Following in the footsteps of Battlezone 98 Redux, the second game in Rebellion’s classic PC strategy series has now been lavished with the same spa treatment. Originally released nearly two decades ago, Combat Commander’s remaster expectedly shows a few cracks, but an intriguing blend of RTS and FPS mechanics still make for some uniquely exciting skirmishes.
Combat Commander’s remaster shows a few cracks, but an intriguing blend of RTS and FPS mechanics still make for some uniquely exciting skirmishes.
Not all of the changes are to your advantage, though. Obviously you can’t just jump back to your base of operations or an outpost that’s under attack in Combat Commander, upping tension and encouraging a careful approach.
While very subtle tweaks help the gameplay to endure, changes on the visual front are a little more drastic. The game simultaneously looks sharp and slightly retro, clearly being a modernisation of aged assets in place of genuine current design, which there’s a certain charm to. Old school wonk like shooting a chain link fence with a standard round causing it to explode, or hilariously bad walking and on-foot death animations, don’t translate quite so well.
Having largely remained true to the original means that the remaster isn’t too taxing to run. Its range of graphics options ensured we had no problem maintaining 1080p/60FPS on a GTX 1060, though it’s possible to reach the heights of 4K resolution and a higher unlocked frame rate with a more powerful rig. Unfortunately, Combat Commander is less technically accommodating elsewhere, with alt + tabbing causing temporary choppiness, and badly implemented controller support.
On the solo front, Instant Action mode caters to an itchy trigger finger, while the lengthy campaign slowly introduces new concepts to players across 24 varied missions. Set in the 1990s, the discovery of a hostile alien race dubbed Scions prompts the US and Russia to combine forces. You play Lieutenant Cooke of the International Space Defence Force (ISDF) and embark on an interplanetary crusade that’ll lead you down one of two branching paths dependant on a pivotal decision.
The narrative is really what you make of it, delivered through introspective loading screen monologues, written briefs and audio logs that it’s up to you to interact with. Jarringly untouched cutscenes are fortunately a rarity, but worse is the often inaudible mission chatter that gets drowned out by obnoxious sound effects, even after lowering audio levels.
The game simultaneously looks sharp and slightly retro, which there’s a certain charm to.
While hopping between six planets provides a welcome change in scenery now and again, differences in mission parameters aren’t always as easy to appreciate. Combat Commander’s campaign can stray from its strengths, dumping you in an on-foot stealth section, or tasking you with building a base then not allowing you to make use of it. Throw instances of generally poor design into the mix, like needing to leave the area you’re defending to proximity trigger enemies, or placing a particularly difficult section at the very end of a long stretch when the game has no checkpointing, and some outings are a recipe for frustration.
They aren’t all bad - a few objectives are particularly good fun, in fact - but with the multiplayer suite there’s less chance of being let down. Up to 14 players can compete and cooperate locally via LAN or online with cross-play between Steam and GOG Galaxy. Eight modes include the conventional Strategy game type, Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and also more more outlandish undertakings like Loot (steal as much money as possible from a bank) and Race.
You may struggle to find active servers for anything other than Strategy and cooperative Online Instant Action, in which a group of players wage war with challenging AI, but already having ‘dead’ game types doesn’t throw up too many concerns about longevity. With modifiers available to hosts, an endless supply of maps thanks to an extensive editing tool, plus mod and add-on support that anyone can get to grips with, the Battlezone player base has a lot at their disposal.
Much like Rogue Trooper Redux before it, in being ahead of its time in many ways, Rebellion ensured that Combat Commander would remain engaging for future audiences way back when. Its central coupling of genres is still genius, but a concept now held back by some dated execution.