"Take that, soldier from an unnamed country which is almost certainly Germany in the 1940s!"
As Doctor Who might say “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”. I really do try to get at least one article up on here per week but sometimes I just don’t manage it. Feel free to point and look annoyed if you like, I probably deserve it!
Anyway, I was a bit stuck for what to write about this time around. There’s some new Spectrum games that have been released recently but I’m writing about them for an online fanzine so to find out what I think you’ll have to download the next issue and read them there (was that a plug? I think it might just have been!).
This game is a Spectrum game (and a Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, MSX and a whole host of other platforms one) but it’s rather older than the games I alluded to above. The original C64 version was published in 1985 whilst the Spectrum conversion came out in 1986. Because I like the Speccy and the C64 computers (I know, I know; it’s like liking Oasis and Blur or something) I decided to play these versions both to get a feel for the game and to see which of them is better.
So, what about the game itself? Where did the name come from? Well, in the early 1980s there was a hostage-taking situation at the Iranian Embassy in the UK which was ended by the SAS (whose motto is “Who Dares Wins”). This seems to have created a surge of interest in the special forces unit which lead to a (fairly-rubbish, from what I’ve seen of it) film called Who Dares Wins and, seemingly unrelated to the film, a C64 game of the same name a few years later. Who Dares Wins 2, the sequel to this game, and the subject of this article, was released not long afterwards and unlike the first game recieved a Spectrum conversion.
Now, at the time, WDW2 didn’t exactly set the gaming press alight and it didn’t help that it was widely seen as a cheap knock-off of Capcom’s Commando arcade game which had been converted to home computers to much acclaim at roughly the same time as the release of WDW2. My own memories of it, though, are as a reasonably-entertaining shooter and this, combined with a few good words for it on the World of Spectrum forums, made me decide to re-visit the game.
Despite the title, the SAS aren’t mentioned at all in the paper-thin plot which seems to be a straightforward “storm the enemy base and rescue your comrades” storyline. Combine this with the cover art (see above) and you’ve got a WWII setting little different from that of Commando making this game look like even more of a shameless coat-tail-grabbing effort to chase the popularity of Elite’s conversion. And yet, that’s not really fair because despite the obvious similarities the surprising thing is that WDW2 is actually a pretty good game in its own right.
Despite what it might look like, I am most certainly not running away in this C64 shot. Instead I am making a "tactical retreat" with the aim of striking-back soon. Yes.
Start playing the game and you’ll wonder where the difference is between this game and its arcade inspiration: you play a blue soldier who must make his way through a scrolling (flick-screen on the Specrum) level shooting the bad guys and dodging their bullets. As with Commando, the player also carries a limited number of grenades which are unleashed by holding down the fire button and more of which can be collected from boxes handily parachuted in by allies (I’m not sure parachuting boxes of grenades over an active and confusing warzone is an especially good tactic but hey). Even the end of level screens are similar with our hero having to dispatch dozens of soldiers who pour out of a commando outpost before he can capture it. Even a certain Mr Price might point and laugh.
And yet what actually made Commando work was that it was a fun game and, by following closely in its footsteps, this game manages to be fun too; weaving around shooting the soldiers, lobbing grenades at troops behind barriers and dodging the bullets is entertaining regardless of how derivative it all is. It’s not as good as Commando or as fun (not least because it all feels a bit slower and a lot less slick) but it’s still entertaining enough
In this screenshot from the Spectrum version, we can clearly see that the bad guys have painted their outpost bright pink, the international colour of warlike machismo.
WDW2 even adds little touches all of its own: as well as fighting footsoldiers our hero will also find himself faced with marauding tanks, enemy aircraft and even runaway trains. Commando had a few vehicles to deal with, of course, but WDW2 chucks even more into the fray which all need different ways of dealing with them. Low-flying planes which spray the ground with machine-gun fire or drop bombs need to be avoided whilst the tanks can be taken-out with a well-placed grenade and the trains can be grenaded whilst rushing down the tracks for extra points.
The more you play it and the further you get the more WDW2 breaks out from the mould a little, as though the programmers having fulfilled their remit of creating a Commando clone decided to throw in a couple of things of their own, and it all adds up to something which, whilst not as good as its excellent arcade inspiration or the home computer versions which followed it, is nonetheless a surprisingly-worthy rival. Back in the day it would have been foolhardly to choose this over the excellent Commando; now, more than twenty years later, this is worth a look-in and doesn’t deserve to be thrown onto the pile labelled “shameless cash-ins” and forgotten about.
Oh, and which was better, the Spectrum or C64 version? That’s a tough one. I wish I could be decisive and stand here with my (metaphorical) hands on my (metaphorical) hips and tell you “Spectrum” or “Commodore 64” but I really can’t and I have to admit that it probably comes down to personal taste. Some people are going to favour the Spectrum’s flick-screen and slightly-easier gameplay whilst others will prefer the scrolling, lack of flicker and better sound (the Spectrum version makes it seem like the computer is full of angry bees) on the C64. Me, personally, I think the C64 version nudges out in front but I suggest playing both versions and finding out which one you prefer. Them’s the way with these things.
Information about the Commodore 64 version here.
Information about the Spectrum version here.