Developer: Backbone Emeryville
Release Date: June 5, 2008
Some look back fondly at the days of the quarter-munching arcade game, those devilishly hard machines that existed solely to devour your allowance all while making you believe that you've just about got that one impossible boss figured out. Those games are all but gone now, as gamers have turned their collective taste away from super-challenging fare in favor of games that can actually be beaten. Even the Ninja Gaiden series, renowned for its extreme difficulty, pared things down for today's gaming crowd. However, not all games are ready to give up on yesteryear, and in steps Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3, a straightforward, by-the-numbers shooter that will make you once again wonder how you ever fell in love with games when you grew up playing sadistic titles like this.
Commando 3 picks up where its '80s-era brother left off, putting all the action in the form of a top-down shooter where you fight wave after wave of baddies while facing increasingly impossible odds. There's a story in here somewhere, something about Jackal team getting captured after their last mission and then being freed five years later to hunt down some mad Russian, but there really isn't much there. Plot only serves to give you a premise for the action, but the whole point of the game is to shoot everything that moves with whatever weapons happen to be at your disposal.
Unfortunately, the game never does anything to break away from the boring and dated run-and-gun mechanics that were all the rage 20 years ago. Whichever character you choose (there are three, each with slightly differing stats governing health, speed, and number of grenades), all are restricted to the same four weapons (machine gun, spread gun, flamethrower and rocket launcher), as well as some grenades and a few "M Crashes" (the obligatory smart bombs). Basically, all you'll be doing over the game's five levels is running around collecting power-ups and taking shots at bad guys until you eventually reach the end.
Of course, hectic shooters aren't necessarily bad — just look at the rampant success of games like Everyday Shooter, Geometry Wars and Super Stardust HD. The thing is, each of these games has a gimmick thrown in, something that makes the experience unique, fun and just different enough from everything else out there to allow it stand out. Commando 3 does none of that; it's generic in every sense of the word. Furthermore, it's only about an hour long, so good luck hoping for it to hold your attention for any length of time at all. There's really no reason to go back to the game once you finish it, beyond trying to climb your way up the leaderboards, but that's a pretty shallow reason to dip your feet back in the Commandos pool.
Well, there is one reason to play through the game a second time, and that's the co-op aspect. Up to three players (either local or online) can wade through the adventure once more in order to try and complete it with nastier enemies and the general sense of accomplishment as a team. Problem is, just like single-player, you're likely to go through the co-op once for the sake of the experience and then never touch the game again.
It's a shame that Commando 3 is such a dull title because all it would have taken is a few tweaks to make it genuinely fun. Perhaps being able to change weapons on the fly to fight baddies who were only weak to one type of gun, or some better-implemented vehicle segments (the jeeps and tanks you do find are a pain to drive, and they do little to enhance the game) would have been enough to pull the gameplay out of the depths of mediocrity, but unfortunately, the developers decided to mail this one in, creating an utterly cookie-cutter title.
The mediocrity spills over into the enemy and level design as well, and you'll quickly grow tired of the flat environments and re-skinned foes. Every level you wander into features the exact same three or four enemy types, just wearing a different outfit, and the most exciting feature of the levels themselves are the pointlessly destructive objects, like statues and trees, that blow apart when shot enough times simply because they can.
The game's lack of splash is even more aggravating considering that the art direction and visuals show splashes of brilliance, all of which are forgotten just as quickly as they came. The main menu and few cut scenes are presented in a style befitting a comic (think Penny Arcade, but a bit rougher), and the triggering of an M Crash will treat you to a two-panel splash of your character unleashing his or her might. The levels themselves sacrifice these flourishes in favor of a camera pulled way out and a lot of repeated animations.
Xbox 360 owners who purchased the game got a bit of a bonus, because included was an invitation to join Capcom's beta for Super Street Fighter II HD. Unfortunately, PS3 owners get no such prize in their Cracker Jack box, and are instead left with a whole lump of "meh" masquerading as a retro game.
The only audience Commando 3 is likely to pull in are those who remember the originals fondly and wish to take a moment to go back to the games of their childhood. Quickly, these same people will remember that games of their childhood were awful by today's standards, and vow to never be suckered in again — at least until the next Contra remake comes out. If you absolutely must have another top-down, run-and-gun shooter, then you can pick up Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3. Otherwise, you may as well save your $10 and put it toward a better cause.
The Jackal unit is fighting a war that ended long ago, and they lost.