Company of Heroes Review

Company of Heroes

RTS games are a lot like a delicious piece of fruit. After peeling away the outer skin (visuals), the inside holds the juicy gameplay that manages to make or break a title. These days, it seems like many games look appealing on the outside, but are truly rotten once you reveal their core. Relic Entertainment’s latest RTS game Company of Heroes is anything but rotten, and improves upon the formula already brought forward by their past titles such as Dawn of War. Not only that, but the game also manges to add some new spins to old tactics. You want the RTS game of this year? Company of Heroes is the game for you. Raw, gritty visuals; fun gameplay; engrossing tactics – it’s all there.

The first thing you’ll probably notice after watching the opening cinematic before the first mission is the smooth transition from the cinematic to the actual game. Trust me, if you have a good enough machine, you’ll barely notice the transition – the visuals are that damn good. The reflection of the waves, the dirt flying around after a shell rockets into the ground, the detail on each individual soldier’s gear; the attention to detail is very fine. Relic really put time into their Essence Engine to make sure the visuals are still top notch. Watch your squad fire a panzerfaust into a vehicle, and you see the sparks from the explosion fly everywhere. The vehicle can even lose control and crash into another vehicle, or just ram into a nearby tree, which is then knocked down. But don’t be fooled into thinking the destructible environment is only pretty visuals, because it adds to the gameplay by providing you the opportunity to create on-the-fly cover.

The first and second stages in the game drop you right into the action. In the first stage, you’ll find yourself having to storm the beach on D-Day. Your troops fight their way up the beach, taking out bunker after bunker. Eventually, you’ll make it to the top and after taking out a couple of key points, you’ll end victorious. The second level, though, is where the game truly begins, and gives a great example of the types of things you’ll be doing in Company of Heroes.

In it, you have control over Able Company, who parachuted behind enemy lines before D-Day to make things easier for the boys on the beach. The opening cinematic (there is an opening cinematic for all 15 levels) for the level focuses on some Axis troops milling around an 88 gun. One Axis begins to notice something in the distance, and then sees spotlights point towards the sky. While yelling “WAKE UP!” to his dozing squad members, the 88’s get pointed into the sky to meet the incoming paratroopers. The camera then focuses on two paratroopers who get to the ground and eventually meet up with their sergeant. The first mission in the level involves capturing munitions to maintain your resource output, and strategic points that line the road which leads to Omaha Beach; it’s critical to be kept that clean of the enemy. The last mission in the level involves fortifying a position with some Axis weaponry, including some mortars, machine guns and an 88. You’ll then use these weapons to lay waste to an unsuspecting enemy convoy. Line some mines in the road, and watch the fireworks go off. After the guns are silenced, the road and the ground around the battlefield are just littered with black craters, twitching bodies and destroyed vehicles. The game morphs into the ending cinematic for the level with the sergeant looking around at the destroyed vehicles, and his squad sits down to get some much-needed rest.

Unlike most RTS games, Company of Heroes doesn’t focus primarily on gathering resources. Like Dawn of War, you’ll gain resources by capturing specific strategic points. There are three resources you have to be on top of during each mission: manpower, munitions and fuel. Manpower is used for constructing squads and buildings, fuel is for building vehicles and maintaining buildings, and munitions supplies squads with advanced weaponry and opens up special abilities like having more grenades or allowing for air strikes. Accumulating these resources is as easy as sending your infantry in to take over the spots. However, it’s key to keep an eye on your resources since they’re connected. If the enemy takes a resource point that is the middle-point in an intersection of resources, that flow will be broken; resources need to border your territory to be utilized.

Managing your squads and units is very key, as in most RTS titles. Having a squad of infantry charge an MG42 gun emplacement is not advised, so instead, have a machine gun squad lay down some suppressing fire while your infantry goes around the emplacement to lob some grenades. Once the enemy is down, take over the gun emplacement, reposition the machine gun and fire away. Another pretty handy tactic is to position your sniper in a building, and have a machine gun squad position behind him. Once the sniper takes a crack at an unsuspecting enemy squad, they’ll charge at your sniper which, unfortunately, leads them right into the line of fire for your hiding machine gunner.

The interface in Company of Heroes is very clean, manageable and clearly reminiscent of Dawn of War. At all times, I felt in control of my units; when something is going wrong, you can easily send in a back-up squad to help someone out. However, at some points your units can easily get spread pretty thin as you try to navigate through the bigger maps. Make sure you keep an eye on your unit numbers, because it’s very easy to reinforce your units if some go down early – but it’s not so easy to produce new ones.

For the multiplayer aspect of Company of Heroes, Relic developed its own online gaming system named Relic Online. This system improves upon past online features, but also adds a built-in auto match and ranking system. The multiplayer modes include Victory Point Control and Annihilation. Since you’ll be facing against seemingly random players around the world, the challenge and games will always be different. This definitely adds to the lasting appeal, since you can have either an aggressive offensive opponent or a seemingly passive defensive one. There is also an offline skirmish mode played with AI bots. The skirmish mode has the same gameplay modes as the multiplayer, and thanks to the wonderful job Relic did with the AI, you’ll still face plenty of challenges. The AI takes cover, avoids heavy fire, and flanks your forces just like a real opponent would, adding a lot to the gameplay element.

Like the rest of the game, the audio in Company of Heroes is very well done. During night missions, your squad will whisper to each other when they move. While in full blown chaos, they’ll be yelling at each other to keep their heads down. The voice acting is very tight, which certainly adds to the immersion and also gives life to the soldiers. The raw bold sound of a machine gun tearing through a group of soldiers as they scramble for cover, or the roar of the tanks as they roll by all provide the perfect compliment to this gritty WW2 RTS.

Any lingering problems, such as poor framerates at some points, are basically non-existent with what Company of Heroes fully establishes. In the end,Company of Heroes is easily the best RTS title of 2006, and it will take a lot for someone to top it. Relic continues to redefine themselves as a top RTS developer, and with two solid franchises under their belt, they’re up there with Blizzard as the masters of the genre. The gameplay is widely addictive and chaotic in Company of Heroes, and that’s something you don’t see very often in RTS titles these days. Trust me, I always smile when I see bodies flop around after a well-placed grenade, and you will too. Don’t make a mistake by not picking this title up, especially if you like RTS games.


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Author: GamerNode Staff View all posts by

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