Company of Heroes, Why Refinement Makes All The Difference
Building on the concepts of Relic Entertainment's own Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War, Company of Heroes is a great new adaption of real-time-strategy gameplay. Stepping away from the genre conventions of resource gathering, base building, and troop amasing, CoH instead uses a unique system of point capturing, cover utilization, and in-depth unit control. This difference in approach makes CoH an alltogether new animal, a streamlined take on decades old conventions that opens up RTS gameplay to a world of new possibilities.
CoH's similarities to other RTS games is easilly noticed, from the point of view to the interface, it looks and feels like all the games to come before it. Only when the action starts do the differences become readily apparent. The goal is for your army to capture strategic points, each of which provides a different type of supply: manpower, ammunition, and fuel.
The more points your army can hold the better, but just holding a point is not enough, you must hold points that are connected in order to receive supplies. And this is where the best part of CoH emerges, the possibilities. Say the enemy is dug in around some points and you can't break through. Drop some paratroopers behind their defenses to cut their supply lines. Now your opponent is facing a dilema, forcing him to choose between regaining supply lines and stopping your troops from attacking his front.
The tactics, yes, this is where CoH excels, at making small pitched battles fun. The game does this by not adhearing so strictly to the rock-paper-scissors battles hierarchy of other RTS games. A tank against an infantry squad seems like overkill, but not when the infantry may have sticky bombs or bazookas. On the other hand the tank can be upgraded with a new machine gun, suppresing the infantry and preventing it from using these attacks; but then, while suppressed, the infantry can call in an artillery strike to obliterate the tank. These are just a few of the examples of how every single battlefield encounter can unfold, and it is all possible because of the strategic points and limited base-building. These two things allow you to focus on specific combat encounters, which can easily make the difference between a win and a loss.
Every unit in CoH can hold its own for at least a short amount of time, but the micromanaging is what will ultimatley put you ahead. Paying attention to singular encounters allows you to use your troops the most effectivley, from firing special weapons and abilities, to retreating when you're in danger of losing a squad. Only through successful encounters and defensive measures can a game of CoH be won. It's not about who builds a bigger army or who gathers more resources, CoH is about utilizing the assets you have in order to win, and it is this approach to battles that makes the game so fun.
While this new gameplay structure is readily apparent in the game's multiplayer, it as not as prevalent in CoH's campaign, which follows a more traditional route as far as gameplay and objectives are concerned. While the same small bases, strategic points, and unit focus remains, the campaign doesn't contain nearly the bredth of tactical depth that is present in the multiplayer or skirmish modes. This is fine though as the campaign is fun to play, and it gives fans of more traditional RTS games an excellent gateway into CoH as it does a good job of introducing the unit abilities and the game's structure, allowing for a smoother transition into online play, which is where the bulk of CoH's fun is to be found.
Relic's new approach to RTS has payed off. A blend of the best parts of real-time-strategy games and brand new ideas, Company of Heroes delivers an outstanding experience; a turning point for RTS and a game that needs to be played by anyone who wishes to speak informedly about strategy games.