One of the few big developers to emerge from Spain in recent years, Pyro Studios got off to a great start with their 1998 debut "Commandos : Behind Enemy Lines". Set during World War II and featuring an entertaining blend of stealth, strategy and action, the game was a huge hit across Europe. With the inevitable sequel finally nearing release, we caught up with the guys at Pyro to find out what they have in store for us this time...
According to the Commandos 2 team at Pyro, the original game went down well with players because it "represented an innovative gameplay style, and a very popular time period" in the form of World War II. This winning combination led to upwards of a million copies of Commandos being sold worldwide and helped Pyro to expand rapidly, with going on for a hundred staff now spread across the company's three development teams.
"Obviously that has put some pressure on us as the expectation for Commandos 2 is twenty times higher than it was for the original Commandos", they told us. "But on the other hand we have had the advantage of a development budget five times higher, plus the full support of the press since we started the game."
And in a break from gaming industry tradition, Pyro have apparently used this golden opportunity to do something new with the series, rather than simply churning out more of the same. "Everything has been improved. There is nothing in common between Commandos 2 and the original Commandos. New graphics technology, a new engine, a completely new gameplay style..."
Whisky And Soda
How this will wash with the game's at times fanatical fan base remains to be seen, but Pyro confirmed that one of the biggest challenges in developing the sequel was to make a game "that retained Commandos' essence but was very different from the original Commandos gameplay". It's certainly a brave approach in an industry which is notorious for clones, remakes and soulless sequels.
We won't know whether Pyro have succeeded, or how different from the original game the sequel really is, until we get our hands on review code later in the summer. But what we do know at this stage is that your commando squad will be bolstered by the addition of a dog called Whisky and a pair of new characters - Lupin the thief and Natascha - with more emphasis on stealth.
"Lupin and Natascha will help a lot in infiltration missions", Pyro explained. Their biggest strengths are in their stealth capabilities. On top of their special skills, they also add the possibility of having some more new charismatic characters in the game, so the player can choose which ones he prefers and uses the most among the characters at his disposal."
And you should be able to put these new characters through their paces soon, because after months of delays the good news for fans of the Commandos series is that "the game is in the final stages of development [and] we can expect a release pretty soon".
An exact release date has yet to be set, and Eidos are being cagey about when we can expect to see the game on shelves - their UK press site still listed Commandos 2 as a June release until we pointed this out to them a couple of weeks ago. There are also "no definitive plans for the demo yet", but the game is nearing completion, and Pyro are currently "doing some fine tuning of gameplay elements and some last minute graphical and interface changes" to polish it ready for release.
It's been over two years since our last dose of Commandos, but in that time Pyro have refreshed the gameplay and redesigned the engine. Indeed, according to the team "the biggest challenge, as always, has been building up the right technology for the game we want to make, and having it working right". And it hasn't just been a case of getting it working right on the PC either - for the first time the Commandos series will be coming to console systems as well. As far as we know the Dreamcast version of the game was cancelled by Eidos earlier this year, but certainly the PlayStation 2 port at least is still in the works at Pyro, and the team told us that "we are not experiencing any problems beyond the classical memory issues with the PS2".
"The console versions are going to be similar to the PC version, except for the interface and the save and load functions", Pyro told us. "The interface will be a direct control one on consoles, versus the point and click of the PC version."
More drastic changes will be needed if the game is to make the leap to hand-held gaming systems though, something which Pyro are "looking into", although there are no definite plans for the series to be ported to either the GameBoy or the GameCube at this stage. "If we make a GameBoy Advance [version] we will try to make something that is the right game for this platform", Pyro assured us. "It would need to be something different from what we have done up until now, specifically designed for GBA."
One thing which is definite though is that "there will be no add-ons for the game", with Pyro instead choosing to concentrate on making brand new games, probably including another Commandos sequel. "We are thinking about making a Commandos 3, as we have many ideas on how to expand and improve the Commandos environment and gameplay. Commandos 2 opens so many possibilities for the future that we feel tempted to explore them."
Whether or not a third Commandos title is on the cards, "Pyro has another two games in development where we are trying to do some other innovative gameplay styles". But that's for the second half of our interview, where we will take a look at their 3D strategy game Praetorians. Stay tuned!