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Company of Heroes 2

By Mokman21-06-2013
Bobfish (editor)
MrJenssen (editor)
Company of Heroes 2

The Defence

Relic Entertainment
Release Date:

The Prosecution

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

The Case


There is a saying amongst geeks that the sequel is commonly the peak of a series, in terms of quality and polish, as well as showcasing the essence of what makes the series great. This applies to all walks of geekdom, be it movies or, more importantly, videogames. This is a pretty common rule, which brings us then to the case of Company of Heroes, a Real-Time Strategy game developed by Relic Entertainment under the now-defunct THQ in 2004. It smashed its way into the industry, guns blazing, clinching a slew of awards as well as the title of Highest-Rated RTS of All Time. Its innovative gameplay coupled with intense atmosphere and well-developed design choices, catapulted it into the gaming Hall of Fame, where it influences RTS games to this very day. In fact, my very first review on Pixel Judge was for the original game, where I gave it a stellar score as well as a glowing recommendation. And now, the sequel is out - a turn of events that awakens both excitement and trepidation for the fans of the original. How does it fare? Does it take the series to even greater heights? Or does it crash and burn? Let's find out.

The Trial


So what's new? Well, the most obvious of differences is that the game now has shifted its focus towards the Eastern Front, a change that results not just in thematic differences between it and the original, but also differences in terms of gameplay. Winter maps are now not only cosmetic, there are now crucial strategic issues that must be considered, such as keeping your suffering comrades alive long enough in the winter snow so that they may get to the front lines - and give their lives for the Motherland. One such example would be the newly-introduced blizzard mechanic, where once every ten minutes or so, a timer would pop up announcing a countdown to the next blizzard - a weather change that spells death to those caught out of buildings or away from campfires when it hits. Having touched on this mechanic somewhat in the preview, it still hits me how poignant it is to watch your men slog their way through the snow, war forgotten as they attempt to battle the elements themselves. The fine tightrope they walk between life and death is all the more realized by the brief conflagrations of battle followed by the brief interludes of peace and calm in the midst of the blizzard storm. That is, until the sly bastard of an enemy general sneaks an entire division of tanks past your front lines and right into your base, using the blizzard as cover.

It seems the only sensible person in the entire Russian army is the tutorial radio guy.

It seems the only sensible person in the entire Russian army is the tutorial radio guy.

That's where the brilliance of this new gameplay mechanic shines through - it is not simply a thematic experience of the Eastern Front, but it introduces the actual strategic considerations that real-life commanders in the battlefield had to endure, and opens up a whole plethora of options. Do you try to rush your troops to a forward position, with only seconds left to spare on the blizzard timer? Would you attempt a forward assault on the enemy during the blizzard, in the hopes that he’ll be spending the lull in battle to reorganize his defences? Is your foe making the exact same choice right now? There is a nail-biting tension that is now added to the game, as Relic manipulates the players with a simple rule - the inclusion of lulls breaking apart an intense battle, only make the moments of battle feel all the more intense.

And yes, intense is the word for it. If possible, battles have become even more frantic and powerful than those in the original, achieved through a mix of the newly updated graphics and physics, the impeccably well-produced audio, and the gameplay mechanics themselves. Company of Heroes 2 focuses on an even more micro-management intensive form of gameplay than its predecessor, with most units possessing at least two skills that are vital to the combat at hand - failure to use them commonly leads to defeat. Thus, commanders will find themselves switching between units frantically, multi-tasking as only a Real-Time Strategy game could make them do. Ordering one troop of conscripts forward to screen a vital attack on a machinegun emplacement, calling a retreat on the left flank as it fails to penetrate a heavily defended line, while constantly trying to maintain control over his territory and upgrade as well as bolster his forces - the commander faces enormous new challenges every second.

Surprisingly, their accents are less ridiculous than you might expect.

Surprisingly, their accents are less ridiculous than you might expect.

Another interesting addition is that of a levelling system for the meta-game, where each player is able to increase in rank and receive rewards based on their ranks, ranging from the trivial, such as new tank skins for customization, to the major, such as new commander classes and tech tree options that may be swapped out for the multiplayer. An ingenious move, as it provides incentive to keep playing even apart from the fact that it's a great game. It is also a well-balanced one as it takes great care not to result in a power creep, but rather open up different avenues of strategic options as players progress in the ranks. Multiplayer definitely features more strongly in the sequel, as Relic realizes what truly made the original famous. There have also been additions to the much-requested co-op campaign modes. Though these feature only single battles, they are still roaring fun to romp through with a friend.

