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Company of Heroes 2

By Mokman15-04-2013
Leigh Cobb (editor)
StuntmanLT (editor)
Company of Heroes 2

The Defence

Relic Entertainment
Release Date:
25 06 2013

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce 8800
AMD Radeon HD 2950
2 GB
20 GB
10, 11

On September 12th 2006, Relic Entertainment - at the time still under the now-defunct THQ - released Company of Heroes, a WWII-based Real Time Strategy game, that forever changed the genre. Within days of its release, it was hailed as revolutionary, taking the world by storm and garnering widespread critical acclaim. Even to this day, Company of Heroes maintains its spot on many websites such as Metacritic or Gamespot as the highest-rated RTS game on the market - a testament to its brilliance and widespread appeal. In fact, one of the first articles I wrote on this site was a review of the first game, explaining the reasoning behind its popularity. However, before you cry bias, simply look at the impact the game has had on the entire industry, turning the genre on its head and resulting in an entire line of similar games sprouting from Relic, in both the many expansions to Company of Heroes, and in the much-loved Dawn of War series.

The gameplay differences, such as the focus on strategic points, to the minute improvements, such as the specific scripted audio for the troops and the superior animations, all snowballed into a frankly, amazing phenomenon, one that has not been seen since in the (arguably) atrophying genre. This then dictates the importance of Company of Heroes 2, as a result of its heritage - it holds either the possibility of revitalizing the entire genre, or becoming a tombstone marking the death of RTS games. We've had two weeks to play the beta, and these are our thoughts.

The ending of annihilation games are always ridiculous.

The ending of annihilation games are always ridiculous.

The first thing that hits you upon starting up a skirmish is just how much it reminds you of CoH. In fact, were it not for the vastly improved graphics and the change in locale to a freezing winter landscape, the differences between the two games would almost be imperceptible at first glance. In terms of the structure of its gameplay and the general formula behind each game, there is no great change - resources are still gathered by a mad dash for neutral strategic points, followed by a slow, grinding battle of attrition over shifting battle lines. Troops are also generated in the same way, although with the Russians the relevant strategies have changed, moving towards a more swarm-centric build as you purchase multitudes of dirt-cheap conscript squads to fight and die on the Eastern Front.

Company of Heroes 2 benefits from copying CoH in many ways, seeing as how great a game the original was, but one cannot help but feel a small amount of disappointment when one realises that Relic has not turned the whole genre on its head yet again. On one hand, the pleasant familiarity of the game brings back many good memories, and fills me with the assurance that no matter what they do with it, the game can't be that bad with such a great system. On the other hand, part of me had been expecting to experience something absolutely new the moment I entered the battlefield - an experience I have yet to encounter.

That is not to say that there is nothing new about this game - far from it. Although it may not have remade itself absolutely, CoH2 is not a mere expansion, adding in new factions and perhaps a few small mechanical changes to the gameplay. There are a few major additions to the game and the way it is played - some good, and some, well...baffling. The most obvious example of the latter is the way in which skill trees are exchanged for a simple line of unlocks that come with each Commander, swapping the in-game skill tree for the inclusion of a meta-game skill tree which awards your different commanders (i.e. Infantry, Armour etc.) with different skills that may be swapped in or out as players progress in rank. On paper, it is an understandable change, especially in the current gaming industry's climate and preference for the meta-game of progression (a "gift" to the industry that the Call of Duty is wholly to blame for). However, in practice, it hurts the actual game as it takes away one of the avenues for player agency - now the only agonizing choice to make in-game is which commander one picks.

Call of Duty inspired progression system adds an interesting incentive-based reason to play.

Call of Duty inspired progression system adds an interesting incentive-based reason to play.

It's not all bad however, as some of the new additions are brilliantly thought up and implemented. The main one would be the new blizzard mechanics for winter maps, where every once in a while, a timer comes up announcing a blizzard incoming within a minute or so - prompting everyone to scramble their infantry to shelter or fires before the chill winds take their deadly toll.

