A long cold winter for RTS players.
Relic have made a name for themselves as providers of rather excellent real-time Strategy games with the very popular Company of Heroes and the Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War series. A large part of that popularity comes not only with the incredible balance that Relic have managed in their games, but also with the emphasis in their RTS titles being on strategy rather than the resource management that featured in many other RTS games in the past. And this emphasis on strategy has been followed through in their latest title, the highly anticipated Company of Heroes 2, which is out now for PC.
However, the emphasis on strategy is not the only aspect of the original Company of Heroes game that has made its way over to this sequel. In fact, there are a huge number of similarities between the two games, so many that some may question whether Company of Heroes 2 is a sequel at all, and rather a generously filled stand-alone expansion.
Either way, I am of the opinion that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “more of the same is never a bad thing”. So, given that Company of Heroes was such a good game anyway, the fact that this sequel brings with it many of the same mechanics and gameplay features, surely it can’t be a bad thing, right?
But Company of Heroes 2 does bring a whole bunch of new features to the RTS party, not least of which is a new setting. Remaining firmly in the hands of World War II, CoH2 takes the action to the Eastern Front and introduces us to the might of the Red Army. The Soviet force plays on the sheer superiority of numbers and the ruthlessness with which deserters are dealt with.
And it is the Soviet side of things that take centre stage in the games’ campaign which, rather amusingly, seems to have taken cue from at least a couple of other big name games from recent history and tells its story in the form of flashbacks from the interrogation of a soldier. It is during the campaign that the player will be able to fully experience everything new that CoH2 has to offer. The campaign lasts for some 14 missions which are varied enough to not only keep the player interested, but also have them trying out different tactics in their quest for success.
The most exciting addition, and the most frustrating once the player actually has to experience it, is the weather. In Company of Heroes 2, it is cold, damn cold. So cold, in fact, that troops are very likely to freeze to death unless they remain in cover or close to a source of heat, such as a bonfire. The idea is sound and certainly adds an extra level of threat to any mission. But in practice it does feel somewhat cheap to have squads succumb to the cold rather than to enemy fire.
A strong emphasis on line of sight, realistic destructible cover, a changing battlefield and a good physics engine make CoH2 a joy to play, even with the ever-present possibility of freezing your troops to death. Little tweaks and additions to the gameplay, combined with the classic features of the previous game, ensure that all of the new tactics that come with the new units and setting work perfectly, leaving failure the sole responsibility of the player, and possibly the weather.
To compliment the very enjoyable single player campaign, multiplayer returns in all of its glory. It is the multiplayer offering that made the previous game so popular, and fans of that will be pleased to hear that not only does the solid multiplayer return with new maps and units, but also that the weather effect is only an option. Combining this with a mass of Steam Achievements and leveling up the players profile to unlock abilities and skins, and there really is a huge amount of content here that will effectively keep players busy for weeks or even months.
And it doesn’t even stop there. The Theatre of War brings in a collection of single player and co-op missions that stand separately to the campaign and pit the player, and a friend in the co-op offering, against the AI for yet more RTS action. The promise of further content down the line for this mode will ensure that players will have a reason to come back even if competitive multiplayer is not their cup of tea.
The changes that have been made in Company of Heroes 2 are not ground-breaking. The game has not changed much since the previous outing. However, that doesn’t mean that the game looks the same, and the upgraded graphics ensure that Company of Heroes 2 looks the part amongst other modern games. Things like explosions and destructible cover look especially satisfying with the new visuals.
Company of Heroes 2 is not the leap forward that fans of the series may have been hoping for. But the game still manages to maintain its position at the top of the RTS pile with flawless gameplay, compelling multiplayer and a stunning look that makes watching your squad freeze almost enjoyable.