Even more interesting is the huge change in the way commander skill trees work - giving a greater variety of commanders to choose from, ranging from tank support specialists, to massed infantry leaders, while replacing the skill tree with what is essentially a single line of options. While it does indeed take away player agency once the game is underway in a small manner, it makes up for that fact by encouraging more cooperation between players in the multiplayer, where a lack of it is tantamount to suicide. Strategic thinking is then brought to the fore here, and by forcing players to play within the boundary of the choices they make, Relic actually allows them to think further out of the box. For example, where a tank commander would previously have the option to go down a bastardized path between armoured infantry and pure armoured forces, now the forcing of the latter means the commander has to either rack his brains for a way to make use of the options he has and win through them - or admit defeat. Thus, a higher level of play is achieved. Asymmetrical gameplay at its finest.

You might think that one surviving man goes on to heroically do something awesome. Spoiler - he died immediately after.

You might think that one surviving man goes on to heroically do something awesome. Spoiler - he died immediately after.

That's what's new about this game. However, what is in fact important, is what is not new - but instead, improved. And this is where Company of Heroes 2 simply knocks it out of the park. The infrastructure of the game is still the same, resources are still gathered over hotly-contested strategic points which change hands every so often. Slow grinding battles of attrition are fought in ever-shifting battle lines, while dozens of your troops are whittled down to one or two-man squads before they retreat wildly to central command. Yet, there is a subtle but important change - one that relates to what is, in my opinion, the central tenet of Company of Heroes. It's the atmosphere. The aforementioned winter mechanics showcase these changes brilliantly. The grim, meaningless deaths of your men due to a tactical error you make, the littering of frozen corpses curled up in foetal positions as men are sacrificed or simply could not get to a campfire in time. The desperation in which battle is forgotten the moment the timer appears, and everyone scramble for cover against the common foe - the wrath of nature itself. It all culminates in a radical thematic change.

Life is cheap on the Eastern Front, and CoH2 blares this message out with consistency and vigour, shifting its gameplay to fit the theme. Combat in general is now much more lethal. Gone are the one last standing members of squads that somehow manage to survive being shot a few dozen times. Mortars and explosives can now wipe an entire squad out in a single hit, resulting in heart-sinking moments as you watch a squad that you had gotten really attached to, wiped out without even leaving the front lines, or the infuriating choices you have to make between braving an artillery strike or running out into the blizzard, away from the target area. Tanks are now a double-edged sword, dealing death with sickening ease, but also taken out just as easily, becoming a pyre for the burning crew as they tumble out of the tank, rolling on the ground in agony before expiring. The theme is darker - grittier - resulting in poignant moments and lip-bitingly powerful scenes, like the littering of bodies clustered around a single tank, the scorch-marks over a burned field of still-moving corpses.

Females in the Soviet army? Kudos to Relic for historical accuracy there.

Females in the Soviet army? Kudos to Relic for historical accuracy there.

The campaign showcases this brilliantly, with a much stronger plot than the first game. It focuses around the memoirs of a disgraced officer who becomes disillusioned with the Soviet army, after having seen first-hand the death and destruction caused by war, the cheapness of human life in the struggle for victory. Featuring many famous moments from the Eastern Front, such as the Battle for Stalingrad, or the rousing push-back of the Germans, or the desperate scorched-earth tactics employed to delay the Nazis from Moscow. It weaves a convincing and immensely emotional tale about the war.

Another facet of this gem which portrays this theme perfectly, is the visual representation and audio - where the crowning glory is not an updated graphics set, but instead the amount of detail and effort placed into the animations. One of my favourites is watching 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 features deeper and darker tones, and the sounds of explosions and cries have been masterfully done, while the Russian accents reach just the right amount of thickness not to become contrived.

It's pronounced 'URAAAH'. I would know, I played Call of Duty 2 with subtitles.

It's pronounced 'URAAAH'. I would know, I played Call of Duty 2 with subtitles.

Yes, there are flaws. The graphics are not terribly cutting-edge, still slightly outdated compared to the current generation crispness. The gameplay itself does not feature any earth-shaking innovations, but instead sticks with a tried and true formula that Relic by now should be very much used to. And yet...this is so very different from the expansions for the original CoH. This is not a simple addition of content on top a base game. This replaces instead of enhancing, it overhauls where the expansions have merely tweaked. The dynamics of the gameplay has been transformed entirely, to a more frantic, heart-pounding pace, and yet with even more strategic considerations and tactical nuance for commanders to deal with. But where it has changed the most, is the soul.

Company of Heroes 2 is the grown-up, slightly edgier, older brother to Company of Heroes. It features a more mature take on the Second World War, where the battles are desperate and the world itself rebels against you. I made this comparison in the preview, and I shall reiterate it here: One good explanation would be that Company of Heroes and its expansions felt like Saving Private Ryan, with its action-movie blockbuster feel, interspersed with serious moments, whereas Company of Heroes 2 feels more akin to Enemy at the Gates and the German film Stalingrad. A grittier, darker look at the war. Both games masterfully reflect the theatre in which their portion of the war took place - the Allied invasion giving off the vibes of a heroic Hollywood movie, while the mindless slaughter in the Eastern Front giving off the vibes of a hopeless, gritty anti-war film.

