GAME NAME: Company of Heroes 2
RELEASE DATE(S): June 25th
The original Company of Heroes raised the bar for the RTS genre back in 2006. Many people in fact, including myself, haven’t stopped playing it since its release. The reason for the dedication is a simple one, Company of Heroes nailed squad based gameplay with almost perfectly balanced units, resulting in one of the most intense RTS experiences out there. And so with expectations near the red line, you can imagine the pressure on developers Relic Entertainment’s shoulders in making its sequel, Company of Heroes 2.
And with the debacle over THQ going into liquidation and their IP being sold to SEGA, well it didn’t make things any easier. So the question is, have Relic managed to improve upon an almost perfect game, or are you better off sticking with the original?
Company of Heroes 2 follows the same structure as the original: there is a single player campaign and a skirmish mode that can play host to both bots, human players or a variation of the two. The campaign, however, is a step up from the original with a more in-depth story that plays out in the form of flashbacks. So, for example, during the interrogation of a Soviet Army lieutenant, you play out his experiences on the Eastern Front. The campaign should be the starting point for any newcomers; it can act as a near perfect, though thoroughly enjoyable, in-depth tutorial that teaches you all the different gameplay aspects that you will need to master before jumping online with multiplayer. It’s a great campaign, but pales in comparison to the fun you will have with the multiplayer suite offered by Company of Heroes 2.
The multiplayer will feel instantly familiar to veteran players; not a whole lot has changed in terms of game modes and objectives. There is still annihilate mode (deathmatch) and victory control point mode which is basically a ticket based territory control mode. Both modes will still have you capturing points to obtain resources and resources will increase at a faster rate if you maintain a supply line. The core gameplay is almost identical to the original; cover still plays a big role when moving your squads around (if it ain’t broke right) with the exception of dynamic weather which gives an icy fresh twist. The Eastern front was one of the coldest places on the planet and Relic want you to know that, as you will quickly realize that blizzards are more deadly than enemy gunfire. Blizzards will sneak up on you at arbitrary intervals and unless your troops are near a fire or indoors, they will die from exposure in minutes. Frozen lakes and rivers are also potentially lethal traps as the ice can break beneath your tanks bringing your attack to a watery halt in seconds.
The weather, however, can also be used as a weapon against your enemy as you can snuff out enemy fire pits and flush out enemy occupied structures condemning your foes to brave the lethal cold. Blizzards also reduce visibility which acts as the perfect camouflage for moving armor and vehicles across great distances undetected. There is a whole new strategic can of worms opened with the weather system and it is a welcomed addition. What is less welcomed, however, is the new user interface; the clean simple look of the old UI has been replaced with a disco light show of blinking alerts that will distract other people in your house, let alone just you. A more colorful and vibrant look gives the UI an almost child friendly feel, which doesn’t fit with the sombre music and serious subject matter of Company of Heroes 2.
Luckily, your eyes won’t be distracted by flashing lights for too long as they will want to quickly re-focus on the game’s gorgeous visuals. Things have been vastly improved in the aesthetics department, from improved physics and better textures to bigger explosions and more soldiers battling it out on screen. It looks and sounds like a full scale war and there will literally be a battle happening inside your computer as your hardware tries to keep things running smoothly. Think of it as the Crysis of strategy games, its highly resource demanding but should you manage to crank everything up, it’s pure visual bliss.
In addition to the improved visuals, there is a new game mode called Theater of War which offers up extra missions that don’t tie into the single player campaigns story but can be played co-op. These are also a great addition and have a great mix of objective based stages as well as wave based survival maps where you can rack up the body count. There is also a Call of Duty style ranking system implemented into the multiplayer and, thankfully, levelling up doesn’t take eons like in the original.
Company of Heroes 2 can proudly call itself the true successor to the ground-breaking original, held back from the same level of greatness only by its poor UI and minor balancing issues. Every other aspect of the game has been taken to the next level which makes this sequel the only reason to stop playing the original. Not answering the call to the Mother Land is a war crime of epic proportions; you don’t want to be left out in the cold with this one.