians.
In each of the looseley related mission you are given an assortment of special operatives. Each has strengths, weaknesses, and special skills. Making use of your diverse squad you navigate through inticrately detailed pre-rendered environments to accomplish historic missions like the capture of the enigma device.
While fire-fights happen, there is usually an emphasis on stealth. Using your team in concert you can accomplish your missions covertly using clever tactics, careful timing, and plenty of luck! You might - for example - use a thief to steal keys, a spy to impersonate a Nazi officer, and a sniper to take out guards.
Of course that's all easier said than done! Commandos has a steep downright difficult. Luckily, the interface offers some nice tools to help you get the job done. There's a mini-map, health monitors, inventory management, and a notebook. My advice - learn to use the notebook early!
Cut scenes usually reveal the recommended course of action, but the point-outs come quickly and can't be replayed. Using the notepad is the only way to review the plan and even those notes don't provide the visuals.
You can adjust your view of the world by rotating the camera at 90º intervals. If that doesn't give you enough situational awareness you can even split the screen up into multiple panes - each with it's own focus and perspective. The view can be pretty cluttered so hot-keys highlight interactive objects, enemies, or your own commandos and visual effects show enemy fields of view and sound to help you sneak about.
Interacting with the world and issuing orders to your commandos is handled with the mouse and an array of hard to memorize hot-keys. The controls are improved in the sequel by making better use of a context-sensitive cursor. Of course that's a mixed blessing since it makes it harder to go back and forth between the two games. Further, the on-screen instructions refer to a Windows keyboard and heavy use of function keys makes some actions clumsy on laptops.
Control improvements aside, Commandos 3 plays just like it's predecesor. In addition to more missions, the threequel sports improved game graphics (though at surprisingly low resolutions), a much better tutorial, and a refined menu interface.
Commandos 3 also offers a very different multiplayer experience than its predecessor. Both titles sport play over a LAN or online through GameRanger, but the game types are completely different.
Men of Courage allows multiple players to cooperate in completing the normal levels - each taking command of a subset of the usual comandos - where Road to Berlin prefers to pit players against each other or against the computer in death match or capture the flag scenarios that seems less suited to the style of the game.
Regardless of how you want to play, you'll have a hard time finding opponents online. It's not a popular game on GameRanger and you can't play against Windows users.
Clearly Commandos is meant to be a single-player game and fortunately missions can be completed in a variety of ways to keep the replay value up. The Battle Pack is full of detail, provides continuous challanges, and is even Mac friendly with features like automatic away-messages for iChat.
This game offers a unique play style that is especially rare on the Mac, so it's worth examining if you think you might be interested in it's nitch. It would also be a good choice for killing time on a TDY or deployment since the low system requirements and trackpad-friendly interface make it easy to master on a laptop.
So if you're a road-warrior or a squad-strategy action fan, download the demo and decide for yourself if the Commandos Battle Pack deserves a piece of your wallet and space in your dock.