Company of Heroes 2 Review
Company of Heroes, an award-winning series that many a gamer will be familiar with by now, is one of the highest rated RTS (Real time strategy) games out there. It sold millions of copies and was at one point a best selling game in the US. The developers at Relic Entertainment (former THQ subsidiary, now owned by Sega) were clearly doing something right, and the sequel to such a game should be something of a masterpiece. Well ladies and gentlemen of the internet, I’m here to tell you it is.
The story of the game focuses on the Eastern Front in World War 2. It is told through the mind and flashbacks of a former lieutenant in the Red Army, now a prisoner or “Zek” in the Gulag camp system. It begins when his old commander, a colonel visits him there to ask him a series of questions. I won’t go into detail about the plot as I don’t want to ruin it for the rest of you. Rest assured however, you will not be disappointed with the story’s length or challenges. It runs through a course of battles and small cutscenes showing you the story of the Eastern Front and the basics of battle, using infantry intuitively, and how to screw with your opponent. The major downside is that, while the story is passable (seeing as everyone plays it for the multiplayer anyway) it fails to reach out to you, and does not compel you to unravel the sequence of events that led to this man’s imprisonment.
First thing’s first though: the gameplay. Well, frankly, it’s amazing. With two factions, the Russians and the Germans, you play as one or the other to vie for domination over the Eastern Front. As soon as you step into the game, your first move is capturing fuel and ammo points, to generate resources to keep your tanks on the move, and your soldiers supplied with explosives. Whether you’re battling the Red menace or repelling Nazi hordes, you’re also pitted against the map as it throws extreme weather in the form of snowstorms that can kill your troops.
In some multiplayer battles, you can find yourself in the middle of minor skirmishes with infantry, which can escalate into epic tank battles and advanced infantry units employing intense tactical combat to speed you to your doom. This all happens in a diverse and rich set of maps, ranging from a ruined suburb outside Moscow to a frozen river including a small town, riddled with ambush points and supplies. As I referred to earlier, resources are generated by capturing relevant points on the map. If these are captured by an enemy this could generate a number of difficulties. If it’s a fuel point, you will be in for a fight – no player likes losing fuel as its the main resource required for recruiting tanks and armour. While fuel is important, ammo is similarly important for using special “commander abilities” that you unlock through gaining experience points throughout a match.
I have to say the absolute gem in this game is the infantry. When I first began playing the series I put the infantry down as a weak unit that only serves to get you through the early stages of a match, I later found this out the hard way, to be absolutely untrue. The infantry make up the backbone of any army in real life, and in Company of Heroes, it’s no different. The infantry, if used properly, are the strongest and most adaptable units in the game, and whether you play as Russian or German sides makes no difference. CoH 2 employs a cover system that makes the player think about where they are going to move their units, for example, an open courtyard with a farmhouse on the far side and no cover in the middle is a bad move as you risk being pinned or killed by a machine gun team. If you’re unlucky enough to encounter a situation like this, tread carefully. Or mortar them into oblivion (that works too…).
Ah, the mechanics! The wonderfully thought-out mechanics. They make the game what it is for the most part. The infantry for example – on snow maps, deep snow will slow down your infantry. It would be a fatal move if a machine gun nest was waiting for you on the other side. The same goes for tanks, river crossings, and a carefully placed AT gun. Due to things like this, the way you command your tanks can be the turning point in an engagement for better or for worse. If you keep your rear armour guarded from enemy attacks, your tank will last longer, and incidentally if you hit your enemy’s rear or side armour, your tank will do more damage. Unfortunately, tanks are susceptible to infantry rockets and mines. These can drastically downgrade your tank from a deadly killing machine to a harmless pile of scrap metal that has a top speed of 2 MPH. If you have the tragic misfortune of having your engine and main gun get simultaneously knocked out, you’d better have reinforcements in the immediate area, or you’ll be one tank short in the subsequent seconds of the battle. The Russian engineers come into their own on the snow maps. These guys can set charges to demolish things such as bridges, buildings or the ice pack on a frozen river that’s currently holding a Panzer IV above it. Yes you read it correctly: you can literally remove the ice from under tanks on snow maps. The mechanics add a beautiful tactical sense to the game and can really be the difference in a win or a loss depending on how aware you are of them, and their functions.
