Picking up Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 for a playthrough, I was struck with an unflinching sense of déja vu. “Schiller, you idiot, of course you’re feeling déja vu,” you say, “it’s the third game in a series. Chances are, it has something in common with the first two Commando games, yes?”
Well, yes, but those games are oddly not what Commando 3 reminds me of.
In fact, by the time Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 came out, I had all but forgotten about the first two Commando games, and why not? They were released in 1985 and 1991 (as Commando and Mercs in America, and as Wolf of the Battlefield and Wolf of the Battlefield 2 in Japan), which means I’ve had plenty of time for my TV and game-addled brain to forget they ever existed as anything but a footnote to Bionic Commando, perhaps my favorite game of all time. No, what Wolf of the Battlefield immediately evokes is a different Capcom franchise, one more recent, more immediate, and more…mediocre.
That franchise would be the Rocketmen franchise.
Obviously, it hasn’t been that long since I put down Rocketmen: Axis of Evil (probably) for good, which was fine with me given that its distinct (read: awkward) art style and oddly cumbersome shoot-everything-that-moves action were starting to grate on me a bit. As such, it was an utter shock to find Commando 3 with a very similar, though thankfully devoted to two dimensions, art style in the cutscenes and a play style highly reminiscent of that belonging to Rocketmen. You choose one of three different characters with varying attributes, and then proceed to run around with one analog stick and shoot in every direction with the other analog stick. Along the way you pick up prisoners, hop into various vehicles, and cause a whole lot of mayhem.
On one hand, this sort of gameplay is a perfect fit for the style of those old overhead Commando games—the number of times I used to wish there was an easy way to run in one direction and shoot in another in Commando and Mercs is pretty much uncountable. On the other hand, it feels like folly to release this thing so close to the release of Rocketmen. All that’s going to happen is that people who consider themselves fans of this sort of game are simply going to get burned out on it. Who’s going to want to play another overhead run ‘n gun after this? Anyone?
On the bright side, the play mechanics in Commando 3 are a marked improvement on the Rocketmen style. For one, it plays much faster—the control is crisp and the action is fast. I’m also simultaneously overjoyed and frustrated by the fact that Capcom saw fit to bring back the original Commando‘s idea that putting secret areas in random places would be a good idea. That’s right, in order to find all of the secret areas in the game, you pretty much have to toss grenades at every square inch of the map. There are some clues floating around that mark certain spots as more likely to have a secret area hidden beneath them, but some of them just feel utterly random in their placement. While I can appreciate the retro value of the randomly placed secrets, I can’t help but wonder if something involving a puzzle or a clever clue would be a more satisfying way to hide a secret.
Fans of this type of game who haven’t given Rocketmen: Axis of Evil a look yet will be in luck—Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 is better, for a number of quantifiable reasons. Still, Rocketmen wore out its welcome a little bit quicker than I’d hoped, and I imagine that Commando 3 will do the same. Of course, downloading Commando 3 offers access to the Street Fighter 2 HD open beta, so there’s value added on top of the fact that it’s a better, if still flawed, game. If you’re a fan of Commando and/or Mercs, you’ll probably have a good time with the third entry in the series; if you’re simply an overhead run ‘n gunner who’s starting to get a little burned out on your genre of choice, do yourself a favor and avoid it. You’ll thank yourself later.