Company of Heroes PC Review
It is widely accepted that the opening reveal and pan across Hyrule Field in The Ocarina of Time is a great gaming moment. It was a beautiful, elegant and fitting way to introduce the player to what we now class as a classic game. Company of Heroes chooses to introduce itself to gamers in a similar way. Its opening is beautiful and elegant, but also visceral, hard hitting and horrifying. Right from the get-go gamers are assaulted with the vision of the deep red crimson sea of Omaha beach as they witness the demise of solider upon solider as they leap from their boats and rush forward, storming their way up the sands. Then almost without realising it you’re thrown straight into your first mission, now in control of a selection of the soldiers that are still breathing you must push forward and finish the job. It is this moment and the many similar that follow it which make COH stand out from the RTS crowd. COH is special, so special that it has made me care about WWII games again after the incessant bombardment of mediocrity that has been forced upon us lately.
Due to focusing just on the Second World War, the COH campaign mode just lets you play as one faction called the Allies/Americans as you take on the game’s other faction – the Axis/ Germans (who are only playable in multiplayer). Due to just focusing on one faction the game tells a very detailed, memorable story of a squad called Able Company as you advance through the 15 missions available.
Straight from the start the way COH approaches the RTS mainstay of resource gathering is one of the more noticeable moments where it is plain to see Relic are trying something different with COH. They have changed things up a bit in an attempt to remove as much micromanagement as they can from gameplay. From the outset; just like they did with Dawn of War the developers have tried their best to make COH as action orientated as possible. Unlike a recent favourite of ours that hoped to attain the same by removing resources altogether, COH adopts a different approach and achieves much better results by focusing on controlling territories when fighting on the frontlines.
Almost all the missions in the game start by giving you a HQ and a small squad of engineers. From there a quick look at the map (bottom left of the screen) shows you the layout of the land and how it is split up into separate sections. Each of these sections has one recourse point that will add points to either manpower, munitions or fuel once under your control. Fuel allows players to purchase tanks and other vehicles, as well as global upgrades. Munitions allows players upgrade individual squads or vehicles and use special abilities and manpower is necessary for all units, but is particularly useful for infantry. A big plus in terms of introducing strategy and tactics to the game comes from having to connect each territory to the player’s HQ to garner best results. This small addition is one of the game’s masterstrokes as you are now forced to take the whole map into account when formulating a plan of attack, and you will need a plan when playing COH as the “tank rush” tactic seen in other games wont work well at all. Another nice plus brought to the game by the addition of territorial recourses is that each mission in the game ends up been infinitely different to the last. If one map contains a lack of fuel sectors then the fight more or less will end up being on man on man but the very next mission could very easily be “tankmageddon.”
Many RTS games live and die by the quality of their AI and thankfully COH does not disappoint in this regard either. In fact the quality of the AI is one of the game’s biggest plus point as it gives the soldiers in the game a more human like feel than is seen in most RTS games. In COH your infantry actually seems wants to stay alive. No solider will stand out in the open on his own, he will look for some cover giving him the best chance to live. If you are doing something on one side of the map and something happens on the other side you will see your team move behind the closest cover trying to take down the enemy to the best of their ability as you move back to control them directly. Thankfully, even though your squads are smart little buggers you never seem to be out of control with things going on. When you take these little self-thought tactical decisions into account when trying to command a huge army most gamers will be thankful they don’t need to baby-sit everyone on the battlefield.
The game also has a few other interesting features that help propel it head and shoulder above the crowd. The enemy is actually smart making the campaign and skirmish modes loads of fun to play. If you don’t plan ahead you will never feel very safe and without building some good defence around your structures (particularly you HQ) it is very easy for a quick attack to change your fortunes. The addition of being able to build sandbags to position troops behind is one of my favourite features the game has to offer.
Graphically the game is nothing less than amazing. There is no other strategy game available today with in-game graphics to top COH. Of course to get the most out of it you are obviously going to need a very powerful, up to date, all singing all dancing rig, but even with some of the options turned down to medium there is still going to be some eye candy on show. The detail on screen can be staggering at times as it is possible to zoom right in on the action to see what’s going on. Tanks can crash through corners of buildings and straight through walls and soldiers can use these newly formed pieces of cover to their advantage. Buildings can also crumble if they are hit will shells – in fact the whole map is more or less destroyable such as telephone lines and tree fences as tanks mercilessly advance. Like other RTS’, buildings can also be garrisoned in the game, but in COH once you order your men inside you will see the windows of the house burst open and the soldiers lay their weapons on the windowsills getting ready to fire. In a first for RTS games COD can get a bit gory as soldiers die very realistically; limbs can also be blown off if they get caught in an explosion.
Even though the game is graphically amazing the audio in COH should not be overlooked as it is what ties the whole experience together. One aspect I found partially impressive was the little one-liners muttered by the soldiers during the course of battle. Instead of these just being throwaway lines like Command and Conquer‘s “AK-47s for everybody!” these lines are actually little chucks of tactical information that are helpful on the battlefield. The troops also react to events during a battle; if their vehicle is badly damaged they will sound panicked, if they are fighting during the night they will whisper, if things are going well they may even crack a joke. Also if the unit talking is not on screen the audio will be slightly muffled like it is coming through an old fashioned radio; this is a simple but effective addition that must developers would just not think of. Soldiers are not adverse to using profanity from time to time either. It may not be as bad as an episode of Deadwood, but it’s enough to scare Gordon Ramsey to the basement of one of his restaurants.
The game sound effects are also particularly impressive. Everything sounds just like it should with loads of oomph and base behind it. The clanking of tanks moving across the terrain, the crashing of a wall as a tank drive through it, the whirr of a machine gun and more are all expertly created and implemented into the game. The game also has a very impressive strings and brass filled score which consists of interesting compositions that compliment what’s happening on screen rising or slowing in tempo to never seem out of place.
Coming right out of the doors of the developer that brought us the fantastic Dawn of War big things were always expected of Company of Heroes ever since it was first announced way back in April of 2005. Well if you have not just skipped all of the above to arrive at this the final paragraph you should know by now that COH is one hell of a game. It may not revolutionise RTS gaming with brand spanking new ideas, but it takes the core mechanics fans of the genre have learned over the years, slightly tweaks them, and wraps them up with deep strategy-based gameplay, amazing art design, epic sound, and amazing graphics to create a 15+ hour RTS tour de force. Relic really has outdone themselves; they have truly created something very special with the labour of love that is Company of Heroes.
Not only is Company of Heroes one of the best RTS’ ever it is one of the best games released this year.