Company of Heroes
I admit it: the RTS has been disappointing me for some time already as genre. The constantly “discovering” the same structure, concept, stupid stories and identical gameplay in yet again a game based on World War 2 could interest me like the 12th re-run of Married with Children.
But just like with TV series, now and then one comes along that tickles your senses and gives you a kick in your spoilt balls. As exciting as the action in 24, equally surprising as Trigger Happy and at least as emerging as Band of Brothers is the experience offered by Company of Heroes. We’re not going to go into Saving Private Ryan again, or we are, but this game finally succeeds in putting the intense action of the big screen in a very playable and complex strategy game that will not only grab you by your throat like a horny German looking for a nice Fritz after 7 years of restraint, but also will be shaking you like an earthquake with lightning fast action, eye-stunning graphics, dramatic heights and an impressive sense of detail and authenticity.
This, dear veterans of many RTS wars, is Company of Heroes.
And the place of the action is Normandy, 1944. The allied troops are pushing back the Germans and Able Company are facing their worst enemy. Nothing new, if it weren’t for the fact that this time you really feel to be in control, and that the soldiers on the ground are equally depending on your decisions as on their own intelligence and independence to survive, land during D-Day, sabotage stuff along the way and finally crush any opposition and send it back from where it crawled out from: the ground.
Your buddies, if you have a decent system below your table, won’t wait for you to do what’s necessary on the battlefield. Buildings are taken as they should, cover is looked for according the rules of the game. Their helplessnes when being shot down, the panic and yelling when seeing a Tiger Tank and the way they use recently created protection like craters of burning tanks add to the realism and immersion this game magically puts on your screen.
The campaign offers quite a lot, including beautiful cut-scenes, but if you don’t have enough with that, you can also get into multiplay with Relic’s service where you’ll find both ranked and unranked opponents with an easy that sets an example for many other games. Also skirmishes are present if you would like to learn your cpu a lesson or two in tactics and reflexes. This will also be the only way to work with the German forces.
The gameplay, however, is so attractive that you won’t have the need for more factions at all or, god prevent, weapons or units from an alternate reality, a different timeframe, or coming from some sci-fi race. Rather classically you start with a base and a couple of engineers that can build other buildings. The resources available are people, ammo and fuel. The way you earn these is by conquering a part of the map, by taking over a central flag and defend it. The more areas you have, the bigger your amount of available units and the more resources you’ll get. Do make sure that the conquered areas remain connected and the the enemy doesn’t kill your supply lines.
Your infantry becomes endlessly important seeing their flexibility and the possibility to upgrade and promote them. You can give them special weapons (like automtic machine guns), use special abilities and, with some handyness and care, have them explode or take over expensive tanks. Essential element of using these valuable men is the use of “cover”. Once in cover, they’re a lot harder to kill and they can pin down enemy units so those can’t go any further. Add another unit with a flanking manouvre and your enemy is a bird ready to be eaten by the cat.
These realistic rules also apply the other way around: send your troops in an open field in the line of fire of a machine gun and they won’t survive for long. It may be clear that you’ll have to adapt your playing style to the game and will have to think a bit more than necessary with the typical “make as many units as possible and send them to the base”-tactics. Also building a base is less important here than well controlling and playing tactically with your individual squads. All this, in combination with an aggressive and strategically conscience AI makes that despite the realistic setup, the game will ask the most of your multi-tasking and management skills. Perfect for the hardcore gamers amongst us!
To deepen this all out a little further, you also get the possibility to choose some sort of specialisation for your entire army. Depending on your choice, like “Blitzkrieg” for the Axis, you’ll get other benefits. In this case you get Storm Troopers (no, not the guys with white helmets) and the feared Tiger Tanks. That way every player can customise his units depending on his playing style. Also original are the Victory control points in multiplayer matches. These allow a game that reminds of the Battlefield series where the one who controls specific points, the more the faster, gets the victory.
Still not convinced by the complex gameplay, the high grade of realism and the great AI of your units and opponents? Then the graphics will get you to cross the line. As said you need to equivalent of an A-bomb to run everything on ultra, but also in lower resolutions CoH is very beautiful. Effects are unseen (smoke, explosions, fire), the physics spectacular (the flying, torn apart bodyparts after an explosion!) and the interaction with the surroundings unequaled. Also this adds again to the gameplay as you effectively get more possibilities and less linear mission to play.
Also the sound deserves credit and cinematic quality is also here not an exaggerated compliment for what the makers are pushing out of your speakers. Perfectly fitting the situation, soldiers will react in panic, whisper or make radio messages crack with toughness. Also all other effects are as they should be: incoming hits, roaring tanks and thundering artillery will completely drag you into the game. Impressive, and then I haven’t even talked about the excellent soundtrack that perfectly adapts to what’s happening on the screen.
Company of Heroes has managed to convince at least one person to take the RTS back into his heart: me. I’m also convinced that about any strategy lover will be surprised by this game by the shear amount of innovations, surprises, authenticity and pure quality and immersion it offers. Without a doubt more impressive is the intensity the makers give with the combination of an excellent presentation, complex but satisfying micro-management, a finally independent own and enemy AI and a resulting realism that only the most spoilt gamers amongst us won’t be hot for. Saving Private Ryan in game-format, and with that a must for everyone with a mouse, a graphics card and a heart for games.