Company of Heroes was released in 2006 by RTS maestros Relic and published by the now defunct THQ. The epic single player campaign gave you control of Able Company and Foxtrot Company of the US armed forces, guiding you through their exploits of WW2. The game would take you through storming the beaches of Normandy and fighting your way through various European towns all to stop the Nazi domination of Europe and the world. The game also offered intense multiplayer where up to 8 players can lead their armies against each other in battle.
An expansion pack “Opposing Forces” was also released and allowed the player to control British and German forces. A 2nd expansion pack “Tales of Valor” offered more multiplayer options to take fights to new heights. CoH received universal acclaim and won many accolades including Game of the Year and Best Strategy Game. It became a landmark of RTS gaming with it’s stunning visuals, phenomenal sound design and fast-paced, exciting gameplay.
Relic brings you to war once again with Company of Heroes 2, this time on the Eastern Front where the Red Army and Russian civilians are dying in the millions against the merciless onslaught of the Nazis. In this game you’ll lead your comrades of the Red Army against impossible odds and lead the Soviet Union to victory.
Lieutenant Abramovich Isakovich, a veteran of the Great Patriotic War has been branded a war criminal and now spends his days in a Gulag. An army officer visits him for an interrogation and it is here that Isakovich must recall the battles of the Eastern Front when he fought alongside his comrades and when millions died to keep the enemy at bay and achieve victory for Mother Russia.
With almost no tutorial, no guidance and no grasp on what to do (much like a Red Army conscript) your first mission thrusts you into a frantic and volatile battle and from there you’ll be commanding soldiers across Russia against an endless wave of Nazi soldiers. You initially begin with commanding only infantry in the early missions. These men are at the forefront of any battle and can take cover behind scenery, jump over cover and take flanking positions, use special abilities like grenades and war cries and are ultimately used to attack enemy infantry. They can also earn experience points which makes them more proficient in battle and they can also pick up Panzershrecks, machine guns and heavy cannons found on the field to use against tougher enemies.
In later missions you begin base building where you’ll be able to recruit troops, construct buildings, set up defensive positions, build vehicles and acquire upgrades for your combatants. It all sounds daunting at first, especially since you’ll be doing much of this while battle is raging all around you, but it’s exciting and thrilling at the same time. There’s a rush of adrenaline as you’re frantically setting up your base of operations to bring more of your comrades to the frontlines as the enemy draws closer and closer. You’ll truly make comrade Stalin proud as you utilise cunning strategies and tactics with everything at your disposal to build a fighting force worthy of the Red Army to drive the Fascist invaders from your beloved homeland.
As this is the Eastern Front, the treacherous weather can prove just as deadly as any soldier. Your men can die of frostbite if caught in blizzards and moving through the snow will decrease their speed. Your men are able to build campfires to stay warm while risk being spotted by the enemies. This makes battles even more desperate as you must quickly come up with strategies to survive both the Nazis and the weather. However the weather may also work to your advantage, as the Nazis are also affected by the conditions, allowing you to explore strategic possibilities such as ambushes to use the wrath of mother nature as your weapon.
CoH2 also features a very rewarding multiplayer called “Theatre of War” with co-op and competitive options. There are plenty of game types to choose from with varied maps to play on. The biggest change to multiplayer is the revamped Commander Abilities System which sets you special abilities to use in matches to really bring the hurt down on your opponents. This fun and varied multiplayer along with a lengthy single player will keep you fighting on the Eastern Front for quite some time.
The visuals have greatly improved with Relic’s new Essence 3.0 engine turning the battlefield into a horrific and stunning spectacle. The detail level is very impressive considering the grand scale of the game. Battlefields are highly detailed with picturesque Slavic forest, large towns and cities all horrifically scarred by battle. Explosions, debris and gunfire look striking, shocking, even real and zooming the camera close to the ground lets you see how much detail has gone into the game, especially into the character and vehicle models.
The Essence 3.0 engine makes use of clever technologies like the popular physics engine “Havok”, “TrueSight”, which accurately simulates a unit’s visible range and “ColdTech” for weather simulation. This works in unison with spectacular sound effects and a thrilling, rousing musical score. Controlling your men with outstanding visuals and amazing sound design will make you feel like the director of an epic WW2 movie.
CoH2 offers that intense, thrilling combat experience that it’s predecessor had. Battles are exciting, there’s many strategic and tactical options to use and there’s plenty of replay value through the multiplayer. Yet even though CoH2 features some great content, there are still problems with the game that prevent it from surpassing the original game.
There are some technical hiccups with the game such as frame rate issues, late death animations, rather incompetent enemy AI and there are moments when the graphics can look terrible, in particular the pre-rendered cut-scenes. The in-game graphics look great, but it all falls apart when you see the very ugly cut-scenes with bizarre looking 3D characters who suffer from very stiff animations. It’s rather surprising that the short pre-rendered cutscene in CoH1 looked much better than all the cut-scenes in this game put together.
The main story sounds like a recipe for an epic wartime action-thriller, with Iskanovich recalling his most proud and tragic battles on the Eastern Front. Unfortunately the narrative of the campaign has not been executed well with shoddy writing, drab, unemotional voice acting and the ugly pre-rendered cutscenes. Even if this game decipits one of the most bloody and horrific conflicts in human history, you don’t actually feel much emotional connection because there isn’t much emphasis on the suffering, the sacrifice and the heroism of those involved since the bad writing and poor voice acting turns much of it into somewhat of a joke.
It’s a far cry from the first CoH with it’s superb voice acting and the ability to present a story of heroism and sacrifice with mostly in-game content. There we’re moments in the first CoH where the pacing would drastically change from an intense fire-fight to calmed, paced situations which allowed the player time to absorb all that was happening within the gamespace. You we’re able to observe and contemplate why you’re guiding these men and appreciate the heroism exerted from these characters and from yourself.
Company of Heroes 2 feels more like an expansion pack that a true sequel. The core gameplay remains the same as the first game with some improvements in the visuals, multiplayer and some changes in the battles. Other than that it’s a very similar affair to its predecessor. Even so Company of Heroes 2 is still able to captivate RTS fans with it’s gritty yet gratifying take on WW2 strategy gaming. It’s action-packed, it’s fast-paced and a game for real armchair Generals. If you’re willing and able, pick up Company of Heroes 2 and prepare to fight with your comrades for glory and victory.
This review was based on a digital review copy of the game for the PC provided by SEGA.