While Xbox Live Arcade has the market cornered on puzzle games, the other genre it seems to be slowly working toward dominating is the shooter arena. With the success of Geometry Wars and all subsequent spin-offs and copycats there is no better place to satisfy your hunger for blowing things up. With my temperamental tendencies you can imagine that I enjoy these games on a whole other level than most gamers. When I heard Capcom was reviving their classic Commando franchise for XBLA and PSN I was stoked; when I learned it was a top-down shooter chock full of bullets and explosions it quickly became one of my most anticipated releases of the month.
Commando 3 is your classic top down shooter. You take control of one of three heroes and run around in a wonderfully destructible playground shooting at anything that moves. There are three distinct characters to choose from; Wolf, Coyote and Fox, and they form The Jackals. Upon completion of the first mission the team is abandoned by their superiors and locked away in a prison, left to rot. They are broken out by a mysterious figure who claims they are the only ones able to thwart the plans of an evil dictator from taking over the world. While the plot is purely cookie cutter, the art style and briefings add a nice comical tone to the game, giving it a charm that is hard to resist.
WOTB offers up four difficulty levels, with each one increasing the challenge just enough to keep you striving for perfection. There are three characters to choose from and each one possesses different strengths and weaknesses on the battlefield such as being able to move faster, grenade power and of course health. While the game starts off simple enough it becomes hectic fairly quickly. Unlike other games in the genre one hit does not equal death, so moving and dodging are important, but you can always find health packs scattered around the levels to help you through. WOTB reminds me a lot of one of my favorite XBLA titles Assault Heroes 2, minus of course for the fact that you are not in a vehicle the majority of the time.
Much like any other game in the genre Command 3’s control scheme is simple and intuitive. Movement is handled with the left stick while shooting in all directions with the right. The right bumper launches grenades (the longer you hold it, the further they go) while the left one lets you exit vehicles. There is no button to enter a vehicle, which can lead you to accidentally hopping in and out of vehicles and gun placements while trying to move and dodge enemies at the same time. Finally the left trigger is used for what is called an M Crash, which is essentially a smart bomb that clears the screen of enemies and gives you some breathing room when you get overwhelmed.
As you progress through the game you will discover new weapons to down your enemies with. These are limited and pretty par for the course in action games. You have the standard machine gun, a rocket launcher, some green laser gun and everyone’s favorite: the flame thrower. While each weapon may have a unique look they all function relatively similar and are equally effective. Also scattered about the levels are secret areas that house anything from health and ammo to medals that garner you more points and POWs that can be saved. Each level has a certain amount of these and if you collect enough of them you can earn an Achievement on the Xbox 360 version, which is always a good thing in my book.
As I mentioned earlier the game can become quite difficult the further you get into it. Each level is a test of quick reflexes and health management as you mow down hordes of soldiers while dodging bullets. There are five stages total and each one feels unique enough to keep you interested. If you manage to memorize the levels and get good at the game you can blast through it in thirty minutes easily, but here is the catch. Everything in the game must be done in one sitting. Continuing in this game basically means starting over, so once the last life is spent (and you get different amounts on different difficulty levels) the game is over. That is until you beat the game, then you unlock the stage select. This can be disorienting to players accustomed to the save anywhere mentality of today’s games, but old-school fans will be familiar with this sadistic form of challenge. Love it or hate Commando 3 is built for hardcore gamers.
The game supports up to three players either locally or via online play. Blasting through the game with buddies is enjoyable, but you will notice that until you unlock the stage select it can become frustrating as you all share lives while playing online. The nice part is that with only five stages and just how fun the game can be, it’s hard to get too frustrated when having to start all over. In fact it becomes addictive after a while to see how far you can make it without dying. This type of old-school mentality will appeal to some gamers, but not to all. So if you are coming into this with expectations of infinite continues and holding hands in easy land, you should check your casual status at the door as WOTB will hand you your ass and not think twice about it.
Visually the game sports a nice comic style look that is reminiscent of the famed online comic Penny-Arcade. Characters sport exaggerated details and the animations onscreen are completely over the top. The frame rate is consistent and only bogs down in small increments when the action gets out of hand. The destructible environments are a nice touch and the color palette throughout the game is as sharp as the level design itself. The sounds are a mix of mediocre military anthems and quirky sound effects that fit the bill perfectly. Needless to say this is one of the most unique looking titles on the service.
Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 is a nice step back to the glory days of arcade action where dying really meant starting over. If you are a fan of games that reward you for perseverance than this is your cup of tea. However, casual fans will quickly become frustrated with a lack of continue and a set number of lives. Couple this with the fact that 360 owners get an invitation into the Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix (now that is a mouthful) and you have one of the best downloadable action games currently available, regardless of which console you have.