Company of Heroes
Despite being the best rts out this year - and certainly one of the best ever to grace these hallowed pages - Company Of Heroes isn't really a revolutionary game. What Relic have done is take the real-time strategy genre, cut it open, examine it, pull out all the smelly old bits that people hate and put in some lovely tasty new bits that people will like. Then they have sewn it up, put it on its feet and sent it out into the world to, er, bring happiness, light and cheer wherever it sets foot. It's like some kind of lean, mean RTS Frankenstein. Or some kind of lean, mean RTS Frankenstein's monster, for the pedants out there. What I'm trying to say is that it's more an evolution of the genre. With Company Of Hemes, Relic have moved the RTS one significant step closer to perfection.
For example, resource management is a part of the game, but tedious gold, wood or Tiberium-farming is not - instead you accrue points by capturing and holding sections of territory, in a system similar to that used by Relic's last effort Dawn Of War. You also build up special XP points by killing enemies.
Yes. it's still resource-gathering, and you still use the points to create new units and unlock new abilities, but it's been cleverly engineered to force you into combat rather than encourage you to hang back, 'turtle up' and spend five hours constructing an elaborate, impregnable and largely pointless stronghold.
And then there's the tactics. There's nothing particularly inspired here; you have to make use of cover or your troops will be ripped to ribbons, and if you hold the enemy with one unit and then flank him with another, you'll probably wipe him out with ease. Tanks blow up quicker if you get round the back, where their armour isn't as thick. It's basic stuff, true - but it's rare to see it properly implemented in a mainstream RTS. We're talking about a genre where most combat is still determined by an abstract scissors-paper-stone mechanic, and the fact that Company Of Heroes uses real-world tactics that actually work made me feel like some kind of non-moustachioed General Montgomery.
It helps that, in the words of one developer, "shit blows up real good' in this game. My PC's subwoofer hasn't rumbled out explosions so buttock-quakingly booming since Soldiers: Heroes Of World War II arrived a couple of years ago.
The way enemy troops somersault through the air after receiving the delicate attentions of a Calliope rocket launcher is a thing of terrible, Havok-induced beauty we might even go so far as to say that it's "teh aw35om3 dood," if our parlance contained such terms (but it doesn't lol). It's an eye-popping display of destruction, but there's also a real purpose to it This is one of a handful of games with fully destructible terrain. The battlefield can be completely reshaped by tanks, mortars and aerial bombardments.
Your GIs can huddle in the craters that result from an artillery strike, or a tank can power straight through a wall to provide them with an alternative path to the next objective. And it's not just about knocking things down you can also use engineers to build defensive structures like sandbags, barbed wire, tank traps and machine-gun nests, or order a unit to take up positions in a building (and you can see them actually it - they'll kick open the shutters and moun a machine gun in a window frame).
Keeping your men in cover is vital if you want to succeed here, and thankfully Relic have made doing so a no-brainer hover the pointer over a part of the battlefield and dots will appear to indicate where your men will end up, should you decide to click. Green dots are the best type of cover (ie behind sandbags or solid walls), yellow is minor cover (hedgerows and craters), no dots means virtually no protection and red (the middle of road, for example) means your men are more exposed than Arnold Schwarzenegger at the beginning of a Terminator movie. It works well.
Cover Me Bad
Such bunkering down is necessary at times - if you don't, the nature of the single-player missions and the abilities of the Al will hand you a severe ass-whupping. Just as the real World War II wasn't all about building up a huge force and simply crushing the enemy, so you'll spend much of your time here defending as well as attacking. The German troops retreat back to their lines when they know they've lost a skirmish - "They don't like it up 'em, Mr Mainwaring," etc - but they always seem to come back in more numbers, as well as pop up elsewhere on the map to try and recapture territory. It means that you often find yourself fighting on several fronts at once, but never in a frustrating way.
An RTS wouldn't be an RTS without some kind of tech-tree, of course, and aside from the usual 'You must build x to have y' arrangement Company Of Heroes has a real humdinger - a beautiful sycamore of a tech-tree with leaves made out of bullets and that It's called Company Commander, and it utilises the XP points you amass by slaughtering foes and capturing territory. Gather enough XP for a full Command Point and you can spend it on special powers, like the ability to drop in paratroopers anywhere on the map, or call in heavy artillery fire on an enemy position. Once you've selected one of these abilities, it can generally be used over and over again - but each time it'll cost you some of your regular munitions or manpower points too, to prevent you from going crazy and spamming the Hun with shock and awe tactics.
It's balancing touches like this that ensure the game remains a challenge too. There's a population cap, determined by the number of sectors you hold, so you can't build up an overwhelming force of 80 tanks before venturing out and taking on the Germans. It all comes back to this: you need to use tactics and cover.
When all the things I've mentioned come together you're left with something truly challenging and, more importantly, fun. Take the level where you find yourself defending the town of Carentan, which you've just captured, from a German counter-attack.
