Published on October 4th, 2020 | by Scott De Lacy
Commander 85 Xbox One Review
Summary: A tough nut to crack, but this game has great potential and some serious rewards for persistence. Play with a keyboard at hand for a more enjoyable experience.
This is absolutely an interesting one. Appears to be born out of a kickstarter project and successfully become a released game. Respect where respect is due.
This game is set in the era when computers were still something of a novelty, where the term nerd really was coined and people shook their head and said “pfft computers, whatever.”
You play a kid, who is seemingly addicted to his brand new computer and spends far too much time on it, to the detriment of his school work and his relationship with his mother.
From a nostalgia point of view, anyone born before or during the 80’s will spot many game elements that will make them smile, including the big CRT TV and old style boom box with cassette tape. Ahh memories.
But what is the game about? Well, it is best said as it was described to us. Steam describes it best:
“13 May 1985: Today is my BIRTHDAY!!! Mum gave me the best present ever! a Commander 85 – a super modern computer with real artificial intelligence! It’s very smart, and I can talk to it and play games on it. I can’t wait till the other boys see it!”
Commander 85 is a sci-fi thriller about a seemingly ordinary birthday present that changes the lives of the main characters forever, disturbing the sleepy peace of the Chicago suburbs. However, when the military experiments get out of control and the world faces the threat of nuclear war, you won’t be alone. Together with a group of friends and a crazy scientist, you’ll have to try and end the Cold War, discover the secret of the Commander computers, and find out the mysterious truth behind the Roswell incident…
Decide the fate of the world using an advanced system of interaction with the computer’s artificial intelligence. Build its trust and friendliness towards you, listen to its sarcastic comments and even watch as it quarrels with your parents! With hundreds of possibilities and random elements in the game’s plot, every time you play will be different, with your choices leading to one of three possible endings.
Immerse yourself in the life of Polish immigrants in 1980’s America, learning more about their culture and problems. Remember that all parents are the same, regardless of their origins. Experience a sense of nostalgia as you recall your own childhood through the game’s randomized events and elements of your environment, from discussions about the school to nagging about how much time you’re spending in front of the computer. Complete the chores your parents give you, too – they may prevent you from saving the world, but at least you won’t be grounded or banned from playing!
There are similar game devices such as the Stanley Parable, in that the artificial intelligence of the commander 85 (an impossible existence in real life), communicates with you directly and encourages you to perform actions. In fact, you could say there is an artificial intelligence working with you and perhaps one against you.
We received an early release and despite a little over a week of game play, alternative endings seem elusive or at least confusing in how to obtain them. There are a few videos of people playing the early release on YouTube and showing the ‘negative’ ending, which if you are compliant and follow the instructions given to you, it is easily obtained and the game ends abruptly within an hour of game play.
Our experiences however was that you could keep the game play going, extending it by taking certain actions but ultimately end up with the same ending or become frustrated and stop playing for one’s own sanity.
The game has a lot of interaction with the computer, requiring either typed responses or the user can enter a ‘basic’ mode and use the arrows to select the commands displayed on the screen. On the XBOX the game is a reasonable easy stroll for a casual player, but the layout of the listed commands is horrible and requires a lot of repetitive and slow motions to enter control inputs. This aspect of the game is a huge detractor and rather viciously becomes a chore that is amplified when making little to no progress in the game.
There were also some annoyances with one AI speaking to you and being interrupted by another; save for the fact that if and when it does happen, you are likely to hear it again and again, and well, again. Either way you won’t be happy about it.
In simple terms, the control input is annoying and repetitive and perhaps a keyboard would be more appropriate, especially when you still have to bring up the onscreen keyboard to enter a Y or N keystroke, which would be far better if a button combination had been created for this purpose.
The graphics are really awesome, there is so much accurate detail that is time-line specific, including proportions and smaller details, such as wear and tear on the items that truly make it feel like these items have been used, it is really immersive.
The gameplay mechanics kick in with the fatigue of the player character, if the candle is burnt at both ends and he starts getting tired, the characters (and player) vision is affected and everything starts to get a little shaky and blurry. This also makes the screen far more difficult to see including the cursor. The colours of the terminal window of the computer can also be changed, which may or may not help with this.
Music and sound
Right off the bat, the opening song is ominous and eerie and gives a sense of forlorn melancholy, it sounds so good that you could just kick back and listen to it for a while.
During the game, a friend talks to you via the radio, which until you learn the location of it, you need to play a bit of marco-polo to find it, having surround sound helps with pinpointing the location a little but not in enough detail to find it once you are there, sadly. Still it really does sound like an old radio is being used and perhaps it was during the recording. It’s great.
This game has all the hallmarks of being capable of becoming a cult classic for sure. However it was frustrating to play on the Xbox with the controls the way they are and although a challenge is always welcome, there is a bit of ‘panic room’ sense to this game, in that you have to do something but it isn’t clear by any stretch what you actually can do. This is perhaps a good thing, as the more you play this game the more you may learn that there is a lot more to it.
In the search to find some kind of roadmap or even walkthrough to give this review a fair response, an interview with the game lead Marcin Makaj from GameBolt came up.
So it would seem, especially with a full release of this game, there is so much more than meets the eye here. Upon reading this, one last launch of the game – now that it seems to have updated, shows that indeed there was more things happening, more responses then was previously seen from the first play through. This time when fighting the virus that was mentioned in the interview; we saw the virus giving us the opportunity to play a game, which never previously happened.
Where does that leave us?
We know that this game has multiple endings, of which only one was confirmed and it is easy to obtain. We know that there are far more aspects to this game then was experienced, but did not experience them in this short amount of time.
Based on this interview, a fair amount of game play is involved in obtaining these endings and it says nothing as to whether these endings will be enjoyable, after all its all in the challenge!
This game is absolutely going to be best played with a keyboard on any platform. That is for certain.
This game is hard, a total challenge!
Please note, stock images were used in this review that reflect the PC version.