“Well” I said to myself the second Commando Jack loaded up – “This is definitely a mobile port”.
It’s a tower defense game with a twist – at any point during an enemy wave you can jump into a turret and mow the marching aliens down yourself. This sounds like a fantastic selling point right off the bat. There have been many occasions in tower defense where I’ve been pretty damn sure that if they’d just put me behind one marine in power armour with a decent complement of weapons and I’d be able to hold them all off myself. Plants Vs Zombies? Give me a bunch of sunflowers and Leon Kennedy with a solar powered laser and there’d be no need to sacrifice those giant nuts that don’t realise they’re being eaten until it’s much too late. They could go back to their care homes early.
Seriously, EA. It’s disturbing.
Unfortunately, this brilliant idea does not translate well to a mouse and keyboard. In fact, I’m not sure it translates well to a PC at all. For some reason (clearly an unspeakable deal with an Eldritch god) aiming your turret is done via WADS. It’s clunky, it’s imprecise, and frankly, just plain odd – it feels far more alien than any of the grey, moon-faced rubes you’re fighting off. It’s obviously a mechanic that worked much better on mobile – a touchscreen, tap-to-shoot turret control is much more organic than swiveling the thing around with keys.
That’s not to say Commando Jack is bad in the least. As a tower defense game, it’s good fun. There’s a huge variety of towers you can throw down, to combat a genuinely good mix of enemies each with their own weak spots. The turrets and towers you use to direct enemies into killing zones are a bit too inept to hit those weak spots themselves, though – so you’re forced into taking the helm and repelling the invaders yourself.
The visuals are so/so – it obviously doesn’t look as great blown up on a 1080p monitor as it probably does on a more appropriate screen. The resolution doesn’t do it any favours. It’s a weird mix of straight, crude lines and cartoony graphics. It all looks terribly boxy. That being said, there’s a nice variety in level designs – between several intensely stereotypical depictions of real world cities – ensuring the gameplay does stay pretty fresh as you progress. I just wish it all felt a little bit more responsive. Everything about it is just… clunky. Without smooth controls, the game’s core dynamic just feels messy and awkward. It’s not even that the aiming has some sense of weight to it. It’s just pointlessly unpleasant. If they’d have just mapped aiming to the mouse, this would have been an altogether different review. I probably would have only complained about the poor visual translation. Probably.
Making the leap from mobile to the PC platform – which is perhaps even more inundated with content on a daily basis than smartphones – is a big move. There’s a reason direct ports from mobile to PC just flop outright. Alterations need to be made. Some degree of effort has to go into making the game feel right on the platform, and not as though you’re playing it on some sad .apk emulator. If you’re not going to optimise the game for the platform, why bother? I’ll probably try Commando Jack on mobile at some point. I’ll probably enjoy it a hell of a lot more.
Ultimately, when you strip away the manual turret control (which I’ll probably never stop complaining about, possibly because I want to like it so much) it really just is a cookie cutter tower defense game. Nothing particularly sticks out, and there are plenty of games that do what Commando Jack does just as well or better. The game sells itself on this singular feature and then for some bizarre reason, neuters it entirely. It wouldn’t be so bad if being able to man turrets was some optional bit of fun – but the way enemies and levels are designed, it’s pretty much essential to be able to target weak spots yourself so you don’t get overrun.
I can see where there’s fun to be had with Commando Jack. I can see all the glaring potential. I just can’t reach it past some unmanageable controls and the overwhelming sense, I should just be playing this game on my phone. Should you buy the PC version? No. But the mobile version (which is freemium) might be worth some of your time.
(Update: I just downloaded the mobile version. It won’t even launch. So… do with that what you will).
Disclaimer:All scores given within our reviews are based on the artist’s personal opinion; this should in no way impede your decision to purchase the game.