It begins with you entrenching a lot of troops and, if you play anything like me, with a ragtag handful of men squatting in a corner of the now shattered city. This is the one remaining territory you control, and it's hanging-on-by-your-fingernails stuff as you attempt to hold off hordes of tanks and jackbooted stormtroopers. The German artillery pounds the buildings around you into dust while you await the reinforcements that can save you. You run from cover to cover, using improvised satchel charges and your own off-map artillery to stem the iron tide as your men drop one by one - and then suddenly, you realise the clock has reached zero and your buddies are on their way.
Shermans roll into the town and from then on, it's payback time. Now the adrenalin really kicks in; this is every bit as thrilling as the most memorable parts of Call Of Duty or Medal Of Honor - and how often can you say that about an RTS game?
Zoom Zoom Zoom
Another thing that needs to be mentioned before I reach the end of the review is the presentation. This is the first real-time strategy game where you can zoom right into the action if you want; there's an incredible amount of detail. You probably won't want to play the game from down there - in fact attempting to do so would make you insanely masochistic - but you'll certainly want to pause it every now and again and move the camera down there. Just because you can.
The sound is also ace. We've already mentioned the booty-shaking explosions (is that the neighbours banging on the wall again?), but the rest is similarly riveting: rifle cracks, the scream of incoming rockets, the metallic trundle of tank tracks and some of the foulest language we've heard in a game all serve to add a welcome measure of atmosphere to the proceedings.
Like we said at the beginning of the review, this is an evolutionary step in the RTS genre, and one that at least as far as this reviewer is concerned, is firmly in the right direction. Relic have focused on putting real-life tactics into real-time strategy, and not only that, they've made one of the finest-looking games of the year. And it's got tanks that shoot out flames. There have been lots of World War II RTS games, but this is the one that finally gives the subject matter its due - it's nothing short of brilliant.
Download Company of Heroes
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
Right, So You've just slapped down 30 of your hard-earned quids on the finest World War II RTS ever to grace god's green earth - but you're having trouble guiding Able Company through their invasion of Normandy. Your brave band of brothers is getting chewed up by MG42 fire, crisped by flamethrowers, blown to bits by mortar rounds and crushed beneath the tracks of the dreaded Tiger tank. What do you do? Well, you get tactical on their asses, that's what. Read these words and push Jerry back to Berlin...
Send In The Vets
Things going bad in a campaign mission? Then it's time to unleash the vets. No. we're not talking about men in white coats that like to stick thermometers up cats' bottoms - we mean your hardened, experienced riflemen, snipers, mortar teams and heavy machine gun teams from previous levels. There are three levels of 'veterancy', each indicated by the number of chevrons on the unit insignia. Veterans shoot faster and more accurately and are generally all-round hard-nuts. They can be summoned by clicking the chevron icon in the Barracks or Weapons Support Center, but be warned: they'll cost you more resources than regular infantry.
Let's go inside
Buildings make great cover for infantry, especially snipers and machine gun teams. Stick a sharpshooter in a church tower and he'll do a passable impression of Barry Pepper's character from Saving Private Ryan (except thankfully without all the tedious religious nonsense). But do be careful where you garrison your precious soldiers: each building can only take so much punishment before it collapses, and that means a dusty, rocky death for any poor soul inside. When the tanks start pounding away on your building, it's time to move the men out and find a new home.
Building up experience points might all sound a bit beardy, but it's essential if you want to beat Fritz: not only will units gain veterancy ranks, you'll also unlock new abilities and weapons on the Company Commander trees. Killing enemies is one obvious way of building up the XP, but you can also run your tanks over the wreckage of destroyed vehicles, which somehow translates to 'salvaging' them. It'll only earn you a few XP each time you do it, but every little helps.
Flank That Tank
German Panzer tanks are frightening adversaries with near-impenetrable armour at the front; in a stand-up fight, they'll generally mash up your Shermans with ease. The trick is to use their relative immobility against them: use a tank to get their attention, then flank them with either anti-tank infantry or a second tank and hit their weaker side or rear armour. Not got a tank? Then try hurling sticky bombs to disable the panzer's engine and stop it in its tracks - or if you're really smart, use infantry or light vehicles to lure them into a pre-laid minefield. Kaboom!
Combine and conquer
The key to a successful advance into enemy territory is a combined, balanced force. Use Sherman tanks as the backbone, but back them up with versatile riflemen and engineers. Riflemen provide flanking abilities, while the engineers can make running repairs to your armour. As you move further, secure the territory you've captured by moving in MG teams and anti-tank guns, making sure to entrench them behind the green-indicated hard cover if possible and aiming their firing arcs at likely points of enemy counter-attack. Man, we sound like General Patton or something.
Snipers Do More Than Just Snipe
Obviously, snipers are good at shooting, taking out an enemy with each bullet they use. Fine, but don't forget their other use: scouting. By flipping your sharpshooter into camouflage mode and instructing him to hold fire, you can sneak behind enemy lines and observe Axis positions. Then use indirect, long-range fire from Mortars, Howitzers and off-map artillery barrages, or even P47 aircraft strafing runs, to take out unsuspecting targets. Then cackle at your leisure - and use the sniper's unerring aim to pick off any surviving infantry. It's sneaky and goddamn effective, so it is.