The Verdict


Company of Heroes 2 may be viewed as a smaller step forward than expected - 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 the beaches of 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 instalment in the series - a game which has grown up somewhat, yet lost none of its nerve. And I applaud them for this decision.

Case Review

  • Incredibly Thematic: The core of what makes this new instalment in the series really stand out is the change in theme.
  • Intense Strategic and Tactical Play: Potentially reaching a level where professional E-Sports competition may occur.
  • Great Animations and Audio: Which in turn really helps the theme shine through.
  • Multiplayer Focus: The shift towards a more meta-game, multiplayer-focused experience may be a turn-off to some more single player-centric gamers.
  • Not for the Greedy: It does not add much, but where it does, it adds perfectly enough.


Score: 4.5/5
A game which has grown up somewhat, yet lost none of its nerve.


Company of Heroes 2 has a lot of live up to. As if being the follow-up for the highly successful CoH wasn’t enough, CoH 2 went through some rough phases during its development, having changed publisher and facing death by firing squad at the order of Commissar Bankruptcy. But that’s all in the past now, and this year’s most anticipated RTS title next to Total War: Rome 2, has found its way into the stores near you. To make it short; it’s a good game. I can’t fault it for all that many things. The game is nice to look at and when you crank the volume all the way up, your next door neighbor will be scrambling to cover once those Katyusha’s unleash their heavenly payload. CoH 2 truly stays loyal to the franchise’s name by offering us a bombastic war game that does everything well.

Save, perhaps that one thing. You see, I don’t really want to talk about the battles and fights and units and explosions and multiplayer, because CoH 2 has those things covered immensely well. What I want to talk about is the story. The campaign is what you’d expect; Russia’s desperate struggle to fight back the German onslaught. We’ve seen the environments before, be it in games or movies, and it all looks familiar. But that’s ok. My gripe comes with the game’s half-arsed approach at trying to show the horrors of war. On the one side, we have our protagonist, the hero of sorts, haunted by his memories of the war, the terrible things he has seen and so on. On the other hand, we have a game that makes war, dare I say it, fun. There is no synchrony between the two. We jump from story cut scene, showing us the sacrifices and horrors of war, directly into a fight that is so intense yet strangely ‘clean’. Rinse and repeat. It’s as if the developers – who, granted, went through a lot of crap during the production of this title – wanted to remind us that we are playing the horror that others had to go through in real life 70 years ago, but didn’t have the courage to go the whole way. A shame, really because that’s what this title needed.

Score: 3.5/5


The first question on a lot of people’s minds is; in reality, is Company of Heroes 2 a full-fledged sequel or an expansion? To be honest, it is both and neither. CoH 2 is much more than an expansion and a little bit less than a proper sequel. A lot of things have been updated and revamped, but it was done in the true spirit of the original. If you take a glance at the first game or any of its expansions and then at CoH 2, you will immediately notice the visual difference. It’s subtle yes, but it’s befitting 2013, with more detailed environments and higher visual fidelity overall. Of course some textures could have higher resolution and some models could do with more polygons, but that can be noticed only while up close. Most of your time will be spent hovering above the battlefield where these issues are practically invisible.

The game itself is huge. It has a campaign, single-player and co-op missions, skirmish and of course multiplayer. Admittedly, multiplayer could have more maps (8 different maps with some of them having winter variants) but it is all the goodness that could be experienced during the on-going open beta. Due to the single-player being so similar to the original, a lot of people have their doubts that this is a genuine sequel. Don’t. It is great. It has few inconsistencies, like the story tone and the in-game atmosphere, but otherwise, you do not need to take away the ability to build a base for a game to call itself a sequel. So if you like strategy games - buy it. If you like games - buy it. If you can’t stand anything that makes you control more than just your avatar, well, then you’re just losing out.

Score: 4.5/5
Comments (7)
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Posts: 228

StarCraft 2 had an amazingly engaging Campaign. I wasn't expecting that and was just blown away! Unlike here.

Posts: 3290

Lot of divergent opinions here

Posts: 1317

I don't remember anyone saying it was sad to hear Blizzard went half in and half out when they made StarCraft 2. O.o

Posts: 596

It is sad to hear they went half in and half out, which is too bad. I really should try this game though, I've had the beta on my PC for so long but just not had time to try it.

Will be curious to see how it does.

Posts: 228

I find it severly underwhelming in comparison to CoH1, especially the campaign. You'll beat back more german human waves than you can care to count, the dialogue between the prisoner and the officer is all "my men died, I has sad" "no, men died for good purpose" while all the videos are really pushing the points of soviets being mean to their own troops.

Posts: 240

Yeah, that would be really cool, Bobfish, I agree. One of those rare books that I would dare to say everyone should read once in their lifetime is Gorky Park.

Anyway, looks like a bloody good game, reminding me that I really need to get around to playing the first game already.

Posts: 3290

You know, I've actually been saying, for a while now, that we need more stories about Russians. They're such an interesting people