Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor
Reinvention has been the word on everyone's lips when it comes to Relic's wartime poster child. Company of Heroes streamlined the real-time strategy experience by taking out all the naff or boring bits to create an arcadey, action driven title that was rightly hailed as a benchmark for its genre. All the more sympathy then for Relic, who have given themselves a monumentally difficult act to follow and some pretty tough choices to make as to where they should go next: keep the same magic formula and risk stagnation, or make too many changes and lose what made COH a success. What they've produced is actually a fairly decent instalment in the franchise, but an ultimately dumbed down experience.
In fact, "instalment" might be pushing it a little since there isn't an awful lot in the way of new content here. The campaigns consist of a paltry three missions a piece, and each will take you no longer than a couple of hours to complete. That being said, this is still Company of Heroes, and in spite of the woefully short single-player it's still the pinnacle of WWII strategy, and merit has to be given to Relic for riskily attempting to renovate a part of the genre increasingly lacking in any real sparks of originality.
Much like Dawn of War II and World in Conflict, Tales of Valor takes the less-is-more approach to real-time strategy warfare, with battles being strictly small-scale and players being in control of only a handful of men. The result is an interesting blend of action and RTS, with a few RPG elements thrown in for good measure.
Relic's centrepiece for this scaling down philosophy is the first new campaign in the expansion. Tiger Ace sees you taking control of a single German Tiger Tank crew, rampaging through the streets of Villers-Bocage. That's right: no resource management, no buildings and no unit production. This really does mean that there's little involved strategy, no discernible sense of difficulty and so, to be honest, not a whole lot of fun. Relishing in the glorious and gratuitous destruction that the Havok engine allows you to inflict on the poor French countryside will of course never get old and so visually, Tales of Valor delivers the timeless COH magic that we have all come to love.
The new campaigns also introduce Direct Fire, a new real-time aiming mode that allows you to use your mouse to aim and fire your turret or squad manually. This is only useful on occasion, and it's difficult to shake the gimmickiness of it, especially when pointing and clicking will get the job done most of the time. As mildly amusing but ultimately unfulfilling as the additions to the singleplayer are, it would be unfair to focus on them too heavily as this is undoubtedly a multiplayer expansion. The three new campaigns don't really add anything spectacular to the series in the same way that Opposing Fronts single-player did. However, the new multiplayer modes on the other hand are a stroke of Relic-flavoured genius.
World War Fun
Although strategy purists or hard-line COH veterans may turn their noses up at what are essentially game modes with a greater focus on arcade and immersive action rather than realistic or gritty strategy, they're nevertheless incredibly original, diverse and breathe new life into Relic's pride and joy, which until now was beginning to show signs of age.
In Assault mode, you're put in control of a single character from a choice of seven different character classes, each with their own individual abilities (the officer can boost morale, the sniper deals huge damage to single targets, the medic heals nearby allies and so on). The rest of the army is controlled by the AI and the ultimate objective is to push your way into the enemy's base and destroy their central HQ, upgrading your hero unit's three different attributes as you progress further and rack up kills. This kind of gameplay might seem to have more RPG and action elements that RTS, but speaking as someone who has squeezed every possible drop.of enjoyment out of most of Relic's titles, it is an incredibly refreshing change from the classic format.
Whether such changes will alienate or entice remains to be seen, but nevertheless Relic have produced an upstanding addition to the definitive WWII strategy series. Whether there's enough here to warrant its position as a standalone release is debatable - surely in this golden age of DLC such ploys will be viewed in a more cynical light - but the originality of the new multiplayer modes can't be faulted.
Relic seem to fancy themselves the mad scientists of the WWII RTS field, constantly experimenting and tinkering with the genre's formula with the aim to produce something new, and inarguably original.
Direct Fire Mode
You'll shoot when I tell you to shoot damn it!
Although a simpleton like me might not find Company of Heroes' new way of killing things particularly useful, this is something I'm sure higher level players may well exploit to every possible advantage in multiplayer.
I can only imagine it being beneficial when controlling a tank, however, as you can have a greater degree of control over which direction it is facing (and therefore which side of the hull takes damage) when shooting something behind or to the side, providing a partial resolution to the frustrating tank pathing issues that both Dawn of War II and COH have been dogged with.
The other upshot is that you can indiscriminately destroy the surrounding scenery as much as you want, even if there are no enemies in sight, and indulging one's pernicious side is always fun.
Download Company of Heroes: Tales of Valor
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP