Company of Heroes 2 review
A worthy addition to a fine series
Published by Sega following the demise of THQ, Company of Heroes 2 is the second outing for this acclaimed RTS, and although it doesn't reinvent the wheel, it successfully tweaks and refines the squad micromanagement formula to create another fine tactical jaunt through WWII.
Set against the backdrop of the Russian front, and beginning with Operation Barbarossa, which saw the German army invade the country, CoH2 tasks you with fighting the war from the Red Army's point of view.
Narrated by Lieutenant Lev Abramovich Isakovich, who's imprisoned in a Russian Gulag following his actions during the war, the game's campaign spans several important missions, leading up to the battle for Berlin. Russia begins the war on the back foot, retreating more than attacking, but as things progress, and the cold weather and weight of Russian numbers eats away at the Nazis, the Red Army soon presses its attack, with you in the driving seat.
Of course, this tale is very different from CoH's original outing, and a prime focus here is on the Russian's unwillingness to surrender, and the reprehensible tactics employed by its commanders to ensure the army's soldiers fought on without any thought of retreat, including gunning down its own men to make a point.
It's not history's best representation of mankind, that's for sure, and although Relic has tried to convey this throughout the story, the execution is a little ham-fisted. Overly thick Russian accents and poor cut-scene animation don't help, and moments that should hit your emotional soft points, such as an instigation of Order 227 fail to elicit any form of reaction. It's a shame, as this is a major plot-device here, but the result isn't as intended.
Luckily, when it comes to the actual gameplay, Relic certainly doesn't misfire, and the tried and tested small-scale unit management works wonders. CoH2 doesn't try to focus on mammoth-scale battles, but instead shifts to the control of smaller, individual squads.
This makes for a much more interesting view of the war, and rather than traditional RTS staples of sending in waves and waves of faceless soldiers and tanks, here you have to make full use of individual squads in a much more personal situation.
This micro-management allows for some unique tactical challenges, such as working out how to safely flank a single gun emplacement or how to take out a German tank with little firepower. It's small scale that truly works.
The complex tactical and strategic play is helped not only by this more hands-on approach, but also by the enforcement of unit tactics and skills. Here you need to make proper use of your various unit's abilities if you're going to succeed. For example, you may need to defend a snow-laden village from a seemingly endless German advance. This is fine at first, with simple foot soldiers attacking, but when German armour starts to roll in, you'll need to carefully plant mines in strategic choke points using your engineers, and defend these essential units with infantry while they work. You'll need to grab flame-throwers in some situations to burn down buildings, and snipers can not only thin out your opposition but can also see much more of the battlefield. This is thanks to one of the game's new features, TrueSight.
This enhancement replaces the more traditional and somewhat outdated RTS staple 'fog of war' with a more natural sight-based system. Affected by objects, building and the weather, this system more accurately measure your view of the battlefield depending on your units and their positions.
This comes coupled with the new ColdTech weather system. This is used to convey the harsh conditions of the war on the Eastern Front, in particular when it comes to snow. Many battles are fought in the bitter cold, and this affects how the events play out.
Men left out in the cold too long can freeze, and blizzards can affect visibility and even cover up footprints and tread marks of enemy movements. It's an interesting addition to the title and one that works very well, adding not only that authentic feel, but also tactical ramifications.
Unfortunately, as great as the game's tactical play is, it also has some shortcomings. Aside from the previously mentioned issues with the story, the control scheme and menu systems could do with some work. They're a little dated and clunky by most modern RTS standards, and in a game like this, you need to feel totally in control at all times.
Aside from the new setting, tweaked AI and weather, there's also very little new content here. Yes, the game still shines, with superb tactical play, but some will be disappointed that Relic didn't do more. Still, such shortcomings are atoned for by great presentation, especially in the audio department, which is excellent, and the additional game modes will add countless hours to the already impressive campaign.
The Theatre of War mode features a selection of missions with specific challenges and can be played in co-op, and the Online and Skirmish section is where you'll spend most of your time, doing battle against AI or others online. Features here are impressive, including an army customiser, and the CoH-style of play makes for some truly epic online battles. Just be sure you get some practise in with the AI first or CoH veterans will tear you limb from limb.
Company of Heroes 2 is a classic example of a sequel that does exactly what it needs to do and little else. It slightly tweaks a winning formula and relies on gameplay that was, and still is, great. Yes, Relic could have done much more, and added more substantial features, but with a game that plays this well already, there's not a lot to complain about.
• Price: £30
• Manufacturer: Sega
• Website: www.companyofheroes.com/uk
• Required spec: 2GHz processor, 512MB RAM, 6.5GB HDD space