Imagine a pitched battle raging in the midst of a frozen lake, shattered ice flying ten metres into the sky as mortar-fire booms all about, tanks rolling and skidding on the slippery ground. Suddenly, the blizzard warning sets in and there is a renewed flurry of movement, as troops on both sides scramble either back to base or to the nearest available campfire. A stray group of engineers are caught up too far in front, having repaired a nearby tank, and are forced to huddle on an island of snow amidst the frozen lake, slowly growing colder and colder, until a tiny skull appears on their unit icon. Watching them closely, you see them huddled together, some on their knees, other shivering in foetal positions. One of them keels over. They attempt to make a move towards the nearest shelter as another falls to the ground, unmoving. They can barely see the building through the fog of war. As they near it, and another one drops dead - hope almost warms their slow-beating hearts, until the unmistakable click of a heavy-machinegun rings through the air and they are ripped to shreds by lines of tracer fire. Silence falls over the scene.

That's the power of the new mechanic - not only does it encourage strategic play and careful mobilization of your troops, it also adds a new layer of atmosphere into the game, one that was not present before. A darker, colder veneer that fits in perfectly with the setting of the game. This plays out further in the increased lethality of explosives such as mortars and grenades, a single mortar round is able to turn most of an infantry squad to offal. Tanks become veritable death-traps, dealing death wherever they go, but easily becoming a burning pyre for the crew inside as even more critical effects are appended to them. The message then that comes with the new gameplay changes is clear: Life is cheap in the Eastern Front, and the realities of war are as ice-cold as the lethal winds that blow all around. The game is darker and grittier than it ever was, losing its action-movie feel for something somewhat different.

This is further compounded in the renewed graphics and animations - both of which are used to great effect to convey that sense of desperation and realism. The spectacle of explosions have been perfected to an amazing degree, white and red mixing in hypnotically as blood and snow are thrown all about - the deep boom of the audio reverberating through the player's headsets. Your men shuffle and shiver in the cold, occasionally sidling up to the radiators of a nearby tank, or the burning embers of a campfire, warming themselves up around it. Your men move with an urgency that is felt through their actions, especially when the blizzard warning sounds and they slog through the deep snow trying to get to shelter. The audio is more ominous, deeper, taking on a depressing undertone which paints the war in muted hues.

The efficiency statistic of each unit you built, let's you know which units were absolutely useless.

The efficiency statistic of each unit you built, let's you know which units were absolutely useless.

There has been a great change in the soul of the game. Where it lacks innovation in giving us absolutely new mechanics, CoH2 makes up for it by changing the feel of the game entirely. One good explanation would be that CoH and its expansions felt like Saving Private Ryan, with its action-movie blockbuster feel, interspersed with serious moments, whereas CoH2 feels more akin to Enemy at the Gates, a grittier, darker look at the war. It is either happy coincidence, or deliberate intention that both games reflect the theatre in which their portion of the war took place - the Allied invasion giving off the vibes of a heroic action movie, while the mindless slaughter in the Eastern Front giving off the vibes of a hopeless, gritty war film.

Some people have stated that they feel the spirit of CoH has been lost with the recent game, that it doesn't feel as alive - I argue that just because a painting is in muted shades, does not make it any less beautiful. The grim desperation of German soldiers freezing out in the cold as they man their MG42 is as powerful an image as the maddened frenzy of American soldiers storming Normandy. I feel that Relic has, in what they have shown us so far, created something very much in line with their vision of the second game - a CoH which has grown up somewhat, yet lost none of its nerve. And I applaud them for this decision.

Comments (2)
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Posts: 1317

I don't know why, byt I'm not all that hyped for CoH 2. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure it'll be great and I will play it and love it. But I'm not feeling the hype right now.

It might also be because I was hoping for a Cooperative campaign, but it doesn't seem like the game will have one. I'm not a huge RTS guy, but RTS with Co-Op is just fun.

Posts: 1548

Love the beta even though I suck at it...