An absolute cracker of an RTS
Company of Heroes is a real-time strategy game from Relic during world war two as it follows the story of the American Airborne troops who dropped in over during D-Day. Its single player campaign will take you all the way from the D-Day landings to chasing the last remaining Germans back into their homeland, and hunting down a notorious German tank commander. On the way you will pass through famous French towns such as Carentan and will be dropped deep behind enemy lines to destroy a V2 rocket factory, the action is intense and plentiful and these objective based missions are a fantastic way to get to know the game. Consisting of 15 missions, the campaign will take anywhere between 10 and 15 hours to complete depending on the objectives you undertake. In each mission you will be provided with one or more primary objectives which must be completed, coupled with optional secondary objectives and also a bonus objective, which, if completed will earn you a medal at the end of the mission. My only “annoyance” with the campaign, and I am really just nitpicking here, is the difficulty, or lack of it. I never really found myself being presented with too much of a challenge during these missions, however, it isn’t really too much of a problem since the sheer quality of the missions more than makes up for it.
While the single player campaign can only be played from the American perspective, you can also play skirmishes on a variety of maps as either allies or axis. It is here, where the uniqueness of this game becomes apparent. The maps are split into territory sectors, all of which give a particular resource as well as increasing your food unit. Manpower is the basic resource required to create anything, Ammo is used for upgrades and using special abilities, and Fuel is used mostly for buildings and vehicles. Depending on the territory you control, the rate you receive more resources changes, the more you control, the more you collect. It’s a simple yet really compelling system as it creates areas in the map which turn into hot fighting zones due to resource nodes which both teams want furiously. This usually occurs around fuel points as controlling more fuel will allow for the building of more vehicles, such as tanks and more often than not, these tanks will be the main driving force behind your army. It also means you can flank enemy sectors and cut off their resource routes. If a sector is not directly connected to your HQ via other friendly sectors you will no longer gain the resources from that area, it also prevents the building of defences such as bunkers in that area, meaning you can cut off territory to starve the enemy while not actually taking every sector on the map. Doing this in the late game can seriously hurt the enemy’s production of much needed tanks and armoured cars.
Of course, infantry are as equally important in this game, which is where another of this game’s unique features comes in. by adding a retreat function you can quickly force a squad of infantry to drop what they are doing and sprint back to your HQ. This is vital as you are able to reinforce squads for a fraction of the price of creating an entirely new squad. This means you have to really take care of your men and forces you to keep a close eye on any action that is taking place.
Another great feature with this game is that each side has three unique command trees that you can choose from during the game. The Allies have Infantry, Airborne and Tank commanders, these are fairly self explanatory and provide you with support such as anti-tank infantry Rangers, Airborne troops and AT-guns and the heavily armoured Pershing tank. On the German side however there are some really interesting command trees you can take. First off, there is terror, which specialises in propaganda efforts to inspire your men and scare the crap out of everyone else, this choice also provides artillery strikes and the mighty King Tiger. Then there is Blitzkrieg, which provides tank and infantry support such as storm troopers, and also provides numerous abilities to speed up your men and help them to apply the German Blitzkrieg tactics, surprisingly enough. Finally, there is the defensive doctrine, which basically allows you to specialise in strengthening what you already have by created Flak 88 emplacements and also provide artillery support to protect your base. Of course, which ever team you go, you can only choose one command type so you have to be sure as you can’t change your mind later on in the same game. Having these command options allows for more variety and ultimately, strengthens teamwork, which comes into play a lot in the multiplayer portion of the game.
Playing either via a LAN or by using Relic’s online service, you can participate in 8 player skirmishes over quite a large variety of maps, and in two different game modes. Annihilation is the simplest game mode which essentially tasks you with destroying all your enemy’s buildings, the second is called victory points. In this mode there are a number of victory point nodes around the map, each player has a ticket count and if you hold the majority of the nodes your opponent’s ticket count will decrease. The first player to run out of tickets loses. While both game modes are quite similar they do usually provide two very different challenges. In annihilation there is no choice but to keep pushing forward to eventually destroy the enemy base whereas in VP mode you can simply capture the nodes and hunker down in wait of an attack. A few more game types probably would have been more welcome although the simple annihilation mode is usually just enough; however this isn’t really helped by the fact that there are only two teams to play as in the game. While both teams provide a different challenge when playing as them the whole experience can get quite repetitive after a reasonable amount of games, the only thing to keep things interesting is that there is a large amount of maps ranging from 1v1’s to 4v4’s, the latter of which tend to end prematurely due to lag problems and disconnections.
Relic online has never really been overly stable and lag is still a problem in games consisting of 4 or more players, having players disconnect is also a frequent experience which can really get annoying. Since release however, there have been a number of countermeasures to help out. For a start, they made it so that if any player leaves, they are taken over by AI and are no longer just given to the rest of the team to not be used. They have also added a system which tells everyone who is lagging the game if they have their settings turned up too high. Of course this doesn’t really help; it just diverts abuse from other players to the person in question. One great thing however is that Relic have added a lot of maps since release, both official and community, this helps add variety while also adds to the patching time. Installing this game from version 1.0 is a hassle to say the least; there are at least a dozen patches to download, one of which is just under 2GB. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Relic seems to dislike joining their patches into one big file, meaning you have to download every single one separately and install them all separately…..this can take hours. These patches not only include new maps, but have vital balancing changes alongside a lot of bug fixes, which brings me to the technical side of this game.
I am yet to experience any technical problems, which is great since I have had the game for about a year now. Such a thing cannot be said with most games these days. Added to this is the fact that the game still looks and sounds amazing. The detail on the men and vehicles is incredible while the game sports high-res textures throughout the environment. Explosions also look and sound fantastic and because of the fully dynamic physics engine built in, they aren’t just for show. One of the core game play mechanics of this game is the cover system, while units can be put in heavy, light and no cover; this greatly affects the damage they take. However, while a squad of infantry might be all snug behind a hard cover concrete wall, a grenade throw can destroy it leaving them out in the open and vulnerable. This opens up a whole new level of strategy as you have to constantly manage and adjust your units’ positions. This is also relevant to tanks as structures can get in the way of tank shells so it is often useful to take cover, as well as guard your rear as tanks have their strongest armour at the front. To finish it all off, the game runs extremely well. I used to play this using my old Nvidia 6600, 1 GB of RAM and a 2GHz AMD processor and had few problems with my frame rate, it helps that the game still looks decent at lowest settings, but with the recent addition of weather effects it now looks even better.
I’m hard pressed to find any bad points in this game whatsoever and I have tried my hardest to find any for the sake of this review. OK, so lag is a bit of a pain, and maybe the campaign is a little too easy but it doesn’t really change the fact that this game is an excellent example of just what can be achieved in the strategy genre after all these years. If you are a strategy fan, buy this game, it has a great mixture of micro-management while keeping it really simple, and there is also an expansion already out which simply increases the replay-ability of this game even more!