"Relic Entertainment knows how to capture the horror, the chaos, and the inescapability of field combat…and they embrace it."
I would make a horrible soldier. Put me in an armored tank and I might get by, but if I were to march through whizzing bullets in the midst of a battlefield, I’d be the first with a hole in my head. Maybe that’s why I prefer playing the sniper in most war games. Staying hidden kilometers away from my target…waiting for the right moment to strike...yea, I’d take that over the head-on approach any day. With Company of Heroes 2, I have no choice but to go face to face with the brutality of war. Relic Entertainment knows how to capture the horror, the chaos, and the inescapability of field combat…and they embrace it. As someone who’s made the transition to PC gaming very recently, I never had the pleasure of playing Relic’s previous entries in the series. But after seeing gameplay footage earlier this year and witnessing the dedicated and supportive fan base, I was unquestionably excited to see what the hype is all about.
Here I am… with a handful of soldiers crouching behind a few sacks of sand and whatever is left of a burned down village building while the German army inches closer to the home base. Should I flank them on the left and face the indestructible panzer, or do I take the right…distracting the opposition with smoke grenades in hopes that someone comes out alive. Relic’s first lesson is that there are no winners in war. Even after successfully completing a mission, there’s an unavoidable feeling of dread when reflecting on the many lives it took to reach an objective. Soldiers drop like flies…and there’s no time to think twice about your decisions.
Unlike previous entries in the series that revolved around the US involvement in WWII, we now take a closer look at the Eastern Front, specifically the Soviet Red Army. The Soviet Army lieutenant Lev Abramovich portrays the narrative through flashbacks, as he’s held captive in Siberia in 1952 while being interrogated about his experiences during the war.
"Your units can vault over certain objects and knowing when and where to take cover can be the deciding factor in whether your solders live or die."
Earlier missions primarily focus on defending small towns where you’re introduced to the game’s basics. The playing field is vast and keeping an eye on every corner of the map becomes increasingly challenging as more enemies are thrown into the equation. At first, all you have to think about is tactically flanking your enemies with a handful of units. Get them in the right spot and it’s a matter of minutes before you come up victorious. But it doesn’t take long before the complexity of battles escalates. Soon you’re dealing with sparse resources and a heavier opposition while trying to keep your precious engineers alive. Strategically navigating your squadrons is key to most battles. Your units can vault over certain objects and knowing when and where to take cover can be the deciding factor in whether your solders live or die. Do you take a shortcut right in front of you by vaulting over the fence but exposing yourself to enemy fire…or do you take the long route, avoiding direct conflict but wasting precious time as the enemy marches forward? Every move matters and sacrificing your men is a cruel reality you have to face with each encounter.
Both troops and vehicles (which become available after a few missions) posses certain strengths and weaknesses that need to be considered during each mission. Your engineers, for example, are vulnerable and don’t generally make the best fighters, but their flamethrowers can be a powerful offensive if the right situation presents itself. Then there are the tanks…they may be powerful, but their poor mobility can compromise your tactics if you rely on them too much. Then we have the inclement weather…and ooooh boy can it screw up your plans. Thick and heavy snow renders certain units nearly useless and you always have to consider the possibility of blizzards before planning your next move. However, you can also use the snow to track your enemy movement, so it’s a really interesting element that makes each battle feel more organic and unpredictable.
"When directing soldiers to cover, they oftentimes wander off the suggested path straight into enemy fire. It’s not a major game breaker, but it can be frustrating when you’re down to a last few men."
Missions are quite diverse throughout the 12-15 hour campaign and some of them are sure to make your palms sweat. The first time I had to set up a defensive perimeter around the home base, it took me 5-6 tries until I could effectively fend off the enemy waves. Your engineers can set up various traps against armored vehicles…and misplacing more than a few can get you overpowered in no time. This is also where some of the problems arise. When the screen becomes packed with soldiers and explosions it’s hard to keep track of your units. More often than not, they blend into the environment and there were a few instances where I completely neglected a group of soldiers simply because I lost track of them in the midst of chaos. Sure you can use the unit icons in the top corner of the screen, but when every split second counts, I’d rather rely on what’s happening directly on-screen instead of fiddling around with icons outside the battlefield. And lastly, your unit AI is not too bright. When directing soldiers to cover, they oftentimes wander off the suggested path straight into enemy fire. It’s not a major game breaker, but it can be frustrating when you’re down to a last few men.
Once you’ve honed your skills in the campaign, it’s time to move on to the multiplayer. However, if you’re a noob like me, you can get more exercise by diving into the Theater of War mode…an interesting single player/multiplayer hybrid that beautifully blends the best of both worlds. With 13 maps at launch and the ability to play with up to 4V4 with constantly changing weather, the multiplayer portion of Company of Heroes 2 is sure to give you a run for your money.
"There is so much to do here and the vast community is a guarantee that the online battles will carry on for a really, really long time."
In terms of its presentation, Company of Heroes 2 sits somewhere between impressive and oddly archaic. The battles are packed with soldiers running around and explosions going off at all times, but if you zoom in a little, you see nasty, flat, low resolution textures plastered across the environment…and even the impressive snow effects can’t cover up the aesthetic roughness. The audio fares a similar fate. While the gunfire and explosions all sound solid, the horrible voice acting makes it hard to care for any of the characters.
It’s easy to see why this franchise has such a strong following. There is so much to do here and the vast community is a guarantee that the online battles will carry on for a really, really long time. Whether you’re a veteran of the series or a newcomer like myself, Company of Heroes 2 is a superb title that’s only held back from greatness by a few technical hiccups and an inconsistent presentation.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: PC