Graphics & Sound
The graphics in this game have truly progressed leaps and bounds from the original. For one, the guns don’t come out looking like brown rectangles with a strange texture, and as another example, when a tank explodes…you feel it. The tank death animation is one of my favorite but probably one of the most overlooked improvements. Once critical damage is achieved, the tank will spew fire from every crack and fissure made by the enemy and explode in a blaze of graphically fantastical glory. I think with the original, they nailed everything else so well they kind of got lazy with graphics. In CoH 2, they got the hint and produced some very attractive models. The maps are well textured, and there is not a flaw in sight for the most part. Those you see are insanely hard to find and I’ve only ever heard of them.
As you can see from the screenshot further up in this review, the models are of high quality and deserve the utmost praise. I won’t give it to them however, as I find while they are of high quality, they are all clone units. They dropped the ball on diversity and you are left with units that all look alike, which ruin’s the immersion, because let’s face it: it’s not the Clone Wars.
The sound in this game…oh the sound. It provides a sense of authenticity not experienced in other games of this kind. For example, you have a river crossing locked down, mortars and MG’s cover the middle while infantry remains on the flanks. Your line of sight stops just short of the crossing, you hear the ominous growl of an engine lurking beyond the fog of war as you try to prepare your defenses for an attack, but nothing can prepare you for what might emerge. It could be anything. From a comparatively innocuous half-track, to a deadly Panther tank. It gives you an all new kind of fear, it feels real, it sounds real, and the game forces you to feel anxiety over a few characters onscreen purely because you know they are about to go through virtual hell. All stemming from the auditory experience. Situations like this, where the sound has been masterfully implemented directly equals to why the game is so ridiculously engrossing.
Of course there’s another side to that as well. In the midst of urban warfare, buildings can come crashing down with spectacular cacophony, tanks fighting infantry and other tanks, produces an orchestra of destruction that reverberates throughout the map. The sound of the guns, the racket of tanks beating lumps in each other’s armour, and the high-pitched screech of the airstrike that ends it all, leaving a shattered town and annihilation in its wake.
I dreaded writing this part, as you can clearly tell I am firmly on the positive side of the fence when it comes to this game. I LOVE it!… but, it was plagued in the early stages by a serious issue concerning army imbalance. At the start (in the beta) the Germans were so over-powered, it took real skill to beat them. They had early access to powerful scout vehicles and terrifyingly efficient support weapons. But, after hearing all the moans and groans within the community, Relic improved the Russians. Yeah, you guessed it, they made THEM overpowered this time. They couldn’t seem to get it right when it came to balancing. Thankfully though they have more or less fixed the issue in terms of general gameplay. However there is a distinct advantage to German armour over the Russian armour, which I find just wrong. Russian’s are famed for their terrifying tank divisions ripping their way across Europe, devouring those dastardly Germans. Guess we’ll have to live with that one though.
The good stuff in this game are mainly down to the gameplay mechanics. They’re insane. The mechanics lend a great deal to the game as a whole. They are however, detrimental to your ability to win if you can’t use the features available (such as infantry cover), demolishing key infrastructures such as bridges and ice.
The diverse gameplay strategy possibilities have you playing through the game thinking more tactically, and broadening your strategic horizons. For instance, having mortars to support your troops can be both defensive and offensive. You can drop shells on them, sure, but smoke shells have the advantage of blocking out their line of sight. This allows you to advance all the way to victory! (Sometimes…).
Company of Heroes 2 is the sequel everyone hoped for. While it came close to not becoming a reality, the finished product is solid and well-rounded. So far I wouldn’t hesitate to put this in my list of top 10 games of all time. A treat to play, and overall, a generally amazing game. Don’t. Miss. Out.