Like it or not, we live in an age of remakes and remasters: games are being remade left, right and centre. But for every Tony Hawk’s 1+2 Remaster or Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, there is a Warcraft III: Reforged or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater HD (Note that it took Tony two attempts to get a remaster right). But there are also the remasters that fans are crying out for *cough* Mass Effect trilogy *cough*.
So, where does this latest remaster fit in, the double pack of Commandos 2 and Praetorians? When originally released, the games fared well on PC, but simply drifted away into the history books without much of a legacy. So, on one hand, the announcement came as a bit of a surprise, especially when they were announced for consoles as well. Commandos 2 had previously been on home consoles but struggled; Praetorians is arriving for the first time. Is this one remaster too far?
Both Commandos 2 and Praetorians are real-time strategy games but offer wildly different experiences. Commandos 2 features a small group of elite soldiers – you could say, commandos – in the backdrop of World War II; Praetorians features large-scale battles set during the times of an emerging Roman Empire.
They have both received a bit of a touch-up in regards to HD and updated graphics, but it is very limited. Praetorians features some ghastly cutscenes, and character animations and movements haven’t been improved in the slightest. Commandos looks slightly better; the contrast between HD character models and pre-rendered backgrounds has a unique charm in general and here it is no exception.
Of course, the glaring issue for both still remains: RTS games simply aren’t suited for a controller. Commandos isn’t too bad as you control individual units from the isometric point of view. Praetorians had a chance to give it a good attempt considering this is the first time it has launched on a home console, but the control system is awful.
Commandos 2 starts off with a couple of training missions. Here you are introduced to a few of the elite units you will be commanding. Each one has unique abilities and traits, meaning some are better suited in certain situations than others. The Green Beret unit for example can bury themselves into the ground to avoid detection, whilst the agile Thief can climb walls and telephone lines. You also have a dog accompany you on certain missions to bark at enemy soldiers and distract them because, well, who doesn’t love dogs? Or how about a female commando who can seduce enemy soldiers, providing a useful distraction?
Missions are supposed to be taken on via any means necessary. At the start of each level you are given a select few commandos and objectives, with the intention being you are free to undertake them as you so please. However, this was not the experience I felt I was getting. Enemy and object placements were such that if I didn’t do one specific action at a specific moment, I would be caught and shot dead with very little time to correct myself.
This is a real shame, because Commandos 2 does have a lot of interesting ideas and mechanics for you to try. Stealth is a huge part of the game and has that age-old mechanic of enemy cones of visions that it makes good use of. Go in guns blazing and you will quickly be caught. But you can also steal enemy uniforms to try and blend in, peek into buildings to formulate a plan, or take control of enemy vehicles. Yet, despite all these ideas, it still feels very restrictive when it comes to playing through a mission.
As a result, Commandos 2 can be a tricky beast. You have the ability to save at any point and it is recommended to make use of that system after almost every action you take.
In comparison, Praetorians feels archaic. Part of that is the aforementioned problems of an RTS game on a console and poor animations, but another part is because it feels very dated in the lack of content and variation. The main campaign features three armies – being the Romans, Gauls and Egyptians. Compare that with the Age of Empires II re-release from last year, and that included four brand-new civilisations with four campaigns on top of everything from the original release.
What you do get though is a campaign from an interesting time period where the Roman Empire begins to assert its dominance and the Ancient Egyptians start to fade away. If you were ever interested in the ongoing politics happening in the background of Assassin’s Creed Origins, the story in Praetorians helps expand on that somewhat.
The missions will take you through Egypt, Italy and Gaul (an area more commonly separated into France, Switzerland, Germany and North-West Europe).
Unlike in Age of Empires, Praetorians’ main aspect is on the combat, with very little civilisation building. You can destroy enemy garrisons and take over villages, however. And a unit in Praetorians can be up to 20 soldiers marching at once. It features traditional RTS elements though: some units fare better than others in certain match-ups and positioning on the map does have an impact. For the majority of the time though, the action is much more fast-paced. By the time you have seen an enemy and initiated an encounter, the battle is already over.
Lengthy tutorials will explain the mechanics and buttons, but the choices and prompts highlight the limitations of a controller with an RTS. Moving units is fairly straightforward, but you also have the option to highlight and only move certain units by grouping them and storing that group using the left trigger. Accidentally then move an individual unit already assigned to a group and that grouping no longer works.
Aside from the basic functions of moving and attacking, many other options open to units are tucked away in the bottom right corner. This sub-menu is accessed with the Y button but is a bag of spanners to navigate and use. I’m sure there are some useful inputs to be had in there, but it is a nightmare to make any sense of.
Alongside the campaign is Skirmish mode, allowing you to create your own match types and objectives – something that Commandos is missing – that can elongate the time you get out of Praetorians. There is also an Online mode that features the same set-up as Skirmish mode, just with up to seven online opponents, or a mix of CPU and human opponents. Matches can be made private or not depending on your preference, and larger maps allow for players to team up. You have the ability to mix between Romans, Barbarians and Egyptians yet remain on the same team.
Whilst graphics have been given some sort of update, the sound for Praetorians is still disappointing. The soundtrack grates, and any voice acting still sounds badly done and not of a high standard.
Most criminally of all though is the fact that there is still no ability to control the camera. Much like Commandos 2 it is an isometric view, but you can’t rotate the camera in any way whatsoever. The ability to zoom in or out of the battlefield is a slider bar hidden deep in the Options menu but the difference between 0% and 100% is so negligible it is pointless.
Coming as two separate games – and available to buy as a double pack – Commandos 2 and Praetorians both have their own achievement lists. Much like the re-release itself though, there isn’t much thought gone into what to include. All the achievements are related to completing missions – finish either campaign and you will have the full 1000G for each respective game.
The Commandos 2 & Praetorians HD Remaster Double Pack on Xbox One has one average game, and one way past its sell by date. Commandos 2 has certainly aged but has enough neat little additions that it looks like a spring chicken in comparison with Praetorians. However, it is still arguably not enough to recommend the entire package for a bang average game, especially when the other game is Praetorians. Even with the HD treatment, Praetorians looks, sounds, feels, tastes and smells bad. Being an RTS on a console is the least of its problems. Only die-hard Commandos fans should pick this double pack up. Or you should stick with the original release as these new versions contain no extra features.