Company of Heroes Review
By Corey Stoneburner |
Company of Heroes is an excellent RTS. Relic is at the top of their game here and have set the bar high for any future World War II strategy titles and RTS games in general. Focusing on company level combat has allowed for lots of attention to detail, adaptable play, and fast action. Completely destructible environments are used to enhance gameplay and create some of the most satisfyingly war torn landscapes seen in video games. A fulfilling campaign, addictive gameplay, detailed visuals, and powerful use of sound make up a complete experience with very few problems. Real-time strategy fans would do well to pay attention to this game and, if they're not already, to the development house at Relic.
Anyone who has played Relic's most recent RTS hit Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War will understand the style of play here. The developers have simply improved on and adapted the rules of the previous game to fit the subject matter. Instead of simply grabbing generic resource points and constructing power generators, players will capture points (to raise their population cap and rate that manpower pours in), gather ammunition, and boost fuel supplies. Those three resources are what keep an army functioning. What's interesting is that the three resources can have pretty different applications: manpower is used in all unit and building construction, fuel is necessary to raise structures and purchase new vehicles, and ammunition is generally used to equip units with special weapons or activate special abilities on individual units like grenades or command tree abilities like air strikes. Maps often have larger amounts of certain types of resources making the way a mission progresses pretty unique.
Having three different capture points, all governing territories that are different shapes, creates a new level of strategy in all forms of the game. In order for one of these points to generate resources, it must be captured and connected back to the HQ territory via other friendly territories. If not, that resource is cut off and all benefits are denied. This gameplay mechanic comes into play more in skirmish and multiplayer, but does come into play in a few of the single player campaign missions.
The campaign in general is wonderfully designed and follows Able Company and Fox Company Paratroopers from the storming of Normandy to the defeat of the German 7th Army as Polish, Canadian, and US troops closed the Falaise Pocket. Fighting will take players from open roads and farming communities to the dangerous hedgerows of Hill 192 and tight city quarters of Cherbourg and St. Lo. Campaign missions are prefaced by excellent briefings that give a tiny history lesson and explain the situation using animatics and maps of France. Some striking in-engine cutscenes serve as bookends to most scenarios. The occasional mid-mission cut adds in extra detail. While usually unimportant to actual gameplay, they serve as exciting and rewarding intermissions mid-action.
Out of the 15 missions (which can take longer than you would imagine) there was only one I didn't particularly care for. Most of the missions are excellent and include objectives beyond the typical seek and destroy you find in so many RTS titles. Some missions will ask to capture and hold a road for a convoy while others charge with setting defenses against a German counterattack. Others still assign the duty of crushing lines of retreating Axis forces. Often times missions will begin with smaller objectives such as the capture of a forward base after which a mid-mission briefing will set up the action for the remainder of the scenario.
Maps are interesting, create real challenges for players (especially before tanks are available), and provide an amazing experience from start to finish. The difficulty of missions ramps up as some of the more complex gameplay mechanics are introduced piece by piece. Side objectives that aren't necessary to finish a mission also help to push the action forward by providing timed challenges or to kill a certain number of enemies (sometimes in a certain method). Completing these side missions provides medals that testify to your extreme bravery -- and your ability to use a keyboard and mouse effectively. By the end of the campaign, players should be ready to try their luck at some skirmish and multiplayer games.