Something In The Air
Airborne troops are an extremely useful tool if used in the right way. These versatile squads can be dropped anywhere in the sight radius of a friendly unit; infiltrate a light vehicle or sniper behind enemy lines, then bring, the paratroopers in. Not only can they be used to harass Axis weapons teams from behind, they can also capture strategic points to sever German supply lines. Equip them with recoilless rifles at the cost of 125 Munitions and they can even take on tanks, not to mention use their satchel charges to blow the living poo out of buildings.
Thanks to some beautifully rendered grit and grime, advanced Al and impressive destructible environments, Company Of Heroes has remained lodged in our heads since it was first unveiled at E3 last year. World War II and the RTS are far from strangers, but Relic, they of Homeworld and Dawn Of War fame, believe there's still much to be explored in the old theatre of war, and everything we've seen so far in Company Of Heroes proves them right .
The first thing that sticks out above the competition is the game's stunning visuals; COH is easily the best-looking WWII RTS we've ever seen. Thankfully though, the visuals go a bit deeper than just making the tank battle damage look pretty. Every object in the game has physical properties and can be damaged or destroyed. In most RTS games you're confined to venturing only to where the level designers want you to go, but in COH you can blow down each and every wall or barrier that blocks your path. Buildings crumble and collapse, roads crack and tanks explode, leaving their empty shells scorched on the battlefield.
This impressive level of interactivity isn't just for show either - it's a huge strategic resource; downed vehicles and nibble can be used as cover by your infantry, and holes blown in the side of buildings can instantly be shot out of by your men inside. After a large town skirmish, you'll barely be able,to recognise your battle-damaged surroundings.
So far, so much a prettier and zoomed-in re-enactment of Soldiers: Heroes Of World War II you might say. Equally as impressive as the interactive battlegrounds, Relic promise, is the Al in the game. Never again will RTS soldiers wait blankly for your orders and stand ineptly in a hail of bullets. Company Of Heroes will create believable, and beautifully animated, living infantry who move cautiously through streets, duck and dive for cover and generally do their damnedest to stay alive. While they won't quite finish the game for you, it's nice to hear RTS promised that won't need your constant attention.
One of the things that makes the advanced Al so erm, advanced though, is the way that infantry move like real squads; units will do their best to remain out of sight, staying on the edge of roads and appearing cautious to the world around them. When attacked they'll run for cover, pick their targets carefully and, if necessary, sit tight and wait for reinforcements to arrive.
While Company Of Heroes is undoubtedly a more action-focused RTS, resource gathering also plays an important role in gameplay. To generate resources you're tasked with securing strategic locations around the map, with the map itself also divided into 'sectors', each generating a different kind of resource. Fuel, munitions and manpower are the three main flavours, with fuel being needed to summon vehicles, manpower to train infantry and munitions for ammo and upgrades. As such, the securing and defending of said resources becomes a very important part of the Heroes experience.
From what we've seen so far, we're more excited for Company of Heroes than any other WWII RTS in recent memory, and when you bring Relic's stellar track record into the eguation, we re confident we won't be disappointed.
I've never been equally stunned, amazed, and frustrated with an RTS before. Relic, the same wonderful bastards that brought us Dawn of War and Homeworld, have worked to give us yet another amazing RTS. Company of Heroes is built on the same gameplay design that made Dawn of War so great, improved even more to present an amazing look and feel that is immersive to a ridiculous degree. If you enjoyed playing Brothers in Arms or Call of Duty for their mood and feel, you should find Company of Heroes equally powerful. From the bloody beaches of Normandy to the assault of Cherbourg, you'll fight through hell, and come out the other side.
First, the resourcing model in CoH is very different from most games I've played. Like in Dawn of War, your resourcing model focuses on capturing territory on the game board by seizing points on the map. These help you produce the game's three resources manpower, munitions, and fuel. What's different in this game is that the collection of these resources is severely hindered compared to other games. You've got to fight tactically to survive, because reinforcements come slowly.
Another change in this game is that you simply cannot play a defensive game in Company of Heroes. Obviously that isn't wholly accurate; CoH seems to throw out the whole idea of turtling in favor of a constantly shifting, dynamic battlefield. It does this by not providing you with ways to create a real perimeter with your construction resources. Often times, the production of a Rifleman squad is more important than setting up a minefield because of the battlefield flexibility your soldiers give you. These simple changes make this game hard to adapt to, both in the resourcing model and the defensive options. It is only after a great deal of practice that I've managed to get past some missions, and even now I'll say that the normal mode is exceedingly difficult. Challenging is an apt description of this game.
CoH doesn't have the best graphics, or the most stunning audio, but the fact that you can watch the commercial that advertises the game and not realize that it is an RTS speaks volumes to how amazing the game looks. Imagine playing last year's (probably the one before that really) World War II FPS title on an older machine, and you've got a good idea how it looks. The experience is rounded out with some great voice acting on the part of the unit dialogue. My favorite is how the sniper starts whispering when you tell him to go hide somewhere.
This game can be a complete frustration, requiring careful, specific, and tactical gameplay. However, it is more than worth the effort to learn. If you are willing to slug through that, you'll find an excellent title that will likely end up being one of the year's best.