STAFF REVIEW of Commandos 2 & Praetorians: HD Remaster Double Pack (Xbox One)

Friday, November 13, 2020.
by Adam Dileva

Commandos 2 & Praetorians: HD Remaster Double Pack Box art It seems the last few years has had a major focus on gaming remakes and remasters. Some of these are long awaited and done very well, while others have simply some upped HD-like textures and call it a day. Commandos 2 & Praetorians HD Remaster Double Pack brings Xbox players two classic PC strategy games from the early 2000’s that I didn’t know had so much of a following that it warranted the HD Remaster treatment. Truth be told, I’ve seen the game covers before but have never played either one. While they’ve been ‘console-fied’ for a new audience, they absolutely show their age and makes for an odd console experience.

Originally developed by Pyro Studios, this double pack includes two different RTS games, but each is wildly different from the other. Commandos 2 is set in World War II and has you behind enemy lines whereas Praetorians is set further back in the Roman Empire. Both have had updated graphics, though you wouldn’t know it unless you’ve seen how dated the original releases appear. While textures and resolution seemed to have been improved, it seems as if the animations didn’t get the same upgrades, as movement is very stuff in both games, especially Praetorians. Both games are played in the angled top-down isometric view, and while the controls do work, it’s not refined by any means; a problem many RTS games have on console.

Commandos 2 – HD Remaster:

Commandos 2 places you behind enemy lines in World War II where a group of, well, commandos, must stealthily complete their missions and turn the tide of the war. War is unforgiving, and it’s no different in Commandos 2. The difficulty spikes quite early and there will be a lot of trial and error as each mission becomes more challenging and involved.

Most games ease you into its controls and gameplay, giving you tiny tidbits of information and having you master one thing at a time before introducing the next. Not with Commandos 2. The moment you’re given the reigns after the opening cutscene your screen fills with a wall of text showcasing what every single button and command is for. That’s it for the tutorial; read it and figure it out. This of course results in you failing and dying numerous times before figuring out things slowly on your own. I understand that games back in that era was difficult by design, but there’s no reason a small tutorial couldn’t have been added to ease you into the gameplay.

The first few missions are actually labeled as training missions, but again, you’re simply thrown in and have to figure it out. What I did like most about Commandos 2 though is that each mission feels like a puzzle that you need to solve. Each unit you can control has their own uses and abilities, so some are better in certain situations. Need to get over some powerlines or scale some walls? Then you’ll want to utilize the Thief. Want to knock out enemies and tie them up so they can’t eventually wake up and alarm other guards? Then you’ll want the Green Beret. While missions can be tackled a variety of different ways technically, I found stealth is really your only option for the most part, as you’ll lose firefights very quickly if it escalates to that point. As I said, missions feel like puzzles, and while you’re technically given the freedom to ‘solve’ them however you wish, most missions felt pretty linear in the sense of object placement and objectives.

Thankfully the way around all this trial and error is the save system. You’re able to save whenever you wish, so this resulted in me saving like a mad man anytime I successfully took out a guard or objective. This allowed me to try something I thought might work, and when it failed, I just reloaded my last save from a few moments earlier. Don’t do this and you’ll need to restart the mission all over again, which is where you can see the frustration was starting to set in. Did killing that guard with your rifle alert everyone? Restart. Did the tank steamroll your squad? Restart. Did you putting on an enemy uniform allow you to sneak past unnoticed? Oh, it did? Then continue on and save.

I can see why Commandos 2 was popular and revolutionary back at its initial release. Maps could be rotated in 3D, you can peek into windows and plan out your next moves, you had multiple unit types with different abilities, and while the constant failures do frustrate, it does feel satisfying to finally solve each mission and progress. With a handful of missions, Commandos 2 should keep you busy for a few hours at least, it just won’t be pretty to look at while you do.

Praetorians – HD Remaster

The second game in this double pack is Praetorians – HD Remaster, set within the Roman Empire. Here you’re on a journey that lasts around twenty missions or so, becoming progressively more challenging as you get closer to the Emperor. You’ll have to prove yourself in battle across Egypt, Gaul and eventually Italy on your crusade. To become victorious though, you’ll need to learn how to manage your troops and come up with strategies for the challenges ahead; Easier said than done with a controller.

While an RTS, the main focus is on its combat and unit management. There is some minor civilization building aspects, but only to make new troops and weapons like catapults, battering rams and such. There are a number of different units, from auxiliary soldiers that need to be used to create things, archers, spearmen and more, all of which are strong against a certain enemy type but weak against another, so you’ll need to be strategic when sending troops headfirst into battle. Of course, doing so easily on a controller isn’t the greatest experience, and while you can hotkey certain groups of troops, I basically just powered my way through each battle by sending the whole army at once to steamroll anything in front of me.

You can employ some strategy, like having units face a certain way, set stationary stances for more defense and more, but doing so quickly and easily with the controller can be inconsistent at the best of times. There’s a submenu that can be accessed with the ‘Y’ button as well, where you can use your special abilities, combine squads, split them evenly, change their stance and more. The same problems with Commandos 2 are present here as well, with an ugly-at-best game to look at with very stiff and dated animations and even poorer voice acting. I’m aware this is basically just a fidelity bump for its visuals, but it has not aged well at all.

While I was unable to find a single other player online, there is the option for Skirmishes, though thankfully you’re able to at least setup matches with CPU opponents should you want to get a little more time out of your purchase with anyone choosing any of the factions. Maps vary in size, and even on the easier difficulties the CPU can be quite challenging.

I really appreciate that old classic games like these are being ported over for console players to enjoy that may have never known of them previously. While you can purchase each game separately for $25.99, this double pack comes in at $51.99 CAD, so I’m kind of surprised there was no incentive or cost savings to do so unless you were a fan of both games. While each game has their own achievements, they are simply tied to campaign progression, which can be a slog to get through.

I’m not sure if anyone was really clamoring for this double pack on console, but here we are. While not a bad pairing, the main issue is that both games, Commandos 2 and Praetorians, suffer from showing their age. Time has not been kind to them, and while they’ve been given the “HD Remaster” treatment, it’s still quite a rough go visually and mechanically. I actually ended up enjoying Praetorians moreso than Commandos 2, but time has not been kind to both games.

Overall: 4.5 / 10
Gameplay: 5.0 / 10
Visuals: 4.0 / 10
Sound: 4.0 / 10


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