Fans of the real-time strategy World War II epic Company of Heroes were delighted when a full sequel to the game was announced. There was a bit of trepidation when publisher THQ was forced to sell off much of their assets to rival companies due to bankruptcy issues. Thankfully for the fans of the game and developer Relic Sega stepped in and acquire the franchise as well is provided to developers additional time to polish the game beyond its initial scheduled release.
For those that are not familiar with the series, the game task players to take command and construct various military units in an effort to seize key installations and strategic points, destroy enemy troops, and accomplish various strategic tasks. This is easier said than done as the enemy AI is extremely tenacious and adaptable and like battlefield situations, commanders are often forced to improvise and think on the fly one the unexpected happens.
This timeout the game is set in Russia and is told mainly through flashbacks during an interrogation of the disgraced Russian commander. Battles such as Stalingrad and other key elements of operation Barbosa are re-created and the initial battles are focused mainly on slowing the German advance as well as eliminating key resources that might be captured by the enemy.
As the game goes on, the weather becomes an new challenge as the fears Russian winter that proved to be so detrimental to the German forces is an element that must be contended with at all times. Players will not be able to send units on foot to capture very strategic elements or mission objectives without having them freeze to death. The solution to this problem is to have engineering units take a break from constructing buildings in order to create campfires. Players that are left out in the cold too long have a limited amount of time to reach the safety of a campfire or vehicle before they will freeze to death. Needing to ensure that the path to an objective is either stocked with appropriate amounts of fires or save for a vehicle to use is a key element to the strategic points of the game.
Being able to call in airstrikes as well as do more elaborate flanking maneuvers is definitely a high point of the game which adds to the strategy. You want to be very careful about massing your units in one place because to do so would invite an aerial or artillery barrage upon them. As in the previous games, players can take sanctuary in buildings which provides them ample opportunity to snipe at opposing targets. This is not without its limitations though as well-placed assaults including attacks with flamethrowers can soon turn the advantage into a disadvantage as troops may find themselves in a building collapsing around them.
Unlike other games of this type which are heavy on resource gathering to provide necessary funds for additional units, the game towards players points for capturing, holding, and destroying various strategic objectives. The better one does then the more units that will be made available to them. I really enjoy the heavy machine guns, mortar teams, and the cannon fodder conscripts squads, but what really makes the game shine is the ability to call in airstrikes and your armored units. As mentioned earlier about the difficulties in combat in the snow conditions. The game takes weather into account even to the point of providing hit points to the ice. An enemy that is attempting to bring across units supported by armor could be in for real surprise by strategically placed mine or a well-placed shell. Once at the ice becomes weak, then players can use this to their drainage to quickly dispatch units who fall through damage ice with a little bit of urging from their weapons.
Graphically the game shines and I really enjoy being able to use the mouse wheel to zoom into units and get an up close and personal look at them in action. Seeing them diligently go about their tasks be at construction or loading shells into their weaponry is not only beautiful to behold but adds to the sense of immersion. The sites of the game as well as the audio are spot on as key historical elements have obviously been paid attention to in the creation of this game. For example players talk about not seeing sugar in ages or how there are not enough weapons to go around and are instructed to simply head to the enemy and salvage what they can on the battlefield. There is also the element of brutality were troops are told that should you retreat from the enemy you’ll be shot and killed by your own commanders and that objectives must be completed regardless of the cost.
The game offers significant challenge to players of all levels and as such a skill level setting is in place which will allow you to try to find a happy medium for your style of play. There are also ample online opportunities for the game as not only can you play with your friends, you can create custom matches or to randomly assign matches which can pick you and other flesh and blood players up against the computer controlled opponents.
I especially like the ability to directly stream my gameplay to twitch TV as this is an element that we’re definitely looking to take advantage of in the future especially since live streaming is a key element of the upcoming gaming consoles as well .
The path finding in the game is very solid and although there are times when units can become a bit bogged down it is extremely minor especially for games of this type. The success or failure of missions relies solely upon your abilities as a commander. Sure there are times when brute force and overwhelming strength will ensure victory, but resources are at a premium on the Eastern front and players as mentioned earlier, often have to scrounge for resources from fallen soldiers on the battlefield. More than once I thought I was making short work of an enemy with a two-pronged attack only to have an extremely effective counterattack forced me into retreat and regroup mode. I learned during these times that having one unit feint toward an enemy locale wall flanking with two or more other units often worked out well. The enemy would be drawn to the one unit allowing me to get my other units behind them engaging enemy objectives for multiple sides.
This strategy works really well until you come across a machine gun nest and heavy armor which again forces you to improvise on the fly. Mortar and grenade units can do a good job at taking out a machine gun nest it positioned properly but I always found bathing area inflamed to be highly effective.
Regardless of what strategy you employ, Company of Heroes 2 is an extremely impressive and enjoyable game that not only provides plenty of enjoyment and excitement but shows that the series keeps getting better with each new installment.
4.5 stars out of 5.