Posted on June 13, 2008,

XBLA Hors D’oeuvres: Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3

Yes, XBLA Hors D’oeurvres are back. If you’re not familiar with the concept, they’re a weekly feature where I play the latest Xbox Live Arcade game – in trial form – for no more than 10 minutes, and then summarize my impressions of the game based only upon that.

The parallels between Commando 3 and Crackdown are pretty incredible, if you think about it — both, for the most part, flew under the radar, are cel-shaded and come attached with entry into a big name beta (with Crackdown it was Halo 3, and Commando 3 has Street Fighter HD). With that in mind, I’m not surprised at all that I found my time with Commando to be very enjoyable.

You’re thrown right into the action without any unnecessary cutscenes or tutorials, and there’s never a lull in the action. But even with the constant mayhem, the game’s first level feels incredibly well-paced, and the trial packs in one of the best teasers I’ve seen in an XBLA game to date. You make your way through the first level (which took me about seven minutes) and are then faced with a huge, “Holy ****”-sized tank battle, only to be yanked to the game’s “Buy me!” screen. It might have been nice to get a look at what boss battles are like, but the action was convincing enough for me to buy the game right then and there.

In an extremely crowded market of twin-stick shooters, the thing Commando has going for it (aside from the Street Fighter HD beta, of course) is its distinct visual look. It most certainly isn’t going to blow you away, but it’s definitely going to get a few double-takes since the cartoony graphics are a breath of fresh air in a sea of Assault Heroes and Mutant Storms.

It needs to be said that Commando 3 doesn’t stray too far from the norm in terms of gameplay. There’s no opposite color twist like in Ikaruga or anything else; this is just straight-up, old-school shooter action. Because of that, a lot of people might be turned off, and I don’t blame them. I constantly refer to the “bloated twin-stick shooter market” every time it seems like yet another game fitting the bill is announced, but Commando just plays so well that it makes it difficult to complain when other games, like Assault Heroes 2, just seem plain dull.

The three different characters do a good job of mixing the action up, as they have a pretty significant impact on the way the game plays. And like the characters, vehicles actually make things feel different — unlike Assault Heroes, where vehicles simply feel like another weapon. The jeep in the first level is a bit messy to drive, and not being able to choose the direction you shoot only exacerbates the problem. It’s rather annoying to be zipping around on a vehicle, and then drive into a wall while the enemy gets cheap shots on you while you try to figure out how to turn around — it’s a bit like driving a bumper car, in that respect.

Even with those small gripes in mind, I still had a great time with the game. Yes, it is another twin-stick shooter, but it’s a damn good one that’s worth checking out. It might not be as good as Ikaruga, but it’s still extremely fun.

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